Cradock VA History

Uncle Sam, Landlord
George B. Post & Sons, Architects
New York Times, Jun 29, 1919-pg 82


Uncle Sam, Landlord

He Built and Owns the Town of Cradock, Va., for Navy Yard Employees, and Has 550 Contented Families on Hand

Two years ago Cradock, Va., was not on the map. It was put there by a group of architects and town planners employed by the United States Housing Corporation. There would have been no town if the necessity of whipping Germany had not driven thousands of workers to the Hampton Roads district, which includes Norfolk and Portsmouth.

The entry of the United States into the war brought to a crisis the housing of industrial workers employed in plants engaged in the manufacture of munitions and in the construction of the merchant fleet. The problem was by no means thrust suddenly upon the country. The situation had been critical ever since the European nations had thrown upon the industries of this country some of their tremendous manufacturing tasks.

Soon after we entered into the war the United States Fleet Corporation appealed to Congress for funds to build houses for workers connected with the shipbuilding plants. Sixty million dollars was appropriated. Hardly had this appropriation gone through than the Department of Labor, realizing that success in the manufacture of munitions was equally important, made an investigation of the other new industrial centres of the country, with the result that $100,000,000 was appropriated by Congress to carry on the work of the newly organized United States Housing Corporation.

The housing need in the Hampton district was discovered to be one of the most urgent. The population in and about Norfolk, for instance, had risen from 80,000 in May, 1917, to 170,000 in February, 1918. The additional mass of people had flowed in from all corners of the continent to meet the labor demand at the various Government bases at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, where ships came in for repairs and overhauling: there was the naval operating base at Hampton Roads, where 10,00 men were trained for the navy; there was one at Lambert's Point, where an engineer's storehouse had been erected; there was one at a place called the Bush Bluff Stores, which was a terminal station of the Quartermaster's Department of the army; there was still another at Pig Point, which was an army ordnance clearing house.

This rapid influx meant a shortage of housing facilities and a consequent rise in rents. Discomfort and discontent were apparent among the workers.

In September, 1918, the United States Housing Corporation turned the problem over to George B. Post & Sons; architects and town planners. Prior to 1914 they had carried through some notable housing developments in connection with industries, such as those at Akron, Ohio, and Beloit, Wis., where the United States Steel Corporation and subsidiary companies had constructed homes and built up cities.

Plans were formulated to meet the requirements of the Hampton Roads district. Due to the unexpected close of the war, the town of Cradock was the only one built. That was constructed on a site about one-quarter of a mile from the Portsmouth Navy Yard on a tract of 457 acres. The situation was ideal in many ways. On the north it was bordered by a stream on the brink of which were large and beautiful trees, on the west by a famous old highway leading to the town of Portsmouth and ferry connections to Norfolk, on the south by the right of way of the Virginia Railroad, and on the east by a trolley line leading into the town of Portsmouth.

The town was built on the plan of the old New England communities. The blocks or streets were built around a large, open square comparable to the town commons. On one side of the square sites were put up for stores; on the other the Town Hall, the firehouse and library were built. A reservation was also made for a community hospital.

The north and south ends of the town were connected by a broad highway, terminating at both ends in two large natural parks. One of these was reserved for recreational purposes; the other was planned as the background for the community schoolhouse.

A careful investigation of the types of workers and their earning capacities showed that there was a need of several different types of houses. The plans finally worked out by the architects and approved by Admiral F. R. Harris, who was the Chairman of the Board of Control of the district, called for about 500 six-room houses, 100 five-room houses, and a small number of seven and eight room houses.

These were built along three plans - detached, semi-detached, and group or terrace houses, the number of houses in a group never exceeding five. The plan of architecture was Colonial. There were forty variations of the style to avoid monotony. Each bedroom has clothes (several words left out) the bedroom floor, a supply closet in the kitchen, and a coat closet in the entrance hall or living room.  The kitchens are equipped with tubs and sinks, with cabinets four feet wide, with glass doors, shelves, lower doors and drawers; ranges with hot-water boilers and provision for gas connection to boilers.

Every house is provided with a Summer kitchen, 8 by 10 feet, at the rear of the house. The installation of this room was made necessary by the character of the property. The land is low-lying, and ground water is found at a dept of from four to eight feet, so that the construction of cellars is impossible. The provision of the Summer kitchen allows for the storage of coal, accommodations for gas or oil stove in the Summer, and a refrigerator.

All the houses were supplied with sewer connections, electric light and telephone.

With the signing of the armistice the work, which was not begun until the latter part of July, 1918, was stopped. At that time 550 houses had been built, centering around the town square. All of (all but two letters of this line is missing) rnment workers. The name Cradock was chosen as a tribute to the British Rear Admiral Christopher G. F. W. Cradock, whose fleet was sunk off the coast of Chile by Admiral von Spee in November, 1914.

The present policy of the Government is to rent houses to employees engaged in the Portsmouth Navy Yard near by. It will not sell to individual buyers or otherwise dispose of the property until Congress fixes upon a general basis for the future conduct of all of the properties controlled by the United States Housing Corporation in various part of the country.

The suggestion has been made that the development at Cradock and similar developments in other parts of the country be sold in their entirety to private corporations. This, however, it is felt in Washington, would open a way for exploitation of the wage earners now living in the houses. Another plan put forth is the one of community ownership such as has been successfully tried and in the English development at Letchworth, a short distance from London. According to this plan the tenants of the houses, by paying a slightly increases rental, purchase stock on installments in a company whose members are the stockholding tenants. In the course of ten or fifteen years each tenant acquires as much stock as is represented in the value of the home and grounds, and at the same time becomes a part owner of the public property, parks, road, and all the undeveloped land suitable for home building.

Today the rental charges to the tenants of the Cradock development are based on a scale established by the operating division of the United States Housing Corporation. The charges average about $5 a room, a five-room house renting at $25, with slight increases for the larger houses. The maximum charge for a house is $35 a month. The men living in them earn from $20 to $40 a week.