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Come Home to Cradock 2002


Virginian-Pilot, The (Norfolk, VA) - November 3, 2002
Once you've left, you can never go home again, or so the adage goes.

But not so in Cradock .

Maybe it was the 1948 Anglia sedan parked in the middle of the square. Or the aroma of barbecue and hot dogs that left many a mouth watering. Or "Memory Lane," a collection of enlarged photos from Cradock High School yearbooks, from 1922 through 1992.

It was as if time stood still.

As the "Old Geezer Band" passed in the Homecoming Parade, it seemed as if one could still pop into Red's for a cherry Coke, or catch a movie at the Afton Theatre.

But Red's has long disappeared. The Afton long ago * closed, though it stands as a reminder of the past.

So also, the third annual "Come Home to Cradock " weekend in October, was devoted to the past, present and future of the hometown.

" Cradock is a sustainable community, but right now it's on the verge of going one way or the other," said Bev Sell, a member of the class of 1969. "We've already lost the school, but now we see ourselves losing a lot more. "We really need to pull together to save the community itself, and that will have to happen by bringing people in from the outside and sharing our vision of what Cradock can be," Sell said.

"Come Home to Cradock " attracted hundreds of alumni, residents and friends, who gathered in Afton Square. Some reminisced, some took a stroll as they did years ago, only now seeing the Gazebo restaurant and the Butterfly bakery. Still others seemed lost in a place they once called home.

"It really was a precious thing to have been able to grow up here in Cradock ," said Carol Edwards, class of 1961. "You didn't need a driver's license, everything was right here. You could walk anywhere and feel safe, because there were no strangers. Everybody was a familiar face."

Edwards, like many former residents, remembers dances at the local V.F.W. after Friday night football games, or ice cream from High's - landmarks that have long since vanished.

Though many involved in the alumni program and revitalization of Cradock have made homes in other parts of Hampton Roads, they find they are more grounded than ever by their roots, simply because of an awareness that the city is in peril.

Sell, who lives in Norfolk, has founded the Cradock Preservation and Revitalization Committee.

"Most of us have moved out of the Cradock community for one reason or another, and we are trying to look at it from the outside and determine what needs to be done in order to breathe life back into it,'' Sell said. "And being on the outside provides an advantage. "We see it as it is, but more for what it can be and we want to change it, not necessarily to what it was in the past, but better."

That includes a trend toward "new urbanism."

The trademark of new urbanism is the pedestrian community, with retailers, grocery stores and services all within walking distance.

Local architects, including Cradock alum Aubrey Brock, believe Cradock has what it takes to survive and to thrive as an urban community.

"The philosophy here is to bring people in, then build it, which sounds backward,'' Brock said. "But it's necessary in this situation, which is what this homecoming is all about.

"Afton Square is a huge asset and Afton Parkway itself represents the real thing when it comes to sidewalk shopping and a unique urban community,'' he said. "We have a lot to work with here, and a strong foundation. It's just a matter of getting people involved and dedicated to the project."

Brock and Sell have been driving forces in the revitalization of other Portsmouth communities, including downtown's Old Towne.

" Cradock is frayed at the edges," Brock said. "But there is a sense of community here that is stronger than most. We don't even have a school anymore and it seems like we've almost overcompensated for that by working that much harder."

The revitalization committee remains the workhorse of the preservation efforts, garnering financial means and lobbying. The Alumni and Friends of Cradock is in place for support, consisting of Cradock alums and residents of Cradock and other parts of Hampton Roads.

"There is an unmistakable pride in Cradock , in its residents and its history and that provides a strong basis for change," said Kathy Reese, a Norfolk resident and member of Friends of Cradock . "I see it as what could be an ideal community, but it's a change that will force the citizens to be proactive."

Citizens like Pauline Sitterson, a lifelong resident of Cradock , are ready.

"The area itself is picking up and I think people are beginning to share a common vision for our community," Sitterson said. "This area has so much to offer. It's rich in history and in its secrets, things you feel privileged to know and to appreciate."

The streets surrounding Afton Parkway, for example, are named alphabetically after famous naval heroes, such as Sir Christopher G.F.W. Cradock . And the area from an overhead view forms the shape of an anchor.

While time has brought changes to Cradock , that anchor, which is Afton Parkway, remains as firmly grounded as ever.

Bev Sell
President Alumni & Friends of Cradock
Class of 1969