With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Norfolk Naval Ship Yard experienced an expansion in activities and population. Just as materials soon became scarce, so did the supply of available housing for workers. To accommodate the swelling work force, the United States Housing Corporation, a newly formed federal agency, undertook the construction of two housing projects in the Portsmouth area.
For white workers, a tract of land directly south of the Navy Yard, a large portion of which was the Afton Farm, was chosen and named Cradock. For the black workers, the Housing Corporation chose a site west of the Ship Yard. A tract of 87 acres was bought from ten different owners. This development was called Truxton and was the only WWI planned community built exclusively for black ship yard workers.
Formally opened May 25, 1919, the 250 houses that constituted Truxton were built from a five room floor-plan which included a bathroom, not always a standard feature, and electric lights. During this period Truxton was governed entirely by African Americans and all the homes owned by blacks. Within the town there were several businesses owned or operated by black citizens. This included drug stores, a barber shop, grocery and dry goods stores, a post office and a fire department.
For every block in the town there was a captain and a lieutenant who once a week completed an investigation and presented a report to Fred D. McCraken, the black town manager and former real estate agent. In February 1919, it was reported that Truxton had not had an arrest or serious disturbance since its founding.
Located midway between Ocean View and Norfolk, Titustown was an independent African American community nestled in a farm rich region where, “everyone owned their own home and not a renter was to be found.” The eighty acres that comprised the town was some of the most exclusive and expensive property in the area. Despite being encouraged “to move on”, black families sought to preserve their rural way of life and escape the temptations of the city.
While white individuals and corporations were buying up large tracts of land near the outskirts of Norfolk, these black families were “quietly” buying the homes in which many of them were born and raised. They established a school that had an average daily attendance of 250 students, a civic center, a church, and a lodge hall to accommodate the “secret society.”
A small house could be built for approximately $500 and a large seven room home could be owned for about $1,500. Houses were typically built with a vacant lot separating each home so that children and families would have ample space to play and socialize. Drinking, swearing and gambling were strictly prohibited in the town.
Most of the inhabitants were employed by Navy Shipyard at Portsmouth, although some people worked in trucking, the coal industry or the homes of professional whites. The white citizenry encouraged this development on the part of the black community and held a strong belief in the doctrine of “separate but equal.”