What is now called Rountree Cemetery first caught wider Wilson’s attention in February 1989 when the Daily Times printed a full-page feature. I’ve abstracted the piece, with some commentary, below:
Wilson Daily Times, 18 February 1989. (Please click image to enlarge.)
“Vick Cemetery is just one of several Lane Street cemeteries being used as trash dumps, but a small group of people want to change all that.”
Councilman A.P. Coleman discussed the cemeteries with City Manager Cyrus Brooks and suggested Mincey seek grants from historic societies or other groups. Brooks said he was aware of the situation at the Vick Cemetery but “had no solutions and had directed inquiries to the [Cemetery] Commission,” over which the city has no control.
Mincey thinks the city or commission should help clean both cemeteries and notes that Vick deeded the property to the city in 1913. With volunteers and hired help, Mincey has cut down and burned off much of overgrowth in Odd Fellows and is trying to remove the accumulated trash, which includes appliances, bed frames, rotting clothing, dead animals wrapped in plastic bags, tires, and bottles.
Mincey says both cemeteries were well cared for when the “older people whose families were buried there” were still living, and he was trying to clean up because “I have respect for my father and mother.” An unnamed cemetery official said he had no idea why relatives had let the old cemeteries deteriorate or why nothing was said until recently.
Both cemeteries are over 100 years old, and neither has been used in more than 30 years. There are no known records on who or how many people are buried in Vick cemetery (or presumably, Odd Fellows.)
“Mincey said many prominent blacks from Wilson’s past are buried in these two cemeteries and the Rountree Cemetery, also on Lane Street, located where Rountree Baptist Church used to sit.” They include Ben Mincey Sr., who helped start the East Wilson Volunteer Fire Department and worked for the city’s Utilities Department; Nettie Foster, a well known teacher; Walter Hines, a downtown barber; and S.H. Vick, the cemetery’s namesake, a former postmaster.”
“Trees now hide all but one grave, which sits by the roadside at the old Rountree Cemetery. The commission was not even aware of the Rountree Cemetery’s existence” and did not know Vick Cemetery existed “until about four years ago” when Mincey brought it to their attention. At that time, they determined that Mincey Sr. was buried in the Odd Fellows, not Vick, cemetery.
Pursuant to a 1923 state statute, the Cemetery Commission was given title to all city property used for cemetery purposes, including Vick Cemetery. Currently, only Rest Haven and Maplewood are active cemeteries. The commission does not receive city funding, but is audited by the city.
Cemetery Commission chairman Earl Bradbury says of Vick Cemetery, “Burial patterns are any which way. Nobody has any records of who was buried there. It just sat there and so nobody had any interest in it and it just grew up.” After its “discovery,” the commission authorized $8000 for cleanup by hand “because heavy machinery would cause the graves to collapse.” (As wooden caskets decay, the ground above them subsides, creating sunken graves.) “Because of this, no local firms will help with the cleanup.” Heavy rains prevented the completion of the cleanup, and the area still needs to be burned off and treated with weed killer. Bradbury agrees that the Vick property should be cleaned and cared for, but says the commission did not have the funds to do so. “He said he hoped to pack the collapsed graves with silt dredged from Toisnot Lake, but that silt is just sitting on unused Maplewood Cemetery property. Also, Bradbury thinks people with relatives in the Vick cemetery should show some interest in having the cemetery renovated, and he said it would be nice if the city could help with possibly a one-time grant.” As for Odd Fellows, it is the responsibility of the fraternal organization or relatives of the deceased to clear that cemetery.
Councilman Coleman notes that the city might have a “moral obligation” to find a solution, notuing that “the Lane Street area was included in the 1972 annexation of east Wilson, wich was an area that had been neglected for many years.”
- Odd Fellows cemetery? This is the first I’ve heard of it. The obelisk now marking the remaining stones says “Rountree-Vick.” If Odd Fellows was north, and “north” means northeast toward Martin Luther King Parkway/U.S. 264, is it now completely wooded? As this cemetery was not city property, was it just left to revert to nature? In the mid-1970s, headstones were visible among the trees and underbrush in this area. Though we called it Rountree, was this actually Odd Fellows? (For more about Hannibal Lodge No. 1552, Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, see here.)[Update: see subsequent posts for clarification of boundaries of the three cemeteries — Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick.]
- If so, where was Rountree cemetery? The article seems to imply that it was not immediately adjacent to Vick and Odd Fellows. The east parking lot of the “new” Rountree Missionary Baptist Church, built in the late 1970s, was laid over the site of the clapboard predecessor. There is no apparent graveyard immediately adjacent to the church now, and it’s not clear where a location closer than the known cemetery could have been.
- It’s heartbreaking that Ben Mincey Sr.’s headstone is not one of those that survives. [Update: actually, it does.]
- Silt from Toisnot Lake? Did this ever happen? Is this really a sanctioned method of handling sunken graves? Several of the remaining graves have collapsed, and at least one has been breached to the point that a dark vacuum is visible below ground.
[Updated caption: the memorial marker is in Vick Cemetery, a segregated public cemetery established by the City of Wilson on land purchased from Samuel H. Vick in 1913; Irma Vick’s headstone is in Odd Fellows Cemetery; what I labeled Odd Fellows is in fact Rountree Cemetery.]