Lane Street Project: a 1985 aerial view of Vick Cemetery.

Aerial photographs are giving up Vick Cemetery’s secrets. Let’s look closely at this image taken in 1985.

But first, let’s fix the timeframe:

Two years before the photo was made, the Wilson Cemetery Commission spent $10,000 on a partial clean-up of Vick Cemetery. Heavy rain halted the work, and it was never completed.

The same year the photo was made, a man jogging on Lane Street found human bones exposed in a ditch. The police examined them and determined they were not recent. The Wilson Daily Times contacted Bill Bartlett in Public Works, who advised that about 1980, the city attempted to define the road and found, because of the numerous graves in the area, only a 40- to 45-foot right of way could be allowed, compared to the usual 60-foot right of way. A county health department spokesperson said she would have to check to determine who was responsible for reburying the bones. Public Works said it wasn’t their job. A former county sanitation worker reported that he’d received a call from a woman who believed her relatives might be buried under Lane Street. Bartlett told the paper someone “was going to look into that for me. It could be that we need to find out who that could be and see if they want to do some digging out there to remove the remains.”

That’s an unpaved Lane Street/Bishop L.N. Forbes Street cutting across the top third of the picture. The crooked line above it is the course of Sandy Creek, open to the sky.

Here, roughly, is the upper left quadrant of the image:

The wooden power poles on the north side of the street were in place, but none appear on the south side. Felled tree trunks litter the ground, and the faint tracks of earlier walking paths clearly show. So do graves.

The upper right quadrant:

At (1), the little spur off the ditch through which surface water drains even today. At (2), this relatively bare patch is now the site of the driveway and parking lot. At (3), this is the old entrance into Odd Fellows, which is still clearly visible and marked by one of the iron gate posts. However, it now stops at the edge of wood line, and there’s no sign of the long, straight driveway ending in a kind of cul-de-sac. At (4), the bridge over Sandy Creek. It’s difficult to tell, but the street east of the bridge seems notably sharp-edged and may have been paved up to what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. At (5), at the northeastern corner of Rountree Cemetery, a clearing with some sort of structure. This area is nearly impenetrable now, but is worth exploring to identify this feature. At (6), another unknown object that I can comfortably attest is not now there. The clearing you see is a cut marking the path of a sewer project. It’s still there, but no longer doglegs around the object.

The same area today, per Google Maps.

The lower right quadrant:

At (1) and various other points, graves are clearly visible on the ground. It’s a little hard to tell, but at (2), this appears to be the berm separating the low land of Rountree Cemetery from Sandy Creek, which is channeled south of the street. It is no longer visible from the air, but is easily walked once you’re inside Rountree. At (3), one of the manholes in the sewer project noted above. A second is visible as a dot in the bright area toward the bottom of the image. What’s missing from this view? The cut for the natural gas pipeline that wraps around two sides of Vick. I’ve indicated its approximate path with a dotted line. Recall that there’s another prong of the pipeline on the north side of the street. In 1959, Edward K. Wright, Annie S. Wright, and Annie B. Harris gave North Carolina Natural Gas Corporation an easement to run a natural gas pipeline along the edge of their property. See Deed Book 709, page 127, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office. The easement is shaded gray in the ever-helpful 2011 plat map of the Wright Farm below. Note that there’s no such easement for the pipeline south of the street. I’d assumed it was also laid circa 1960, but the photo above suggests in fact it was installed decades later. The pipeline’s current owner, Piedmont Natural Gas, posts danger signs at the corners of Vick Cemetery, but has never secured an easement for the underground gas lines running along its edges. (Where the City of Wilson wants to sink fenceposts, by the way.)

Plat book 38, page 198, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.

The lower left quadrant:

Graves — and headstones? — are visible throughout the site. Again, there’s no cut for the path of the natural gas pipeline.

Many thanks to Olivia Neeley for sharing this photograph, which was obtained via a public records request made to Wilson County GIS. (Kudos to an agency that understands its obligations under the law!)

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