Lane Street Project: are there graves on the other side of the road?

Are there graves on the other side of Bishop L.N. Forbes Street?

Here is the evidence we have:

Per an aerial from Wilson County GIS website, here are the four cemetery parcels, plus the parcels across the street from Vick and Odd Fellows. All this land was originally part of a large farm owned by Frank W. and Mattie B. Barnes. Descendants of the Barneses still own the Wright Trust property and the Wilson Farm Properties parcel.

Rountree Missionary Baptist Church owns parcels on both sides of the road, one purchased in 1897 and the other in 1906. Together, they constitute Rountree Cemetery. No headstones currently are visible in the Rountree lot on the northwest side of the street. However, in late winter, profuse drifts of daffodils bloom in this lot, common indicators of old graves.

There is also this:

It is difficult to see here, but this is a rectangular slab of concrete at the edge of the ditch, perhaps six to seven feet long. Its surface is covered with dead plant matter, and fire ants have built nests along its front edge. In my youth, when (then) Lane Street was a dirt road, I saw an exposed vault cover parallel to and at the very edge of the ditch lining the street. This appears to be that vault cover.

The cement slab is visible as a light-colored rectangle in this aerial from Wilson County GOS website. 

But there’s also this:

We know the City placed steel power poles in Rountree and Vick Cemeteries in 1997, and an older set of wooden poles marches down the northwest of the street, as is visible in the upper left corner. There are also a fire hydrant and a manhole cover on the northwest side of the street. In other words, there is a municipal water line running either under Bishop L.N. Forbes Street or in the public right-of-way that occupies the first ten or so feet of Rountree Cemetery, measured from the edge of the street. There are no manholes in B.L.N.F. Street, which suggests the water (and sewer?) lines are in the right-of-way. There would have been no right-of-way observed during the period Rountree was actively receiving burials. Thus, as with Rest Haven, Odd Fellows, and Vick Cemetery, there were likely burials up to the edge of Rountree — on both sides.

This detail from a 1940 aerial depicts the stretch of B.L.N.F. Street that runs past the cemeteries. The patchy light areas below the street are family plots within the graveyards. However, the light areas above the street are ambiguous. They are clearly bare earth, but do they indicate graves? And what is going on across from Vick? A 1959 aerial shows that area completely denuded. There is no evidence, however, that this parcel has left the hands of the Barnes-Harriss-Wright family since the late 1800s, and it seems unlikely that they would have permitted burials on their property.

This detail from a 1985 aerial photograph of a section of the street is similarly ambiguous. The area encircled corresponds with the local of the cement slab above and appears to show several similar light-colored rectangles. There are some small white marks on the Wilson Farm Properties parcel, but are they graves?

The same year this image was taken, a jogger on Lane Street found bones on an unspecified side of road. Public Works director Bill Bartlett stated, “There is a concrete slab over one grave on one side of the road that wasn’t there when we annexed the property in 1972,” adding “The marker says the person was buried in 1950, but the slab has been poured in the past six or seven years.” Is this the slab above?

Bartlett also reported that a woman had called Asa Shreve, a former sanitation employee, and claimed she might have relatives buried under the street.  “Asa 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.” I’ve found nothing further about this alarming claim, but notice Bartlett didn’t dismiss the idea outright.

It is certain that graves lie on both sides of the road in the halves of Rountree Cemetery. Whatever the photos above may or may not show, more than one person has stated with certainty that they recall (or were told) that a family member’s grave was located on land across from Vick Cemetery as well.

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