Land

Lane Street Project: a fern.

The heavy invasion of wisteria throughout Odd Fellows Cemetery has created a woodscape very different from the nearby one I roamed as a child. The forest floor is nearly sterile, completely lacking the diverse native flora you would expect to find in a North Carolina Inner Coastal Plain woodland (even a young one). I was surprised, then, to come across this little ebony spleenwort as we stripped a dense cascade of vines from a gum tree last weekend. 

I knew it wouldn’t tolerate being blasted by sunlight, so I went back to rescue it for transplant in my home garden. My shovel hit wisteria roots on every side, however, and I had to leave it.

Brushing back the leaf mold exposed the straps of root pinning this fern to the ground.

A mule named Rody, twelve acres of cotton, and a Hackney-made buggy: miscellaneous transactions, no. 2.

Most “deed” books stacked in the search room of the Wilson County Register of Deeds Office contain just deeds, but others, like Volume 72, contain miscellaneous records of sales agreements, leases, contracts, chattel mortgages, and other transactions. These documents offer rare glimpses of the commercial and farming lives of Black Wilsonians.

  • On 2 February 1907, John Artis and A.P. Branch agreed that Branch would advance Artis forty (up to fifty) dollars in supplies in order for Artis to make a crop on  in exchange for a lien on land in Black Creek township owned by and rented from Nathan Bass and on which Artis resided. In return, Artis agreed to cultivate and harvest twelve acres in cotton, nine in corn, and four in tobacco, and gave a lien not only on those crops, but on a seven year-old black mare mule named Rody; a buggy and harness; an iron axle cart; and all his farm implements. Deed Book 72, page 191.
  • On 25 February 1907, R.E. Hagan leased to Richard Renfrow, Charles S. Thomas, and Andrew Pierce for $8.00 per week “One Certain Outfit for Barber’s Shop,” consisting of five hydraulic barber’s chairs, twelve sitting chairs, one table, one bootblack stand, one barber’s pole, one mug case, five chairs, combination cabinet with mirrors, five towel jars, one complete wash stand, window curtains, and other furniture and furnishings in Renfrow, Thomas, and Pierce’s shop on Nash Street in a building owned by Hagan. Renfrow, Thomas, and Pierce further agreed to pay all taxes on the property and insure it against fire to the value of $700. After 215 weeks of payments, Renfrow, Thomas, and Pierce had the option to purchase the property for $912. Deed Book 72, page 195.
  • On 24 December 1906, Neverson Green agreed to purchase a #10 Computing Scale from The J.H. Parker Co. of Richmond, Virginia, for $57.50 payable in installments. Deed Book 72, page 205.
  • On 6 December 1907, to secure a debt of $3500, James White and George W. Suggs gave Samuel H. Vick a mortgage on 13 sets of single harnesses; three sets of double harnesses; five winter buggy robes; ten summer robes; one clipping machine; one roomer top desk; one iron safe; one saddle; one roan horse; four gray horses; two black horses; one bay horse named George; three bay mares; one brown horse; one sorrel horse; two double surries; one double carriage; four steel tire buggies; five rubber tire buggies; one drummers wagon; two runabout buggies; one single wagon; and one spring wagon. The loan was satisfied and discharged on 19 February 1908. Deed Book 72, page 249.
  • On 6 November 1907, H.G. Whitehead agreed to sell to Samuel H. Vick “an outlet through the lands of Silas Lucas and the said H.G. Whitehead” near Wilson’s corporate limits on both sides of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad at the extension of Warren Street, as well as another outlet at a place to be determined. Deed Book 72, page 249.
  • On 1 December 1907, to secure a debt of $712, James Hardy gave Samuel H. Vick a mortgage on one set of wagon harnesses; one wagon; one gray horse; one horse named George; one sorrel horse; one surrey horse; one surrey; one top buggy, Hackney make; three sets of harnesses; two buggy robes; one wagon pole; one set of double harnesses; and one buggy pole. Vick had sold this property to Hardy for use in a livery stable in the Town of Wilson. Deed Book 72, page 250.

Lane Street Project: Maplewood vs. Vick, 1940.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Aerial photographs shot in 1940 show the stark difference in the design and upkeep of segregated Maplewood and Vick Cemeteries.

We see Maplewood, founded in 1876 (and since expanded northwest across Hill Street), laid out in an orderly grid. The circle of trees, since removed, at the center of the first eight sections marks the location of the city’s Confederate monument, which was unveiled in 1902. The gateway arch is southwest of the monument, at Woodard Street.

And here we see Vick Cemetery — plus Odd Fellows and Rountree — on a dirt road outside city limits and surrounded by piney woods and corn fields. Vick, founded in 1913, is at left and takes up about two-thirds of what looks like a single graveyard, but is in fact three. There is no internal grid, no clearly marked access paths, no uniform spacing of graves or family plots. Certainly no Spanish Revival gateways or monuments to heroic ancestors. Though the city had established Rest Haven Cemetery in 1933, Vick remained active until the early 1960s, and hundreds of people were buried there in the 1940s alone. As poorly as it compares to Maplewood, Vick Cemetery never looked this good again.

Lane Street Project: a fervent request.

We have, at most, three more organized Season 2 cleanups at Odd Fellows Cemetery — April 23, May 14, and May 21. The heat and fecundity of summer, as well as the hazardous insect and reptile life, make working in the woods more difficult than we can comfortably invite volunteers to do. For these reasons, it is critical that we maximize our time and effort in the coming weeks.

Here’s Odd Fellows on a recent April morning. The Senior Force has been putting in extra work every week and, for the first time in decades, a fifty-foot swath inside the tree line has been cleared.

In February 2020, almost a year before Lane Street Project began, I discovered a pile of headstones well back in the woods, evidence of some misguided earlier cleanup. The pile was nestled just behind an immense thicket of privet and wisteria and could only be reached by circuitous approach. This past February, I expressed hope to Castonoble Hooks that we would be able to break through the thicket and open a direct path to the headstones.

The Senior Force did it.

Circled below, Bessie McGowan‘s headstone at the edge of the pile that includes my great-grandmother Rachel Barnes Taylor‘s. The Senior Force, anchored by brothers Cass and Will Hooks, Briggs Sherwood, and Glenn Wright, demolished a seemingly impenetrable hedge to expose the interior of Odd Fellows cemetery.

Here are Bessie McGowan’s marker and the Jurassic forest that has sprung to life behind it in the last month. Everything green you see is wisteria, an invasive vine that has largely choked off native plant species.

In January, I placed Rachel Taylor’s headstone upright against a stump.

Here it is yesterday. This is what we’re up against, folks, and we can’t do it without you.

Saturday’s going to be beautiful. Please lend a hand. Come for 30 minutes. Or three hours. Bring a hand pruner. A lopper. A rake. A lawnmower. Whatever you have. Or just yourself. If you can’t labor, come offer words of encouragement or bottles of water. Honor the ancestors. Build community. Save a sacred space.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2022.

Borrowing from Wilson Home and Loan Association, pt. 1.

East Wilson’s new property owners often turned to Wilson Home and Loan Association, a savings and loan association affiliated with George D. Green, for short-term financing.

  • On 25 February 1901, Charles Battle borrowed $700 from Wilson Home and Loan Association, mortgaging (1) a two-acre lot on the east side of Stantonsburg Street adjoining the lands of William Goffney, Jane Taylor, Peggie Farmer, M.H. Cotton, and John Gaston and (2) a quarter-acre lot on the east side of Green Street bounded by Pender Street, an alley, the lot of Anna Bynum, and others. The note was paid off and cancelled 5 January 1906. Deed Book 32, page 159. [This lot appears to be the property Battle’s wife Leah Battle, who died in 1898, purchased from George and Ella Green in 1887. The alley was what we now know as Viola Street; see below.]
  • On 17 June 1901, [Mary] Jane Henderson (whose husband was Sandy Henderson, but who applied for the loan herself) borrowed $500 from W.H.L.A., mortgaging a lot on the west side of Nash Street adjoining the lots of J.E. Clark, Ed. Moore, and R.J. Taylor known as “the Alfred Robinson lot” and purchased by Jane Henderson from Robinson. The note was paid off and cancelled 5 December 1906. Deed Book 32, page 170. [For more about this lot, now numbered 536 East Nash, see here.]
  • On 3 July 1901, Daniel Vick and wife Fannie Vick borrowed $800 from W.H.L.A., mortgaging a one-third acre lot on the north side of Church (or Goose Neck) Street adjoining the lots of Wash Sugg, J.W. McGowan, Mrs. Julia Harrison, and others, “it being the lot assigned Wilson Barnes, and of which he died in possession.” The note was paid off and cancelled 5 December 1906. Deed Book 32, page 171.
  • On 9 September 1901, C.M. Wells and wife Cherry Wells borrowed $300 from W.H.L.A., mortgaging a one-third acre lot “on a lane in rear of Charles Battle’s lot leaving Pender street, familiarly known as Pig Alley,” adjoining the lots of S.H. Vick, and Levi Peacock and being the home place of the Wellses. The note was paid off and cancelled 27 December 1906. Deed Book 32, page 174. [Charles Malachi “Mack” Wells, Cherry Williams Wells, and family lived at 615 Viola Street. It appears that the lane behind Charles Battle’s lot, known as Pig Alley, was the precursor to Viola Street, which Samuel H. Vick named for one of his daughters. That Viola began as an alley explains its narrowness relative to Green and Vance Streets.]

1922 Sanborn fire insurance map showing the Wellses’ house at 615 Viola and Viola’s narrow width.

  • On 15 August 1901, Della Barnes (with consent of her husband David Barnes) borrowed $600 from W.H.L.A., mortgaging a one-third acre lot on the east side of Green Street adjoining the lots of Hardy Tate and S.H. Vick, “it being the lot conveyed to Della Barnes by George D. Green and wife … in 1894.” The note was paid off and cancelled 19 May 1906. Deed Book 32, page 173. [The Barneses’ house at 613 East Green Street stood until the 1990s.]
  • On 12 February 1902, Walter Hines borrowed $400 from W.H.L.A., mortgaging a lot on the northeast side of Green Street adjoining the lots of David Barnes and Charles Thomas, it being the lot bought from Samuel and Annie Vick. The note was paid off and cancelled 19 May 1906. Deed Book 32, page 180. [This lot is at what is now 621 East Green Street. The Vicks bought the lot from John Blount.]
  • On 13 February 1902, Hardy Johnson and his wife Martha Johnson borrowed $300 from W.H.L.A., mortgaging a  lot on the eastern suburb of Wilson “on the south west side of Vick alley near Green Street adjoining Isham Perry and others” and purchased from S.H. Vick. The note was paid off and cancelled 18 May 1907. Deed Book 32, page 181. [The description does not seem to fit the location of the Johnsons’ house at 705 East Green Street, but Isham Perry lived at 703 East Green. Was “Vick alley” the original name of Elba Street (also named by Sam Vick for one of his daughters)?]
  • On 29 May 1902, L.A. Moore and wife Louisa Moore borrowed $550 from W.H.L.A., mortgaging a one-quarter acre lot on the north side of “the old plant [plank] road” Green Street adjoining the lots of Bowlden Tyson, Surry Tarboro, and S.H. Vick. The note was paid off and cancelled 4 June 1907. Deed Book 32, page 189. [This appears to be the lot at 646 East Nash, just west of East Street, on which Lee Andrew and Louisa Moore’s first house was located.]
  • On 26 November 1902, Dorsey Williams borrowed $400 from W.H.L.A., mortgaging a lot on the eastern side of Lipscomb Street adjoining the land of Mrs. S.B. Lipscomb and Lucy Woodard. The note was paid off and cancelled 18 May 1907. Deed Book 32, page 198.

  • On 8 January 1903, Daniel Vick borrowed $500 from W.H.L.A., mortgaging a  lot on the fork of the old plank road [East Nash Street] and the old Barefoot road [probably what we now know as South Pender Street] adjoining the land of Charles Darden, “it being all the land owned by E.N. Mercer in the forks of said roads and on which is located a Brick store house and also all the land claimed by said Vick in the forks of said roads.” The note was paid off and cancelled 4 August 1908. Deed Book 32, page 200.

 

George and Ella Green and the development of East Green Street, pt. 1.

By the late 1800s, the area of present-day Green Street east of the railroad tracks — largely farmland — was held by a handful of large landowners, notably George D. and Ella M. Green and Frank I. and Annie Finch. We’ve seen here how the Samuel H. and Annie Washington Vick sold parcels in the 600 block to their friends and family to solidify a middle-class residential district for African-Americans. The Vicks themselves bought fifteen acres from the Greens, which they later divided into the lots they sold to others.

These transactions disclose more early settlers on East Green:

  • On 20 July 1887, for $250, George D. and Ella M. Green, as trustees for F.I. and Annie Finch, sold Leah Battle a one-third acre lot at Green and Pender Streets near Mrs. Procise. The deed was registered 3 January 1889 in Deed Book 27, page 85.
  • On 31 December 1890, for $150, George D. and Ella M. Green sold Short Barnes a one-fourth acre lot on “the  extension of Green Street near the corporate limits of Wilson” adjoining George Green and J.M.F. Bridgers. The deed was registered 1 January 1891 in Deed Book 29, page 150. [Barnes’ house was at 616 East Green.]
  • On 24 February 1891, for $300, George D. and Ella M. Green sold Samuel H. Vick “a lot on the extension of Green Street near the corporate line of Wilson” next to a lot now occupied by Alex Barnes. The lot was irregularly shaped and measured about one and one-half acres. The deed was registered 23 February 1891 in Deed Book 29, page 396.
  • On 24 October 1890, for $150, George D. and Ella M. Green sold Lewis Battle and his wife Jemima a one and one-quarter acre lot fronting on Green Street and adjacent to J.W.F. Bridgers, Samuel H. Vick, and G.D. Green. The deed was registered 21 March 1891 in Deed Book 29, page 488.
  • On 11 December 1891, for $1300.75, George D. and Emma M. Green sold Samuel H. Vick a parcel containing 13 and three-quarter acres adjacent to Sallie Lipscombe’s property, Vance Street, F.I. Finch, G.D. Green, and Samuel H. Vick. The deed was registered 28 December 1891 in Deed Book 30, page 454.

Detail of T.M. Fowler’s 1908 bird’s eye map of Wilson. Green Street slices diagonally across the frame. Samuel H. and Annie Vick’s new multi-gabled mansion is at (1). The church he helped establish, Calvary Presbyterian, is at the corner of Green and Pender at (2). At (3), Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Church, which bought its lot from the Vicks. At (4), the original location of Piney Grove Free Will Baptist Church. 

Conveyance to the Elm City Colored Cemetery trustees.

Deed Book 81, page 323.

In 1893, Ellen Williams, J.H. Joyner, Joseph Short, Haywood Batts, Amos Whitley, William Barnes, George Barnes, Robert Barnes, Agatha Williams, Frank Barnes, James Williams, Doublin Barnes, Amerson Parker, George Gaston, Joshua Farmer, Louis Deans, Leah Bullock, Elbert Locust, John Marshaw, Richard Battle, William Pender, George Barnes Jr., and Proctor Battle “associate[d] themselves” to purchase land to establish an African-American cemetery just outside Elm City. The group bought a two and a half acre parcel from Thomas G. Dixon and wife on 6 January 1893. As they began to sell burial plots, however, they ran into a problem. Securing the signatures of all the owners on every single sale was difficult and time-consuming.

After fifteen years of this struggle, on 28 September 1908, the owners conveyed the Elm City Colored Cemetery to three of their number — Robert Barnes, Haywood Batts, and George Barnes — as trustees. 

Lane Street Project: 360 degrees of Odd Fellows.

On a March morning, a 360° look at Odd Fellows Cemetery. The old gated entrance. The Tate and Dawson family plots. The Foster family plot. The wilderness of Rountree Cemetery. Straddling the tree line, the Vick family plot. Wiley Oates‘ obelisk. The densest remaining uncleared section. Ben Mincey‘s fire hydrant and the Mincey family plot. The work we’ve done in Seasons 1 and 2. Vick Cemetery in the distance. The power lines. The backs of the Barnes markers in their family plot. The street and the old gate.