Maps

Soil map of Wilson County, 1925.

At last, a county map marked with the locations of Lane Street cemeteries. This 1925 soil map indicates a combined Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries at (A) and the Masonic cemetery at (B). There is no cemetery indicated in the general location of Oakdale cemetery (C). (Note that, as in the 1904 topographic map, the eastern arm of Lane extended to Stantonsburg Road and the western arm extended to what is now Pender Street.)

Detail of “Soil Map of Wilson County, North Carolina,” U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1929, available via East Carolina University Digital Collections.

 

Cemetery records request update, no. 5: the city’s response.

I have received the city’s response to my request for documents related to the removal and destruction of headstones from Vick cemetery, made under North Carolina’s Public Records Law.

My initial request to the Wilson Cemetery Commission was made 6 September 2019. (Thanks again to Heather Goff for her quick response.)

I followed up with letters to several city officials in October and November. The city clerk responded quickly to my first letter, providing copies of relevant city council minutes from 1990 to 1995. The city manager and city engineer did not respond at all, even to acknowledge receipt of my request.

On 30 December 2019, I sent a letter to the mayor of Wilson, the city manager, and all seven council members setting forth my concerns and my unanswered requests for information about Rountree, Odd Fellows and Vick cemeteries. At the behest of the city’s new mayor, Carlton Stevens, and council, city attorney James Cauley assumed responsibility for the search for responsive documents. I commend Mr. Cauley for his periodic updates on the status of the city’s response and for his candor concerning the paucity of records.

Here, in their entirety, are the documents I received.

(1) Purchase Order, dated 10 November 1994, for services by vendor PLT Construction, described in “Bid for improvements to S.H. Vick Cemetery.” The document’s right edge is cut off, but the amount the city paid was more than $139,000.

(2) A request for payment of balance due submitted by PLT Construction to the City of Wilson on 5 June 1995. Note the change item: “deduct for replacing headstones and portion of survey work.” PLT did not perform this work and thus credited the city $4500.

 

(3) A 21 June 1995 invoice for the amount set forth in PLT’s letter above.

(4) Page 1 of a project description entitled “Restoration and Improvement S.H. Vick Cemetery Lane St. Wilson, N.C.” Section 4A of this document is particularly interesting: “All existing graves whether marked by a grave marker or not shall be identified and located so as to be able to be re-located after completion of the work. A detailed survey may be needed in order to ensure that graves are marked in the correct location after completion of the work. A drawing showing all graves shall be prepared for future reference. All existing tombstones shall be removed, labeled, and stored until after all work is completed.” As we know, the grave markers were not relocated to the cemetery. They were stored for an indeterminate period of time, then destroyed.

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(5) Page 2 of a project description entitled “Restoration and Improvement S.H. Vick Cemetery Lane St. Wilson, N.C.” See particularly, Section E: “All graves identified and located prior to construction shall be re-located and marked. Graves shall be marked in one of two ways: (1) Tombstones removed from graves prior to construction shall be reset at the proper grave locations. (2) Any unmarked graves which were located shall be marked by means of a small metal marker as typically used in cemeteries. A map showing the locations of all graves shall be furnished to the City of Wilson.”

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(6) A plat map of the cemetery and surrounding properties, including Odd Fellows cemetery.

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(7) Another plat map prepared by F.T. Green and Associates [now Green Engineering]. Under the label “Odd Fellows Cemetery” is this note: “No deed on record. See D.B. 81, p. 196.”

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(8) This map, also prepared by F.T. Green, reveals with terrible clarity the reality of the smooth field that is now Vick cemetery. This map shows the location of every grave found on the site. You have to imagine the boundaries: Lane Street the top, woods to the right (concealing Odd Fellows cemetery) and bottom. The clear strip bisecting the map likely indicates an access lane. Contrary to claims made by public officials in the 1990s, Vick cemetery was laid out quite regularly. Graves were oriented parallel to the road (roughly northeast to southwest) in rows running perpendicular.

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Please look more closely. The resolution is awful, but these — hundreds, thousands of? — little marks are not just marks. They are numbers. Each grave was numbered as it surveyed, and the city cannot locate its copy of the key to these numbers. Nor, apparently, can Green Engineering.

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The takeaway: the city (or its contractors) surveyed and assigned each grave a number; prepared a map of those graves; removed the gravestones; graded the site; stored, then destroyed the gravestones; and lost the key that identified any of the graves that could be identified. 

I need to sit with this for a minute to process my sadness and anger and profound disappointment in the city’s handling of the “restoration and improvement” of a public cemetery founded during the darkest days of segregation and neglected through and after its fifty years as an active burial ground. The graves of the thousands of African-Americans buried in Vick cemetery remain in situ, the names of their dead lost.

Vick Cemetery, Christmas Eve 2019. 

Another deed for Rountree cemetery.

I published here the deed for the purchase in 1906 of one acre of the land that now comprises the abandoned Rountree cemetery. I speculated that the remaining acre was purchased later. However, it appears that, in fact, Rountree Missionary Baptist Church trustees bought the first acre of the burial ground — the section west of Lane Street — almost ten years earlier, in 1897.

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North Carolina, Wilson County  }

This Deed, made this 2nd day of August, A.D., 1897, by F.W. Barnes and wife, Mattie B. Barnes, Parties of the first part, to George Harris, Charles Bullock and Arch Harris, Trustees, of the Rountree Missionary Baptist Church, Parties of the Second Part, all of County and State aforesaid, witnesseth:

That the Said Parties of the first part, for and in consideration of the sum of Twenty Five Dollars, to them in hand paid, (the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged), have bargained and sold, and do by these presents convey unto the Said Parties of the Second part, and their successors in office, that certain lot of land, lying and being situate in Wilson Township, county and state aforesaid, adjoining the lands of F.W. Barnes and Martin V. Barnes, and more particularly described as follows: Beginning at a stake on the path leading from the Plank road to the Stantonsburg road where a small branch crosses said path, thence westerly with said path, a fence row, 270 feet to a stake cornering thence northerly 250 feet to a stake in Said branch, thence down said branch or ditch to the beginning containing one acre, more or less. It is understood and agreed that the path above referred to Shall at no time be closed up and that the public shall have the enjoyment thereof without the interference or interruption from the said parties of the first part.

To have and to hold said real estate unto the said parties of the Second part and their successors in office in fee simple. And the said F.W. Barnes, for himself, his heirs, executors and administrators, doth covenant to and with the said parties of the Second part, and their successors in office, that he will forever warrant and defend the title to the Said land against the lawful claim or claims of all other persons whomsoever. In Testimony whereof the Said parties of the first part have hereunto  set their hands and seals, the day and year first above written.  /s/ F.W. Barnes, Mattie B. Barnes

——

Note this description: “beginning at a stake on the path leading from the Plank road to the Stantonsburg road where a small branch crosses said path.” The “small branch” is Sandy Creek. The plank road is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the continuation of East Nash Street beyond U.S. Highway 301. Stantonsburg road is still Stantonsburg Road. The path? That’s modern-day Lane Street, which no longer spans the entire stretch between MLK and Stantonsburg. Instead, just beyond Vick cemetery it makes an abrupt westward turn toward 301.

Here’s detail from the United States Geological Survey’s 1904 topographic map of North Carolina’s Wilson Quadrangle:

The rough area of the cemeteries is encircled. Lane Street clearly continued down to Stantonsburg Road at the time.

  • George Harris
  • Charles Bullock — Bullock was also one of the trustees who purchased the second parcel.
  • Arch Harris — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Arch Harris, 53; wife Rosa, 45; and children James, 22, Arch, 20, Mary Jane, 18, Nancy, 16, Lucy, 12, Minnie, 11, Maggie, 8, Jessie, 6, and Annie, 3.
  • Rountree Missionary Baptist Church

Deed book 45, page 153, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Cemeteries in the flood plain.

From the website of the Wilson County GIS/Mapping Office, a map showing the flood plain of Sandy Creek. As is obvious from the drifts of trash littering the low-lying rear of Rountree cemetery, much of this graveyard is regularly underwater. The same holds for the southeast quadrant of Odd Fellows cemetery and nearly all of the section of Rountree across Lane Street.

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Cemetery records request update, no. 4: ownership of the cemeteries.

You just have to know where to look.

After I figured out some basic navigation tricks, Wilson County’s fine GIS maps yielded quick answers to the questions of ownership of Vick, Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries. (One would think this information would be readily available to the city employees and officials from whom I requested it, but let’s keep moving forward.)

Here is the 7.84 acre Vick cemetery, deeded by Samuel H. Vick to the City of Wilson in 1913. (The deed is recorded at Deed Book 96, page 85, which is not available via the Register of Deeds’ website. I’ll get a copy when I next go home.) It is classified, appropriately, as a cemetery.

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Adjacent to the northeast is a 2.16 acre parcel owned by Odd Fellows Society since 1900. (There is no deed book reference listed.) It is classified — inappropriately, in my view — as a vacant lot belonging to a club or lodge.

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And here, sandwiched between the Odd Fellows Cemetery and Sandy Creek, is a two-acre parcel owned by Rountree Missionary Baptist Church since 1906. (Rountree’s deed is in Deed Book 76, page 97. The present-day church is the irregularly shaped building on the large lot at the northen corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and Lane Street.) This, too, incredibly, is described as a vacant lot belonging to a church.

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And to my shock, there’s also this. The rhombus across Lane Street, shown below, is part of the Rountree cemetery’s acreage. It is not my imagination that I saw graves on this side of the road when exploring as a child.

Here’s an aerial view, also from Wilson County GIS/Mapping Office. The big empty square is Vick cemetery (known popularly, and confusingly, as Rountree cemetery), which contains the remains of thousands of African Americans who died between the late 1800s and about 1965. I have no idea how many people are buried in the Odd Fellows cemetery next door, which was the burial ground of choice for much of Wilson’s black elite in the early 1900s. The city maintains the strip of this cemetery that fronts Lane Street. You can’t see it here, but a deep ditch marks the boundary between Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries. The eastern border of Rountree is Sandy Creek, a small, sluggish tributary of Hominy Swamp.

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Next step: contact Rountree Missionary Baptist Church (which will be a straightforward endeavor) and the Odd Fellows Society (which will not.) And remind the city that I’m still waiting for a response to my public records request.

Emma Gay’s lands.

In 1918, John Griffin subdivided and sold a large parcel that had formerly belonged to Emma Gay. Griffin contemplated twenty lots with connecting rear alleys. This corner is easily recognized as the eastern gateway to Wilson’s black business block. Subsequent development, all commercial, suggests that most the lots were sold in multiples and consolidated.

The approximate location of Emma Gay’s lands.

Plat Book 1, Page 56, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson County Courthouse.

Hines Street school?

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What school is this?

The 1908 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson shows a two-story wooden structure with an exterior staircase on East Hines Street near South Spring labeled “School (Negro).” (South Spring Street is now Douglas Street. Thus, this building would have been facing south on Hines in the block leading up to Lodge Street.) It’s not the Episcopal parochial school, which was a one-story building next to the church at South and Lodge Streets, and I am not aware of any other private schools for African-Americans operating in Wilson at the time.

This is the sole listing in the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, which is for the Colored Graded School:

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By 1913, an extra story had been added to the building, and the exterior stairs removed. It was then labeled “Lodge Hall (Negro).”

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Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, N.C., 1913.

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Approximate location today on Hines just east of South Douglas. Aerial view courtesy of Google Maps.

Anatomy of a bird’s eye view.

I first blogged here about the 1908 Fowler bird’s eye map of Wilson. While visiting the Freeman Round House and African-American Museum recently, I had the opportunity to closely examine an enlargement of the map. Here are more details:

This house, later numbered 108, was the residence of the family of Mike and Rachel Barnes Taylor.

The original location of Wilson’s African-American Episcopal church was at the corner of Lodge and South Streets.

The 1908 Sanborn map of Wilson shows the church facing the bulky R.P. Watson & Company Redrying Plant. Below, the corner today. The green storage building occupy the church’s former footprint.

Jesse and Sarah Henderson Jacobs bought the house at 303 Elba Street, top, in 1908. The lower building, on Vance Street, housed the Wilson Normal and Industrial School, the private school started after the Colored Graded School boycott in 1918.

  • Oaklawn cemetery

Fowler’s map depicts white Maplewood cemetery, but Oaklawn is just a blank expanse of turf. The unnamed street running through this area is Cemetery Street. The large building across the road was the Colored Graded School.

Griffin Hill.

As detailed here, in 1920 Roscoe Briggs moved in earnest to dismantle the African-American neighborhood of Grabneck to make way for the mansions of West Nash Street. On a single day in March 1920, he bought four parcels from members of the Best family, including Frank and Mamie Best, who exchanged their lot for a house to be built in Griffin Hill by John H. Griffin.

Here’s the plat for “Griffins Hill,” surveyed days later and recorded in Plat Book 1, Page 187, at the Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.

At first I thought the Bests got the okey-doke. Connor Street runs five blocks from Kenan to Lee. Cone Street runs parallel to the west. To this day, there’s no Griffin Street or Center Street or Boyette Road in Wilson.

So where did Frank and Mamie Simms Best end up?

Frank Best died in 1922. His Wilson County death certificate describes his residence as “country.” Mamie Best remarried, but second husband Charles Jordan soon died. In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, she and her 14 year-old step daughter Mabell Jordan were listed just outside the city limits in New Grabneck, near other former Grabneck families. Mamie Simms Best Jordan died 29 January 1940, and her death certificate lists New Grabneck as her residence.

A list of delinquent property taxes published in the Daily Times on 17 September 1938 included these Griffin Hill residents. All were families who lived in the area otherwise known as New Grabneck.

Though he lived within a few houses of Ed Bobbitt, Emma Lee and Alice Mitchell, Paul Sherrod‘s listing was “New Grab Neck.”

In May 1943, Fred Lucas placed ads for farm animals that suggest that the name Griffin Hill was unfamiliar enough to require location aides. (And emphasize its rural nature.)

Wilson Daily Times, 27 May 1943.

Wilson Daily Times, 31 May 1943.

Finally, in a 21 October 1959 article announcing the construction of low-income housing for whites, the Times noted:

This terrible map accompanied the article, the hashed area depicting the site of the new project at Griffin Hill:

The dark squiggle is the Hominy Swamp Canal. The arc slicing across it is the Norfolk & Southern Railroad. Warren Street (now Elizabeth Road) is the west border; Forrest Street, at bottom. (Parallel to a short road labeled “New Grabneck.”) Griffin Hill was no hill at all. In fact, like Lincoln Heights, it was in a notorious flood plain of Hominy Swamp. And 40 years after it was developed to accommodate the relocation of the Grabneck community, it was gone.

Per Google Map, the public housing built on the former site of Griffin Hill. 

[Note: Connor Street indeed runs as described above, but in this map, Forrest Road is labeled “Connor Street.” Presumably, someone realized the inadvisability of having two streets with the same name, and the anchor street of Griffin Hill was renamed.]

Deeds of trust, no. 1.

A deed of trust is essentially an agreement between a lender and a borrower to give legal title to a property to a neutral third party who will serve as a trustee. The trustee holds the property until the borrower pays off the debt owed to the lender. During the period of repayment, the borrower keeps the actual or equitable title to the property and generally maintains full responsibility for the premises. The trustee, however, holds the legal title to the property and is empowered to sell the property to satisfy the debt if the borrower defaults.  (In that event, once the sale is complete, the trustee will distribute the proceeds between the borrower and the lender. The lender gets whatever funds are required to satisfy the debt, and the borrower receives anything in excess of that amount.)

Here are details of several deeds of trust filed in Wilson County:

  • Levi H. Peacock and his wife Hannah H. Peacock borrowed $65.88 at 6% interest from Kathleen Smith Grady to purchase a 53′ by 210′ lot with buildings on Ash Street adjacent to lots owned by O.L.W. Smith and others. The loan was due 1 January 1929. On 24 September 1928, trustee R.A. Grady filed a deed of trust that was recorded at Book 181, page 302. It carries a stamp noting thet the loan was paid in full and the deed cancelled on the due date.
  • Laura Reid and her husband H.S. Reid, Minnie Reid Creech and her husband M.C. Creech, Levi J. Reid, Hugh C. Reid, J. Harvey Reid and Walter Reid borrowed $1000 at 6% interest from A.O. Dickens to purchase 46 acres on New Raleigh Road and Contentnea Creek. Laura Reid had purchased the acreage, identified as Lot #5 of the plat at Plat Book 1, Page 24, from F.J. and Mattie Finch. Trustee Bryce Little filed a deed of trust that was recorded at Book 181, page 470. There is no indication that the loan was satisfied.

Plat Book 1, Page 24, “Division of J.D. Farrior Raleigh Road Farm Three Miles West of Wilson, N.C.,” 5 December 1916.

Lot #5 of the above plat.

The location of Laura Wilder Reid’s land today, out N.C. Highway 42 West, just past Forest Hills Road and just before Greenfield School.

  • W.M. King, J.H Neil and G.J. Branch, the trustees of “Mount Zion Holiness Church (colored)” borrowed $75 at 6% interest from J.T. Dew & Brothers to purchase a lot on the south side of Lodge Street on which a church building stood. The loan was due 14 April 1929. On 14 April 1928, trustee R.A. Grady filed a deed of trust that was recorded at Book 181, page 26. There is no indication that the loan was satisfied.
  • John Whitehead, Mat Turner and Alonzo Walker, the trustees of “Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church (colored)” borrowed $400 at 6% interest from R.A. Grady. (“Witnesseth: That whereas at a special meeting of the membership of Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church (colored) held on the 4th day of January 1929 … it was made to appear that in order to complete the church building now in the course of erection” and to pay the purchase price of the lot, they needed to borrow money. … F.F. Battle, Moderator, Mary Jones, Clerk.) The lot and church building were on Atlantic Street. The loan was due 10 January 1930. On 16 January 1929, trustee R.A. Grady filed a deed of trust that was recorded at Book 181, page 543. There is no indication that the loan was satisfied.