aerial photograph

Lost neighborhoods, no. 4: Happy Hill.

I had no idea what I was looking at at first. This aerial view of Wilson was shot circa 1949, but what was the perspective?

I started with the obvious landmarks — the courthouse, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, and the Cherry Hotel. The hotel’s location identified the street crossing the image diagonally as Lodge Street. Hines Street had not been cut through yet — it ended at Lodge — and Renfro Bridge was 25 years in the future. The image began to make sense.

I’ve marked up the image with a few notes.

The footprint of the immense Watson’s Warehouse is now the site of Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. The tobacco warehouses across Goldsboro Street from the park have been repurposed, but most of the warehouses visible in this image succumbed to fire in the 1980s and ’90s.

 

(1) The big oval (which is yellow, but should be white, as it indicates a lost or altered landscape feature) is roughly the neighborhood once known as Happy Hill. The neighborhood was razed in the 1950s to make way for the Whitfield Homes public housing project.

Whitfield Homes as shown on Google Maps. Most of these units have been demolished.

Wilson Housing Authority has largely replaced Whitfield Homes with 32 townhomes painted in cheery pastels. The pandemic delayed construction of the homes, but they opened in late summer 2022.

Eatmon Townhomes on East Walnut Street.

(2) The house at 515 East Walnut Street is one of the last remaining of the neighborhood’s original housing. Built when the block was a white residential area, the house is now owned by the General Assembly of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, whose popular Whole Truth Lunchroom stands next door. (The church bought the house and three contiguous lots from Asa and Annie Locus in 1950.)

(3) Mount Zion Holiness Church. This building has been demolished, and the church has not been active since at least the early 1970s.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 January 1935.

(4) Saint Rose Church of Christ Disciples of Christ is very much an active congregation, but in a newer edifice built along side this one.

(5) The chimney and water tower of the old British-American Tobacco Company facility on Goldsboro Street. Both remain standing, though the business is defunct.

(6) The old freight platform of the Norfolk Southern Railroad. The buildings still stand, but are not railroad property. [Who remembers what was across the street at 219 South Street, a two-story brick building was erected in 1928? The Twenty Grand Club, a nightspot torched by arsonists in 1984.] The former Norfolk Southern passenger station is at the corner of Barnes and Douglas Streets and is now home to a church and Islamic center.

This detail from a 1951 map of Wilson issued by the Chamber of Commerce helps us more clearly understand the street layout in the foreground of the Raines and Cox aerial view. Though the main railroads remain active, all the spur tracks shown were abandoned and either pulled up or paved over.

The black and white image is found among the Raines & Cox collection of photographs at the North Carolina State Archives and is catalogued as PhC_196_CW_1483_WarehouseDistrict. Other than the Google Maps image, all other photos are mine. The full map of Wilson may be found at East Carolina University Digital Collections.

 

 

 

Lane Street Project: December 1994 aerial.

This aerial view of Lane Street (now Bishop L.N. Forbes Street), date-stamped 27 December 1994, offers surprises.

First, the bare expanse of Vick Cemetery, outlined in solid yellow. The city first cleared the cemetery with bush hogs in 1991. In late 1994, the period during which the photo was taken, city council was engaged in debate that led to reclearing, grading, and the complete removal of Vick’s headstones in the spring of 1995.

Second, the relative openness of Odd Fellows, whose approximate boundaries are outlined in dotted orange. The dark smudges closest to the street are pines that apparently were removed when Vick was cleared. The rear two-thirds of the parcel is overgrown with what appear to be bare deciduous trees. These trees, primarily poplars, hickory, and sycamore, remain today. The pines now cluster near the tree line on the southwestern half of the lot.

Rountree Cemetery, outlined in broken red, shows mostly a dark canopy of pine trees except along the edge of Sandy Creek.

Many thanks to Matthew Langston for the link to the 1994 aerial, NCDOT Historical Aerial Imagery Index, arcgis.com.

Lane Street Project: a database of burials.

The northwest edge of Vick Cemetery, from above. Photo courtesy of George E. Freeney Jr.

Before he left for Alabama, George E. Freeney Jr. sent more drone photos of Vick Cemetery. These images spurred me to begin an arduous task I’ve been putting off for a year — trying to figure out who is buried in Vick Cemetery.

As noted before, the City of Wilson has no records of burials or plots sold in Vick. The survey of surviving gravestones that was supposed to have been made when the cemetery was cleared either was never created or has been lost.

The task is further complicated by naming practices. Vick Cemetery was not called Vick Cemetery during its active period. It was “the colored cemetery” or, most confusingly, was lumped with Rountree and Odd Fellows Cemeteries as “Rountree.” Death certificates, though official records, were shockingly imprecise, with most before World War II listing the place of burial simply as “Wilson, N.C.” From 1913 to about World War II, most of these burials would have been in Vick, as it was the city’s public Black cemetery, but we can only make informed guesses.

The database I’ve created draws primarily from grave markers, death certificates, and newspaper obituaries. I am deliberately omitting Rest Haven burials, but the database will necessarily include burials in other Black cemeteries operating in Wilson in the late 1890s and early 1900s, such Oakdale/Oakland/Oaklawn, Rountree, Odd Fellows, and the Masonic cemeteries. If the location of a burial can be firmly identified as one of those cemeteries, my spreadsheet will note it.

For now, data for each burial includes name; whether a gravestone has been found; birth and death dates; confirmed location of grave; death certificate found; place of death; name of undertaker; place of burial as noted on death cert; place of burial as noted in obituary; and notes.

Here’s a peek:

From time to time, I’ll provide updates on the status of the spreadsheet, highlighting anomalies and interesting finds.

Lane Street Project: a second look.

On a hunch, I went back to look at Google Maps’ aerial view of Vick Cemetery.

As I suspected it might show, the evidence of Vick’s graves was always there. We just weren’t ready to receive it.

A few notes about this annotated image:

  • The faint green specks marking the presence of graves are most visible in the western half of Vick, and the lower third of the eastern half. The recent ground-penetrating radar survey of the cemetery will yield better information about the distribution of burials across the site.
  • Odd Fellows Cemetery was once indistinguishable from Vick on the ground. The forest you see here, the one Lane Street Project has been hacking at for two seasons, hides the same orderly rows of graves as those you see in Vick.
  • I’ve circled the three utility poles marching down one side of the cemetery. A base of a forty-foot utility pole is buried six feet deep. The same as a grave.
  • No bodies were disinterred to make way for the central monument, the parking lot, or the path linking them. They’re lying atop graves.
  • The western third of Vick, at left, is its highest ground at about 130 feet above sea level. The ground drops steadily as one moves east to about 115 feet at Vick’s border with Odd Fellows. After a hard rain, sheets of water stand in the flat. (The “hill” at the front of Odd Fellows is about 124 feet above sea level, and the marshy ground at the back of that cemetery is about 110.)

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.

Upcoming event: a study on shotgun houses.

Preservation of Wilson presents a webinar with University of North Carolina-Greensboro graduate student Monica T. Davis on her work on East Wilson’s shotgun houses. Meet Monica here, and join Monday’s Zoom call for more!

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The promo photo depicts a row of endway houses (the local term for shotguns) on Carolina Street, just east of its intersection with Wainwright Street. Until I was nearly ten years old, I lived a block down Carolina. I remember these houses best in the early 1970s, well before this photo was taken, when there was no curbing or gutters, and the houses stood on brick pillars in clean-swept dirt yards.

The 1940 aerial of this area shows the houses in a row of fourteen nearly identical dwellings. (As described in the East Wilson Historic District nomination report, most were built circa 1917 and have shed-roofed porches, but one has a hip-roofed porch; another has a second-story addition; and another is a later-built bungalow.)

Nine of the endway houses are still standing.

Lane Street Project: April aerial.

Odd Fellows Cemetery from above, two days ago. I can’t stop marveling.

The dotted yellow line is the approximate boundary with Rountree Cemetery (12). Vick Cemetery is (13).

The dotted white line marks the approximate edge of the woods in 2020, then a nearly impenetrable wall of vegetation. Over the last three months, dozens of Lane Street Project volunteers have worked tirelessly to open up the cemetery’s interior, exposing to sunlight patches hidden for decades. Blooming wisteria can be seen at upper left, but the front and right sides of the cemetery are clear of this scourge.

The remaining numbers mark identified family plots (and a gate):

  1. the Dawson family.
  2. the Noah Tate family.
  3. the Oates-Farrior plot.
  4. the Jackson family.
  5. the Barnes-Hines family.
  6. the Hardy Tate family.
  7. the Vick family.
  8. the Foster family.
  9. the Mincey family.
  10. the Charlie Thomas family.
  11. former gate at entrance to access road; and 14. the Best family.

Shannon McKinnon, ShanSound Entertainment, answered my call for a quick turn-around on drone images of Odd Fellows and Rountree cemeteries. His prompt, professional service warrants a recommendation. 

Where was Barnes Church?

Below, Guy Cox’s late 1960’s photo of historic Barnes Church, a Primitive Baptist church a few miles north of Stantonsburg. The church is said to have been established by African-Americans enslaved by Edwin Barnes. 

A search of current Wilson County’s on-line tax records shows a parcel nominally owned by “Barnes Church” on Old Stantonsburg Road.

Locating the parcel on a 1940 aerial view of the area reveals the church sitting at a slight angle to the road in an open sandy area within a grove. 

Eighty years later, the little wooded thumb of land remains, but there are no signs of Barnes Church, which ceased meeting in the 1960s.

Photos courtesy of the Wilson County Tax Department; Wilson County Aerial Photographs (1940), U.S.D.A. Photograph Collection, State Archives of North Carolina; and Google Maps.

Daniel Hill: an aerial view, 1940.

This close-up of an aerial view of Daniel Hill shows the neighborhood in 1940. The street layout was altered somewhat when the city razed the area in the early 1960s urban renewal project, and I appreciate any corrections to the street labels. One interesting detail is easily identified — a baseball diamond (encircled) next to a row of endway (shotgun) houses on Warren Street. The Norfolk-Southern Railroad arcs across the bottom left corner.

Wilson_CSP_6B_12, U.S.D.A. Photograph Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.

The origins of the linear park.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 January 1983.

In January 1983, the City’s Community Development announced the installation of a 1100 foot long linear park to replace a noisome open drainage ditch running between Vance and Viola Streets. The park was to include a play area, picnic tables, grills, fruit trees, and a paved path. “The city acquired most of the property for the park from the heirs of S.H. Vick, a former community leader who once owned much of east Wilson.”

In this 1940 aerial view of the area, the drainage ditch is visible as a darker gray angling across the interior of the block between Vance and Viola Streets, then angling sharply near Vick Street to join its source, the branch of Toisnot Swamp that flows behind Reid Street Community Center and the former Sam Vick Elementary School, now the offices of OIC. (Another fork of the branch flowed parallel to Elba Street toward Viola.)

And here is the Linear Park now.

Aerial photo from Wilson_CSP_6B_12, U.S.D.A. Photograph Collection, State Archives of North Carolina; current photo courtesy of Google Maps.