aerial photograph

East Wilson aerial view, 1940.

North Carolina State Archives’ Flickr account contains a folder holding more than one hundred aerial photographs of Wilson County shot in 1940.

Here, East Wilson more or less entirely. (The dark curve superimposed on the image marks the future path of Ward Boulevard. Though this road was plotted largely through open land, it did require the obliteration of a stretch of houses on East Nash Street.)

Below, a close-up look at the bottom left quadrant of this image. South of Nash Street, the road now known as Pender Street was then called Stantonsburg Street. At (1), the Sallie Barbour School, formerly known as the Colored Graded or Stantonsburg Street School. At (2), a tightly packed block of endway (shotgun) houses, which were form of choice for developers of rental housing for Wilson’s African-American working poor. Clusters of these narrow dwellings can be seen across the map. This block, on Railroad Street between Elvie and Lincoln Streets, is still intact.

The blocks south of Wiggins and Wainwright Street were still relatively sparsely settled, but several churches had set up in the area, including (3) Mount Zion Free Will Baptist Church, (4) Union Grove Primitive Baptist Church, and (5) Branch Memorial Tabernacle United Holy Church.

Around Cemetery Street, the open space attests to the location of Wilson’s earliest Black cemetery (cemeteries?). The following year, the city disinterred Oakdale cemetery and moved its graves to Rest Haven.

The northern half of East Wilson, below. At (1) Reid Street Community Center; (2) Samuel H. Vick Elementary School; (3) Charles H. Darden High School; (4) endway houses on Queen Street; (5) William Hines’ two-story rental houses; (6) C.H. Darden Funeral Home; (7) Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church; (8) Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church; (9) Mercy Hospital; (10) Calvary Presbyterian Church; (11) Wilson Normal and Industrial School (also known as the Independent School); and (12) the Samuel and Annie Vick house.

The elbow of Lane Street, below. The Harry Clark family farm, later Rest Haven cemetery, at (1), and a relatively clear view of (2) Vick, (3) Odd Fellows, and (4) Rountree cemeteries.

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

Another look at the location of Oakdale, the “colored cemetery.”

As noted here, I have long been intrigued by the disappearance (in space and memory) of Wilson’s first African-American cemetery, sometimes called Oaklawn or Oakland or Oakdale. The precise location of the first city-owned black cemetery is a mystery, though most people believe (and as I conjectured here) it was above Cemetery Street where Whitfield Homes are now situated.

No official records related to the cemetery survive, and no plat map delineates its complete boundaries. However, I’ve found one reference to the “colored cemetery” on a 1923 plat map of “The D.C. Sugg Property Located on Stantonsburg Road and Lincoln Avenue.”  Using a 1937 aerial photograph of the area (the graves in the cemetery were disinterred in the early 1940s), plus the plat, I’ve come up with a revised location estimate.

Here’s the plat map, with modern street names noted and the area marked “Colored Cemetery” emphasized:

1-215 copy

Plat Book 1, page 215 (annotated), Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Wilson disinterred the (known) graves at Oakdale in 1941. Accordingly, I searched the 1937 aerial photograph of this area, below. The street at left is Railroad Street. Manchester Street is at far right, and parallel to it was then Stantonsburg Street. (North of Cemetery, it is now Pender Street. The lower section is now Black Creek Road.)The red-dashed lines mark current streets, including Pender, New, Nora, and Blount. The blue-dashed line is Nora St. as it appears on the 1923 plat map above. The green marks the borders of the colored cemetery above. (I have added a northern border though none is shown on the plat map.)

If my mark-up is correct, the cemetery (or, at least, its southern extension) was south of Cemetery Street near the site now occupied by Daniels Learning Center (the former Elvie Street School.)

I ran the mark-up by Will Corbett, GIS Coordinator, Wilson County Technology Services Department, for an opinion on my conjecture. He agreed and returned this graphic:

Bingo. The blue-shaded area is the “colored cemetery” overlaid on a current map of the neighborhood. This image reveals that the cemetery covered what is now a row of houses fronting on New Street, as well nearly the entirety of the lawn and semi-circular driveway in front of Daniels/Elvie school.

Was this cemetery marked on Sanborn fire insurance maps? It is not on the 1922 map, the last one for which I have access.

The maps corresponding to the sections marked 25 and 29 show houses along Railroad, Suggs and Stantonsburg Streets, and a few along the north side of East Contentnea (now Cemetery) Street. However, south of East Contentnea, the space is blank but for subsection numbers 225 and 256, and no corresponding maps were made. Though it is not marked, Oakdale cemetery was located in this space.

With the information above, I revisited a plat map the city filed in 1942. I initially had difficulty interpreting “The Town of Wilson Property on Cemetery Street,” but I now see it is oriented south to north. Turn it upside down, and the outline of the old colored cemetery clearly emerges. As I suspected, the city had owned the section between present-day New and Cemetery Streets as well as the inverted L below New, and it is likely that there were also burials in this space.

Plat book 3, page 150, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Lane Street Project: aerial views, part 2.

In an earlier post, we saw aerial photographs depicting the decline of the Lane Street cemeteries from 1937 to 1948 to 1954 and 1964. An additional image, taken in 1971, completes the arc of ruin of these sacred spaces.

Vick Cemetery was completely forested, as was Rountree Cemetery. Odd Fellows appears marginally better kept, with a path still visible at its eastern edge. Five or so years later, when I discovered these cemeteries as a child riding a bicycle from her home in Bel Air Forrest, the vegetation was even thicker.

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Thanks again to  Will Corbett, GIS Coordinator, Wilson County Technology Services Department, for sharing these images.

Lane Street Project: aerial views.

A refresher:

  • The eastern end of Lane Street, in southeast Wilson, is home to three historic African-American cemeteries: Rountree (established about 1906), Odd Fellows (established circa 1900), and Vick (established 1913).
  • Rountree and Odd Fellows are privately owned. Vick is owned by the City of Wilson.
  • All three have been abandoned.
  • Rountree is completely overgrown with mature trees and heavy underbrush.
  • Odd Fellows is also overgrown, except for a narrow strip along the road that the city maintains.
  • In 1996, the city clear-cut Vick cemetery, removed its remaining headstones, graded the entire parcel, and erected a single marker in memory of the dead.

A series of aerial photographs of the cemeteries over time shows in astonishing detail the forgotten features of these cemeteries and the terrible march of neglect across all three. Each photograph has been overlaid with the present-day boundaries of tax parcels. The rectangle at left is Vick, then Odd Fellows and Rountree.

  • 1937

This blurry photograph shows the interconnectedness of the three cemeteries, with narrow dirt paths winding across property lines and no visible boundary markers. The light areas are too large to be individual stones and more likely are family plots of varying sizes. The back edge of Rountree and Odd Fellows cemeteries — marshy land along Sandy Creek — was wooded.

  • 1948

Though hundreds were buried between 1937 and 1948, Vick is still almost completely open field, with some trees at its western and southern edges and numerous plots visible.  A large cleared trapezoid straddles the Vick and Odd Fellows boundaries — what is this?

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  • 1954

Six years later, the change is shocking. Vick has clearly fallen into disuse, its paths allowed to fill with weeds. Rountree and Odd Fellows, too, are overgrown, but their major paths remain clear. The mystery trapezoid, however, is gone.

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  • 1964

Another ten years and all three cemeteries are well on their way to complete abandonment. Only one path is clear, a new passage cut to join an old one in Odd Fellows.

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  • Today

A contemporary aerial view of the three cemeteries shows the empty expanse of Vick; its lone city-sponsored monument; the paved path leading from the monument to a small parking lot located at the boundary of Vick and Odd Fellows; the cleared bit of Odd Fellows; and the jungle that is Rountree. There is no trace of the trapezoid.

I am indebted to Will Corbett, GIS Coordinator, Wilson County Technology Services Department, for responding to my inquiry re the availability of Wilson County maps, answering a million questions, and providing these remarkable images.