aerial photograph

Lane Street Project: a 1995 aerial view of Vick Cemetery (or: aerial imagery shall set you free, Wilson).

And another one, this time from 1995. Lane Street (now Bishop L.N. Forbes Street) has been paved. What else can we see, besides “the devil is a lie”?

The upper left quadrant:

The wooden poles are clearly visible on the north side of the street and have been joined by a single wooden pole on the south side. That pole is still there, anchored by one guy wire. No sign of the steel poles yet. At (1) and encircled throughout are the headstones still standing after Vick was cleared of overgrowth in 1995. At (2), Lane Street is paved here. The dark line running parallel to the edge of the blacktop is the shadow of the higher southern edge of the ditch bank. Near the right side of the image, the shadow widens. This is high point of this edge of the cemetery. At (3), what appear to be tread marks from the heavy equipment used to clear the site. At (4), the sole exposed vault cover remaining in Vick today. (Actually, the sole grave marker of any kind.)

The upper right quadrant:

The cut in the ditch bank is a reliable landmark in Vick Cemetery. At (1), the access point for the “clean-up” of the cemetery. It’s now the entrance and parking lot. And look at Odd Fellows Cemetery! The trees up front, the clearing in the middle — both surprises to those who know its current state. At (2), the old Odd Fellows driveway. At (3), the short ditch between Odd Fellows and Rountree Cemeteries. At (4) and (5), two drainage ditches that once creased the east side of the cemetery. Though both were filled in when the site was graded, (4) is still detectable as a dark green stripe across the cemetery’s surface. At (6), several headstones are visible. At (7), this may be the pile of dumped concrete and other trash that we found in Odd Fellows near the fence between the cemeteries. At (8), headstones visible in Odd Fellows. The one directly below the 8 may be Henry Tart‘s obelisk.

The lower right quadrant:

At (4) and (5), the tail ends of the ditches identified above. 4 was deep enough to impact the placement of graves, as seen in the detail from ground-penetrating radar below. New South (incorrectly, I believe) concluded the ditch, partially detected and highlighted in yellow, was a buried path. I’ve extended its course with a dotted yellow line. At (6), note that there’s still no cut-through for the natural gas pipeline.

The lower left quadrant:

Graves and headstones clearly visible. Compare the area within the square to this detail from the GPR report:

Many thanks to Olivia Neeley for sharing this photograph, which was obtained via a public records request made to Wilson County GIS. (Kudos to an agency that understands its obligations under the law!)

Lane Street Project: a 1985 aerial view of Vick Cemetery.

Aerial photographs are giving up Vick Cemetery’s secrets. Let’s look closely at this image taken in 1985.

But first, let’s fix the timeframe:

Two years before the photo was made, the Wilson Cemetery Commission spent $10,000 on a partial clean-up of Vick Cemetery. Heavy rain halted the work, and it was never completed.

The same year the photo was made, a man jogging on Lane Street found human bones exposed in a ditch. The police examined them and determined they were not recent. The Wilson Daily Times contacted Bill Bartlett in Public Works, who advised that about 1980, the city attempted to define the road and found, because of the numerous graves in the area, only a 40- to 45-foot right of way could be allowed, compared to the usual 60-foot right of way. A county health department spokesperson said she would have to check to determine who was responsible for reburying the bones. Public Works said it wasn’t their job. A former county sanitation worker reported that he’d received a call from a woman who believed her relatives might be buried under Lane Street. Bartlett told the paper someone “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.”

That’s an unpaved Lane Street/Bishop L.N. Forbes Street cutting across the top third of the picture. The crooked line above it is the course of Sandy Creek, open to the sky.

Here, roughly, is the upper left quadrant of the image:

The wooden power poles on the north side of the street were in place, but none appear on the south side. Felled tree trunks litter the ground, and the faint tracks of earlier walking paths clearly show. So do graves.

The upper right quadrant:

At (1), the little spur off the ditch through which surface water drains even today. At (2), this relatively bare patch is now the site of the driveway and parking lot. At (3), this is the old entrance into Odd Fellows, which is still clearly visible and marked by one of the iron gate posts. However, it now stops at the edge of wood line, and there’s no sign of the long, straight driveway ending in a kind of cul-de-sac. At (4), the bridge over Sandy Creek. It’s difficult to tell, but the street east of the bridge seems notably sharp-edged and may have been paved up to what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. At (5), at the northeastern corner of Rountree Cemetery, a clearing with some sort of structure. This area is nearly impenetrable now, but is worth exploring to identify this feature. At (6), another unknown object that I can comfortably attest is not now there. The clearing you see is a cut marking the path of a sewer project. It’s still there, but no longer doglegs around the object.

The same area today, per Google Maps.

The lower right quadrant:

At (1) and various other points, graves are clearly visible on the ground. It’s a little hard to tell, but at (2), this appears to be the berm separating the low land of Rountree Cemetery from Sandy Creek, which is channeled south of the street. It is no longer visible from the air, but is easily walked once you’re inside Rountree. At (3), one of the manholes in the sewer project noted above. A second is visible as a dot in the bright area toward the bottom of the image. What’s missing from this view? The cut for the natural gas pipeline that wraps around two sides of Vick. I’ve indicated its approximate path with a dotted line. Recall that there’s another prong of the pipeline on the north side of the street. In 1959, Edward K. Wright, Annie S. Wright, and Annie B. Harris gave North Carolina Natural Gas Corporation an easement to run a natural gas pipeline along the edge of their property. See Deed Book 709, page 127, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office. The easement is shaded gray in the ever-helpful 2011 plat map of the Wright Farm below. Note that there’s no such easement for the pipeline south of the street. I’d assumed it was also laid circa 1960, but the photo above suggests in fact it was installed decades later. The pipeline’s current owner, Piedmont Natural Gas, posts danger signs at the corners of Vick Cemetery, but has never secured an easement for the underground gas lines running along its edges. (Where the City of Wilson wants to sink fenceposts, by the way.)

Plat book 38, page 198, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office.

The lower left quadrant:

Graves — and headstones? — are visible throughout the site. Again, there’s no cut for the path of the natural gas pipeline.

Many thanks to Olivia Neeley for sharing this photograph, which was obtained via a public records request made to Wilson County GIS. (Kudos to an agency that understands its obligations under the law!)

Lane Street Project: a closer look at these power poles.

Something about these power poles was vexing my spirit.

There is the terrible fact that they and their guy wires lie inside the boundaries of Vick Cemetery, but my suspicion was about something worse.

Back on July 13, I posted video of a morning walk in Vick Cemetery. At 2:23, I stop at power pole #4 and zoom in on a small plaque affixed to its side. “Ah!,” I exclaimed, “1997.”

“So, one year after the City did this [camera pans across the empty cemetery], it put in these poles, which undoubtedly replaced poles that were here previously.”

Undoubtedly replaced poles that were here previously”? Did I overspeak?

Wilson Energy’s Substation No. 2 was constructed in the mid-1960s after Wilson got out of the electricity generation business and entered into an agreement with Carolina Power & Light to distribute CP&L’s electricity.

Utility poles line both sides of Bishop L.N. Forbes Street between Substation 2 and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Those on the north side are smaller wooden poles, the ordinary kind that carry low- and medium-voltage electrical lines and telecommunication lines. On the south side — the cemetery side — the poles are much taller and thicker, are made of steel, and appear to be transmission, rather than distribution, lines. (I’m not an electrical engineer or lineman, and I welcome a more precise identification of the type of pole, but it’s a minor point in this discussion.)

I had assumed that both sets of poles on B.L.N.F. Street were erected around the same time as the substation.

I was wrong.

The dirty truth is that the City of Wilson installed the steel power poles after it cleared Vick Cemetery, when it incontrovertibly knew this was the site of a public graveyard.

I’ve shared a 1994 aerial photograph of Vick Cemetery, but its poor resolution did not allow a close examination of the landscape. However, a couple of weeks ago, I received United States Geologic Survey aerial images of Vick Cemetery taken in 1993 and 1998.

Vick Cemetery, March 1993.

The ’93 image is also pretty low-resolution, and I set it aside (figuratively speaking) to look at the 1998 shot. 1998 was fuzzy, too, but I immediately noticed a difference between the two images. 1998 is a mid-winter shot, taken in the morning as the elongated shadows of power poles stretched across what was then known as Lane Street. They’re a little faint, so I’ve added yellow lines below to parallel their paths.

Here’s a current Google Maps image of the site with the five poles clearly visible.

I went back to take a look at 1993. 1998 — power poles. 1993 — no power poles.

The City cleared Vick Cemetery in 1995 and erected the central monument in 1996. In 1997, knowing full well that Vick and Rountree were cemeteries, the City ran a power line through them, sinking one wooden and three steel poles into Vick and one steel pole into Rountree.

Sit with that a minute.

After desecrating Vick cemetery by removing its headstones and leveling its surface, the City turned around and rammed power poles and guy wires into its graves.

Twenty-six years ago.

From Wilson County GIS’ website, here’s an image showing property lines (in orange) superimposed over part of Vick Cemetery. The bases of the steel poles on the south side of the street are plainly outside the public right-of-way and inside Vick Cemetery, which we know is chockfull of graves.

Here’s an angle from the ground, shot in mid-July. The yellowish specks in the grass to the right are the tops of the markers New South Associates placed to show graves detected along the cemetery’s border. Clearly, they lie outside the power pole.
Here’s this area in the grid 9 of New South’s report’s Appendix A, thick with graves.
And this gruesome shot at the other end of cemetery. Surely, when these poles were placed, workers unearthed evidence of damaged graves.


A survey map of Vick would make clear the location of power poles inside Vick Cemetery’s boundaries. Is this why the City is refusing to produce one?

On August 16, I submitted this public records request for records related to the power poles running alongside Vick Cemetery:

I have not received a response.

Mayor, Council, City Manager, Wilson Energy — what is your response to this outrage? Who is accountable for this further — and ongoing — abuse of Vick Cemetery’s dead? What is the plan for righting this continuing wrong?

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,

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!


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.