grave marker

Lane Street Project: the Dawson family.

This large marble headstone, with its delicate crossed fern fronds, stands near the front edge of Odd Fellows Cemetery adjacent to plot of the Noah Tate family. It marks the family plot of the Alexander and Lucy Hill Dawson family. 

Alexander, known as A.D., Dawson was born about 1860, likely in Lenoir County, N.C., and arrived in Wilson by the 1880s. He was active in county Republican Party politics and was a teacher before going into business as a restaurant and fish market owner. Lucy Annie Hill Dawson (1860-1917) was born in Edgecombe County and worked as a dressmaker. The couple married in Wilson in 1882.

The only identifiable individual headstones in the plot are those of Lucy Dawson and daughter Virginia S. Dawson (1890-1933).

Anchor-and-Ivy Style.

I’ve written about the artistry of Clarence Best‘s distinctive grave markers and the markers I’ve dubbed Concrete Stipple Style. Another common school of gravestones found in Black Wilson County cemeteries is one I’ll call Anchor-and-Ivy. The basic form: a concrete monolith with rounded top; a panel featuring an anchor and ivy vine; deeply stamped letters in a strongly serifed, all-caps font similar to Century Schoolbook; tight line spacing; and irregular indentation. They also often display lengthy, if formulaic, epitaphs. 

The headstones below are found across Wilson County, though I’ve seen the style as far afield as southern Wayne County. Were they the work of a single artist or workshop? 

Renda wife of James Green. Died June 2, 1908, Age 47 Yrs. Gone to a brighter home where death cannot come.

W.S. Ward. Born Apr. 12, 1901. Died Jan. 12, 1929. Another link is broken in our household bank, but a  chain is forming in a better land.

John H. Jones. Born July 4, 1851. Died June 10, 1928.  

Rufus, son of James and Amelia Artis. Born July 16,1900. Died April 24, 1916. We Can Safely Leave Our Darling Harboring In Thy Trust.

Tempsey, wife of Rufus Speight. Died July 15, 1917. Age 75 years. Gone To A Brighter Home Where Grief Cannot Come.

Lane Street Project: a sign.

Not that I needed affirmation, but …

When I found this stack of gravestones at the end of February 2020, I described the assemblage as a “broken granite marker support[ing] two intact concrete headstones, two marble footstones, and a few other chunks of rock.”

Yesterday, when I started prising the mound apart and snapping the wisteria runners that bound it, I quickly realized there was a whole lot more than had initially met my eye. And today — well, let me start where I ended:

Forgive me. Rachel Barnes Taylor was born in 1863 and died in 1925. (Her husband, my great-grandfather Henry Michael Taylor, died in 1927. Does his grave marker survive, too?) Her death certificate states only that she was buried in Wilson, N.C. I had not known if that meant Rountree or Odd Fellows or Vick cemetery. Odd Fellows it turns out. Nearly one hundred years after her death, I uncovered her stone face down, strapped to the earth by wisteria and covered in leaves and loam, in a jumble of more than two dozen other markers, several too broken to decipher. I’d say the ancestors approve of Lane Street Project.

I will speak more of Rachel Taylor later, but right now I want to call the names on the slabs I found with her:

  • Bessie McGowan, 1888-1925, Gone But Not Forgotten
  • Jesse Parker, 1890-1937, A Light From Our Household Is Gone
  • Frank Scott
  • Sunny Simms
  • Rev. J.H. Scott, 1857-1940
  • _____ Mercer
  • Ed Hunter
  • Rufus, son of James and Amelia Artis, 1900-1916, We Can Safely Leave Our Darling Harboring In Thy Trust
  • Tempsey, wife of Rufus Speight, died 1917, age 75 years, Gone To A Brighter Home Where Grief Cannot Come
  • M.E.S.
  • Cha_____
  • Omelia Artis
  • Adeline, wife of Daniel S_____
  • Johnnie, son of John and Lula McNeal, 1917-1917, Asleep in Jesus
  • Belle, wife of A. Dewey, 1929, age 28, Gone But Not Forgotten
  • James F. Scott, 1887-1939, Who Is Now With The Lord 

Concrete Stipple Style.

I’ve gone on and on about the artistry of Clarence B. Best, the marble cutter who carved hundreds of gravestones in and around Wilson County between the 1920s and mid-1970s. Now, after a few years of exploring local African-American cemeteries, I recognize the signature work of other monument makers. Whether the work of an individual, like Best, or a company, they were likely produced in Wilson or an adjoining county, and perhaps by African-American craftsmen.

One common type of concrete monuments dates from the first quarter of the twentieth century. The basic design, which I will call Concrete Stipple Style, is a large rectangle with rounded edges, a smooth central field with stamped block letters and no punctuation, and a stippled border. Unlike Clarence Best’s work, the inscriptions are rigorously centered. I do not know enough about molding concrete to speculate why so many Concrete Stipple stones develop a deep crack about one-third down the face of the monument. (See below.)

A fine example of Concrete Stipple, except for the bullet holes. The couple are buried in Odd Fellows cemetery, and the stone probably dates from just after Daniel’s death in 1908. 

  • Lizzie May Barnes

Lizzie M. Barnes was buried in Odd Fellows cemetery in 1919.

  • Sylvania Sutton and Calvin Sutton

Sylvania and Calvin Sutton were buried in 1916 and 1922, respectively, in Polly Watson cemetery, which lies just over the Wilson County line in Wayne County.

  • Bessie McGowan

Bessie McGowan died in 1925 and was buried in Odd Fellows cemetery.

  • Harrison B. Davis

Harrison B. Davis died in 1915 and is buried in the Masonic cemetery.

  • C.S. Thomas

My guess would have been that this is a foot stone for the grave of Charles S. Thomas, who died in 1937. However, this marker is in the Masonic cemetery, and Charles S. Thomas’ lovely headstone is in Odd Fellows. 

Lane Street Project: Walter M. Foster.

Walter M. Foster‘s headstone in Odd Fellows Cemetery is a beautiful example of Clarence Best‘s early work — the white marble; the incised laurel leaves; the charming irregularity of his fonts.

Foster’s foot marker was carved by a different hand. His membership in the Odd Fellows lodge is signaled by the three linked rings marked F-L-T — friendship, love, truth.

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2020.