Spiky clumps of yucca dot Odd Fellows cemetery as further reminders that this patch of woods was once a curated (if not manicured) space. Though widely found in cemeteries across the country, in African-American tradition specifically, yucca binds restless spirits to their graves. Easily transplanted and nearly ever-lasting, yucca was sometimes planted near the head of a grave in lieu of an expensive stone marker.
Odd Fellows’ daffodils, which typically bloom around February, were also planted by mourning families, and it’s likely that the wisteria that has taken over the site was introduced as a grave planting.
I have a vague childhood memory of playing in a ditch that ran behind the Reid Street Community Center pool. Keith M. Harris and I — ever chasing our explorer fantasies — would dig greasy clumps of red and gray clay from its banks, dipping them in the water to coat our fingers in slip.
A 1940 aerial image clearly shows that what I remember as a ditch was in fact a narrow branch of Toisnot Swamp. The branch ran behind and west of present-day Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf and Longleaf Neuro-Medical Center, crossed Lipscomb Road (now Ward Boulevard), and coursed behind Reid Street Center and Vick Elementary. It then crossed Vance Street just beyond Vick Street and forked before seeming to peter out.
A modern aerial, courtesy of Google Maps, reflects the wooded course of the branch across Ward Boulevard and over to Gold Street. There, however, it disappears into underground culverts.
Here’s this waterway on the ground today. Looking west from Gold Street just below Reid, the concrete embankment and corrugated steel culvert pipe that contain the branch. The heavily polluted water of the stream is visible beyond the pipe’s opening.
Below, looking east into the park behind the Community Center. These willow oaks once grew on the banks of the “ditch” that now flows underground.
1940 aerial photo courtesy of “Wilson County Aerial Photographs, 1940,” State Archives of North Carolina Raleigh NC, http://www.flickr.com; other photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.
LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure variable distances to the Earth. These light pulses, combined with other data, generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics.
The LiDAR image above reveals the surface characteristics of the ground comprising Vick, Odd Fellows, and Rountree cemeteries.
Vick cemetery is a dispiriting flat, featureless plan — not entirely unexpected given the city’s contracted leveling and grading of the site.
Odd Fellows’ surface is lightly stippled, with a short, artificially straight “scar” near its lower left corner that appears to correspond to the mysterious trapezoid revealed in old aerial photos. The image also captures the berm along the edge of Sandy Creek, which was channeled for reasons that are not apparent given its relative lack of importance as a tributary of Hominy Swamp.
Sandy Creek is the eastern border of Rountree Cemetery, and the unnaturally straight bed of the creek makes its manipulation plain. Rountree Missionary Baptist Church’s 1906 deed to the property refers to this waterway as a “canal.”
The image reveals other interesting landscape features, including the jagged path of an old watercourse, or perhaps a drainage ditch, just below Vick cemetery (now shielded by a line of deciduous trees) and two undulating parallel terraces east of Sandy Creek.
Again, many thanks to Will Corbett, GIS Coordinator, Wilson County Technology Services Department.