right of way

Lane Street Project: an earlier look at Lane Street.

My ears pricked up when I spotted this volume at Wilson County Register of Deeds office, but it wasn’t as helpful as I thought. It holds “plans and profiles” of proposed state highway projects in the county. Bishop L.N. Forbes Street, formerly known as Lane Street and State Road 1564, only appears once, and then only at its junction with  Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, also known as Highways 264 and 58. I’d hoped to find documents related to the street’s paving some time in the late 1980s, but as paving didn’t happen until the street was annexed into city limits, it likely was not a state-funded project. 

Still, perusing the volume was not a complete waste of time. Page 1-D of Project 6.3410029 is one of the plat maps prepared in 1968 for a project to widen and improve 264/58 from U.S. 301 (then the city limit) to the split where NC 58 veers south toward Stantonsburg. In the map detail below, the old Rountree Missionary Baptist Church (a clapboard building I vaguely remember from childhood) is bottom left. Running alongside the church lot to the right is the eastern end of Lane Street. It’s a little difficult to see, but in heavy script spanning the street is “30′” over a double-ended arrow, then “Exist. R/W,” in other words, an existing thirty-foot right-of-way. 

A slightly closer look reveals the street width (highlighted in red) within the boundaries of the 30-foot right-of-way. (The little blob by the road, followed by, “GUM”? That’s a sweetgum tree standing inside the right-of-way.) Recall that today’s right-of-way is 60 feet wide. 

It’s difficult to know how close to scale this map is, but Lane Street/S.R. 1546 appears to be about half the width of the right-of-way, or about 15 feet wide. (For perspective, a single-car residential driveway is 10-12 feet wide.) Lane Street was unpaved in 1968 (and 20 or so years thereafter), but was a maintained road, meaning it was regularly scraped and resurfaced with fresh dirt or gravel. However, in the first several decades of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick Cemeteries, this would have not have been much more than a dirt track, heavily rutted from wagon wheels and impossibly muddy after hard rains. 

1968, of course, was well after the period of active burials in the Lane Street cemeteries. A view of the older road is useful, however, to envision where graves may now lie in relation to the modern road and right-of-way.

Lane Street Project: what will the survey show?

The city’s response to my request for documents related to any utility easements for the power poles in Vick Cemetery was disappointing. There apparently are no responsive documents. However, while we await the results of the land survey currently underway, the plat map of an adjoining property is illuminating.

In 2011, a plat map titled Boundary Survey & Divisions Property of James G. Wright & Wilson Farm Properties LLC (“Wright Farm”) was filed with Wilson County Register of Deeds Office in Plat Book 38, pages 198-199. Wright Farm borders Vick Cemetery to the west and south, and a portion lies across Bishop L.N. Forbes Street (LNF Street) to the north. For the purposes of this analysis, Wright Farm is the field to the left and below the cemetery and the wooded area above it on this Google Maps screenshot. (In fact, the Farm extends much further to the left and below Vick.)

Here’s a detail from Wright Farm’s plat map showing the area around Vick Cemetery:

That’s LNF Street, of course, across the middle with a dashed line marking its center line. PP indicates power poles. OHE is an overhead electric line. EIPs at the bottom corners are existing iron pipes. (See the notation of an “apparent gap in deeds” in Odd Fellows Cemetery. The fraternal organization never filed the deed of the sale from its purchase of the land from Samuel H. Vick.)

At the left edge is a large arrow indicating an area marked Inset 1. It offers closer detail of the junction of Wright Farm and Vick Cemetery. The city’s electrical substation is at top right.

A few interesting observations about Inset 1:

(1) LNF Street is marked as having a 60-foot right-of-way, i.e. 30 feet in both directions from a center line. Recall, however, that after human bones were found exposed in a ditch along the street, Bill Bartlett of the city’s Public Works Department said the city had attempted to define the road in about 1985 (around the time the road was paved) and had found that only a 40- to 45-foot right of way could be allowed, compared to the usual 60-foot right of way “because of the numerous graves in the area.” To this day, LNF Street notably narrows from the point it rounds the curve near Lane Park to just past Sandy Creek. Thirty feet from the center line encompasses one half of the paved road, a ditch several feet wide, an embankment, and several feet of flat ground. At the time the cemetery was in use, LNF Street was a dirt path and then a maintained county dirt road. (It was not annexed until the early 1970s.) There were no setbacks or right-of-ways for utilities or other public use. As aerial images show, cemetery plots ran close to the edge of the road. It is reasonable to conclude that significant numbers of graves lie within the current right-of-way and others have been lost to road expansion or ditch-cutting.

(2) There is a recorded natural gas easement on the north side of the street, but the natural gas easement on the south side was not recorded and thus is not shown on the survey. We know it exists, however, as there are fiberglass marking stakes with notices of the gas easement near the street and at the rear corner where Wright Farm wraps behind Vick.

(3) Two guy wires extend from power poles to anchors imbedded in Vick Cemetery. [Update: actually, five. One from the first pole and four from the second.]

(4) The P/L, “property line.” Property lines are mapped at the edge of the public right-of-way. (Check your own survey, if you’ve had one done of your property. You’ll notice that the strip of land closest to the street, at the end of your driveway where your mailbox and perhaps some lovingly tended Knock-Out roses stand, is not technically yours.) Again, it’s reasonable to conclude that, prior to the imposition of public right-of-ways — in Wilson County, perhaps in the 1960s or ’70s — the original property line extended to the road. The control corner at (6) may indicate the original corner of Wright Farm and Vick Cemetery. I haven’t laid on eyes on it, but my guess is it’s close to the ditch.

(5) The power poles in the larger map appear to run along the edge of the right-of-way. However, Inset 1 shows that the first pole (with guy wire) in Vick is slightly outside the right-of-way, i.e. inside Vick Cemetery. And it’s certainly inside the control corner.