street paving

Lane Street Project: the street.

I’ve talked about the narrowing of Bishop L.N. Forbes Street (formerly Lane Street) and now want to show you. It’s important that we interrogate the spaces we encounter: why does this look this way? what choices did planners have? who benefitted from the choices made? who lost?

Here’s an aerial view, per Google Maps, of the elbow of the arm that LNF Street forms between U.S. 301 and Martin L. King Parkway.

Below, I am standing at the beginning of the curve, looking toward 301, with Lane Park to the left and the undeveloped expansion portion of Rest Haven Cemetery on the right. The curbing comes to an abrupt stop here. Note the asphalt paving widths — the paver needed three passes to cover the street.

Now I’ve turned around to face the bend. The road abruptly narrows from three paving widths to two, requiring quick deceleration if you meet a car approaching the turn in the opposite direction.

There are no curbs. No gutters. Open ditches run along each side of the street. (I cannot think of another stretch of street — not highway, street — inside Wilson city limits where this is the case.) 

Let’s go to the end of the street between Rountree Cemetery and MLK Parkway. The word “Bishop” is superimposed on this map over the bridge spanning the sluggish murk of Sandy Creek. [As an aside: the gravel path entering the road below “Forbes”? It runs to a small natural gas pipeline substation that regulates the pressure and flow of gas from the pipeline that runs around Vick Cemetery. Also, you can see the power lines that start at Wilson Energy’s Substation #2 (which is located down LNF near the curve), run on poles through Vick and Rountree Cemeteries, then cut sharply south, passing over the end of the street I grew up on.]

Just past that bridge, the curb stops. It won’t resume until you round the curve at the point shown in the first photo above.

The ditches at this end are badly overgrown. Rountree Cemetery lies on both sides of the road here. In my childhood, I recall seeing a vault cover on the right side of what was then a dirt road. In late winter, daffodils bloom profusely on that side. There are graves there. LNF Street runs through the middle, then, with a slight dip in the road visible below, straight past Odd Fellows and Vick until the abrupt curve above.

So, why?

Because the graves of Rountree, Odd Fellows, and Vick Cemeteries were too close to the road to permit the installation of a standard-width street or curbs and gutters. In 1985, after a man jogging on Lane Street found human bones exposed in a ditch, Wilson Public Works official Bill Bartlett told the Wilson Daily Times 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.  

After an eight-year push to pave all the City’s remaining 23 miles of dirt streets — almost all of which were in Black neighborhoods — City Manager Bruce Boyette told the Times on 26 May 1984 that all but 1.2 miles had been completed, Lane Street (which is close to a mile long east of 301) was the primary street still in need of paving. 

The street was finally paved in the late 1980s. Rumors persist in the Black community that there are graves under the pavement. We certainly know they’re in the right-of-way up the edge of the ditch. 

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2023.