Lane Street Project: why we need a survey map, pt. 3.

Friday, July 14. 12:15 P.M.

Well, this didn’t take long. This is the survey flag at the rear western corner of Vick Cemetery. I looked around for an iron pin, but didn’t see one.

The westernmost section of the back border. New South Associates did not GPR-survey this strip, but the adjacent ground shows grave anomalies.

There was heavy rain in the morning, and water was still standing in the shadow of trees standing at the cemetery’s edge adjacent to the path of Piedmont Natural Gas’ pipeline.

The mosquitoes.

I don’t know what to make of this mess of pink flags. An arrow points to the old iron pipe that once marked the corner. A foot away, the recent surveyor stuck a wooden stake. Is that stake the actual corner? Or is the corner the other wooden stake three feet rear right? And why are the fence and pine saplings festooned?


Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2023.

Lane Street Project: why we need a survey map, part 1.

After the City commissioned a land survey of Vick Cemetery in May 2023, Assistant City Manager (and front man for cemetery matters) Rodger Lentz told a reporter that the City does not need a survey map because they now “definitely” know where the property lines are. Lentz is not only missing the point, he is dead wrong.

We need a survey map because:

  • We don’t want to fight this fight every change of administration. Once the temporary survey stakes are removed or fall down or otherwise disappear, there is no record of the boundary. We not only need a survey map, it needs to be filed with the Register of Deeds Office to create a permanent record of  Vick Cemetery’s boundaries. Taxpayer money paid for the survey — get the map that comes with it!
  • Four power poles, plus guy lines, are on or inside the cemetery property line. Coy as the City is trying to be about it, the poles are unquestionably city property. A survey map showing all utilities on the property (and showing the right-of-way) is critical for understanding the extent to which the cemetery has been damaged and determining how best to move forward with repair.
  • On the map below (taken from Wilson County GIS website), I’ve circled the driveway into the cemetery parking lot. It’s a little hard to see — I’ll enlarge it below — but if that blue property line were extended to the street, it would lop off a whole edge of the parking lot and part of the driveway apron. In other words, the City built a parking lot not only on top of Vick Cemetery graves, but on Odd Fellows Cemetery property as well. It also stuck a big granite post — misengraved “Rountree/Vick” — in Odd Fellows Cemetery. There’s no survey marker at that corner of the property, by the way. If there were, it’d be standing in the middle of the driveway.

  • Here’s a closer look, with a dotted yellow line extending the property line to the street. That’s a sizable chunk of parking lot on the Odd Fellows side. The pillars are standing on the property line; you can see their shadows stretching toward the street.

  • Transparency and accountability. What is the City trying to hide? You have to go out of your way to tell the surveyor “hold the map.”  Lentz’ laconic comment that the City just doesn’t need one is inadequate. There’s more at issue at Vick than the boundaries — though they’re questionable, too, given the historic extent of burials in the cemetery. City of Wilson, we demand a complete survey map showing all features — property lines, rights-of-way, fences, utilities, driveway, parking lot, ditches, wooded areas, whatever.

Photo of fence by Lisa Y. Henderson, July 2023.

Lane Street Project: absent a plat map, a photographic analysis of the survey flags.

Today, New South Associates is scheduled to return to Vick Cemetery to do whatever it is the City has asked it to do. Per news accounts, “New South will flag unmarked graves along the cemetery’s property edges and provide a map showing which graves were marked, officials said.” Does this mean New South will perform GPR surveying in the areas along the edges of the cemetery not surveyed last year?  The City has not meaningfully engaged the descendant community since the Mayor promised transparency at the May 11 public forum, so we have no idea.

In the inexplicable absence of a plat map of the property, here are a few observations based on photos of the survey flags. First, an aerial (courtesy of showing the four power poles along the front edge of the cemetery. (I have previously referred to the three enormous steel poles, but there is a fourth wooden pole, labeled 1 below.)

These photographs were taken yesterday. In the first, the viewer is standing close to and with his back to the ditch at the far western edge of the cemetery. Wright Farm is at right; Vick Cemetery at left. Two survey flags mark the corner at the boundary of the farm and cemetery. The wooden power pole, which bears a City of Wilson tag, appears to be imbedded in the property line. The pole is tethered to a guy wire anchored in the ground. The anchor rod is inside the cemetery property line. Power poles are typically set in the ground at a depth of 10% of the overall height of the pole, plus two feet. Thus if this is a 30-foot pole, five feet of the pole is below grade, and 25 feet above. The anchor rod is attached to an anchor also set several feet below ground. To the right of the power pole is a fiberglass post marking a natural gas pipeline. This pipeline likely was laid circa 1959, when the first gas pipelines arrived in Wilson, but there is no record of a utility easement for it. We know it wraps around two sides of the cemetery.

The next photo was taken from a vantage point in the road several feet east of poles 1 and 2. Four guy wires anchor pole 2; a conifer has grown up around their anchor rods. All are well inside the boundaries of the cemetery. Note the survey flag placed several feet back from the edge of the ditch. As I’ve noted before, the “official” property line here is determined by the 60-foot public right-of-way, which is measured 30 feet in either direction from the center line of the street. No such right-of-way would have been observed during Vick Cemetery’s active period from 1913 to about 1960, and it is likely that graves extend into this space.

Consider Rest Haven and Masonic Cemeteries, which were laid out around the corner on the same street circa 1900, on land that was then outside city limits. After the City annexed the area, it needed to widen and pave Lane [now Bishop L.N. Forbes] Street. In order to achieve standard street width, curbing was laid to the very edge of the graves, resulting in dozens (if not hundreds) of graves inside the public right-of-way. See, for example:

The next photo shows a line of three survey flags marking the front edge of the property at the public right-of-way. It’s difficult to say — a survey map would be definitive — but it appears the power pole is inside the cemetery property. The steel poles are enormous. If they are, say, 60 feet tall, then eight feet of that length is underground. New South did not survey this area in its first visit to Vick.

And finally, a close-up of the bottom of pole 4, taken from the driveway into the small parking lot at Vick Cemetery, which has room for about five cars. At bottom left, we see the corner of the parking area. New South surveyed only the bumped-out area of the parking stalls and found evidence of 18 graves beneath it. The power pole is ten to fifteen feet away. In just a sliver of the little peninsula of grass between the parking lot, the pole, and the ditch, the survey found ten graves.

Many thanks to B.W. and T.S. for quick photos. Lane Street Project is a community collective. It’s going to take all of us to stay on top of what is happening at Vick Cemetery. This is a Sankofa moment if ever there were one. We don’t have to look back very far to see what needs to happen differently going forward.

Vick Cemetery’s descendant community and its allies demand transparency, accountability, and dialogue. Join us for an initial  Zoom meeting tonight to learn more.

Lane Street Project: New South returns, but the city scoffs at a plat map.

The Wilson Times‘ continues its close coverage of Vick Cemetery with another Page 1 article in the June 27 edition. An engaged local press is vital to an informed community. Please support local media.

Also, please demand transparency from Wilson city government concerning Vick. Though I am described in this article as a liaison between the city and the descendant community, I can tell you there is precious little liasing going on. As if this isn’t the tack that got us to this unfortunate point in the first place, city officials continue to make decisions and take actions unilaterally, with no communication before or after.

We press on.

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.

The Commercial Bank block.

Wilson Commercial Realty Company commissioned a survey in November 1925 of three commercial buildings it owned at 418, 420 and 422 East Nash Street between South Pettigrew Street and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, adjacent to the African-American-owned Commercial Bank.

The labels on the buildings — grocery store, clothing, barber shop — were perhaps intended to suggest suitable uses for the spaces, as they do not correlate with the businesses listed at those addresses in 1922 or 1925 city directories.

I have not been able to identify businesses for 418, which stood closest to the railroad.

In the center building, James Henry Barnes operated a barbershop at 420 1/2, which perhaps was a second floor space. Cutt Davis and James Mack operated the Baltimore Shoe Repair Shop at 420.

At 422, next to the bank, Leroy G. Hemingway operated a second-hand furniture dealer and repair shop, The Furniture Exchange.

Blueprint courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Vicksburg Manor.

In 1925, Samuel H. Vick engaged a surveyor to lay out several hundred lots on a large tract of land he owned southeast of downtown Wilson. The subdivision was to be called Vicksburg Manor, and a Durham auction company handled sales. At twenty-five feet wide, these lots would have been marketed to developers and working-class buyers.Plans_Page_05 1

Nearly one hundred years later, the footprint of Vicksburg Manor remains largely the same — other than U.S. highway 301 slashing diagonally across it — though several original street names failed to stick. Elliott Street was instead named Elvie and Masonic Street is Lincoln. Douglas Street disappeared under the highway, but a truncated Dunbar exists. Irma (named for a daughter of Vick who died early), Graham and Davie Streets remain, as do the cross streets Manchester, Singletary and Hadley.

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Plat filed at Book 3, page 13 of Plat Book, Wilson County Register of Deeds office, Wilson.