I understand that poking around in cemeteries is not for everyone. Might I interest you, then, in a creek cleanup?
This is Sandy Creek. Yesterday, just past Rountree Cemetery, I shepherded a snapping turtle from the middle of street to the curb, then watched it tip itself headlong into this filth. Like the other waterways of East Wilson — branches of Hominy Swamp and Toisnot Swamp — the pollution in Sandy Creek is atrocious. That any animal, much less one as large and ancient as a dinner-plate-sized turtle, is able to survive in this soup is a miracle, but does life need to be so hard?
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.