This article was written by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian, Iredell County Public Library and originally published in the Statesville Record and Landmark on September 19, 2023 under the title, “Results of GPR survey at Green Street Cemetery to be presented".
The numbers are in on the ground penetrating radar study (GPR) at the Green Street Cemetery in Statesville and the results are stunning. Len Strozier of Omega Mapping Services completed the survey on Thursday, May 25, 2023. We received his final report on Sept. 15, 2023 and the survey showed 157 graves in Green Street with headstone markers and 2,073 unmarked graves. In all there are 2,224 graves in the Green Street Cemetery. Of these 406 were born in 1865 and on back meaning they were born enslaved, but died free.
On Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, at 6 p.m. the Local History Dept. staff at the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville will be presenting a special program on the Green Street Cemetery Ground Penetrating Survey (GPR). We will be going over the history of the project along and much of what we have learned from the GPR survey and the historical African American history in Statesville that we learned along the way. We encourage those who have connections to the cemetery along with the Green, Garfield, Chambers, and Elm Street areas to come and share their personal knowledge. This would also be a good opportunity for those thinking of having a GPR survey at their church cemeteries to come and learn more.
In 1995, if you had come to the Iredell County Public Library and asked how many people were buried at Green Street you would have been told there were 72. The only published source for information on those buried at Green Street up until 1995 was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) report from 1939. The WPA funded a Historical Records Survey project in N.C., part of which included a survey of cemeteries. In May of 1939, W.D. Pharr surveyed what he referred to as the “Greenwood Cemetery, (COL),” and recorded the names of 72 people based on the tombstones he read.
The WPA report on cemeteries in Iredell County neglected to record all of the graves in Green Street and the readings of other cemeteries in Iredell County was often incomplete and inaccurate. In 1995, Jim Tipton in Salt Lake City, began “Find a Grave,” an online website dedicated to providing cemetery locations and information on celebrities. By the year 2000, the site had become a free online forum for people to publish inventories on cemeteries. By 2020, volunteers such as Statesville’s Peggy O’Malley and Kathy Robinson, along with family members had entered the names of over 700 individuals in the Green Street Cemetery. The 1939 WPA survey and the listings on www.findagrave.com were the only published lists of names for those buried in Green Street up until now. The GPR survey data shows 2,224 graves in the cemetery including 52 graves found behind the Morningside Annex/Davis & Mangum funeral home building. Of these 46 are unmarked and six have headstone markers. Research shows that this area was a “Potters Field” where the poor were buried. The area is now considered a part of the Green Street Cemetery and is being cared for by the City of Statesville.
Research on the cemetery by Shellie Taylor and I have so far identified the names of 1,461 people buried at Green Street. Of these 1,310 lie in unmarked graves. We cannot take a descendant to the exact location of their ancestor’s grave among the 2,073 unmarked graves, but we can now identify the cemetery where they are buried and provide historical information on their ancestor through death certificates, newspaper death notices, census records, etc.
A sign will soon be erected at the Green Street Cemetery providing a map of the cemetery, a listing of those buried there, the history of the cemetery, and information about the GPR study and its results. The purchase of the sign and the creation of the informational inserts created at Statesville’s Sir Speedy exhausted the funds from the $20,000 grant we received from North Carolina Humanities. While the grant period and the funds it provided is now over our work on researching the cemetery continues and we hope to add more names to the list of those buried there.
Spending of the $20,000 we received from N.C. Humanities breaks down like this. The GPR survey conducted by Len Strozier, www.omegamapping.com, cost $5,970.00. Len recorded the GPS coordinates for each grave and then marked the grave with a temporary pin and red flag. The library replaced each pin and flag with a permanent metal marker pin ten inches long with a cap so the location of the grave could be determined either by the GPS coordinates or a metal detector. The metal markers and their caps were driven down level on the ground to allow mowing in the area. The costs for the metal markers from www.hollandsupplyinc.com was $11,072.81. The sign to be placed at the cemetery was purchased from OCC Outdoors and cost $2,185.40 while the inserts providing information about the cemetery was ordered from Sir Speedy of Statesville. The cost of the inserts along with promotional materials took up the remaining $771.79.
Shellie Taylor continues to add the results of our research on Find a Grave and there are now 1,466 memorials recorded on the site as of Sept. 14, 2023 at, https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2452867/green-street-cemetery.
It is our hope that other cemeteries in Iredell County can one day be inventoried and studied through a GPR survey. The GPR study can identify each grave by sending radar pulses into the ground creating an electronic image of the subsurface. The pulses basically detect the air cavity where the body is or was. The acidity of the soil and rainfall in this area have dissolved away most of the remains of those buried in the 1800s. Almost all the people buried in the 2,073 unmarked graves were laid to rest with a burial shroud and no coffin.
The GPR study can provide you with the number of people buried in your cemetery, both marked and unmarked graves. It will show if they were buried in a coffin or just covered with a burial shroud. The GPR findings can give you the boundaries of the cemetery based on the location of the graves. The GPR survey conducted at Snow Creek Methodist Church cemetery revealed the location of a stone wall that ran through the cemetery. This wall was later moved back to its present location as the cemetery needed more space. The Snow Creek survey also showed that in some instances there were two bodies in the same grave as a second person was buried over the top of the first.
For years I had been told by locals that graves were covered when Green Street and Elm were widened and paved. In fact, if you go there now you can see tombstone markers sitting only a few feet away from the pavement on Green Street. The GPR survey conducted up and down those roads though showed no graves underneath. Nor did it find graves where some of those markers sit along the side of the road. We believe these markers were moved at some point over to the side of the cemetery away from the actual graves.
What the survey did show was that the area of the cemetery beside where the old Annex/Davis/Mangum funeral home sits now there was once a parking lot and people were parking over the location of graves. I think this was the memory passed down and the proximity of those headstones to the road made people believe it was there.
Older people in the community such as Wiley Patterson, who is now deceased, claimed that the area behind the Annex/funeral home was where poor people were buried. On June 1, 2022, Shellie and I went behind the building and stomped and pushed our way through briars, poison oak, weeds and brush to see what was behind there. We found six tombstones that were almost covered up with vegetation. These markers really didn’t make sense. Buying a plot in the cemetery would have cost far less than buying a monument. You could have buried them and put up a marker later when you had the money. Our research shows that all six of the people with monuments buried behind the old annex/funeral home died between 1939 when Green Street the last of the burial plots are sold and 1943 when the new African American cemetery, Belmont, opens.
I think they knew that area had already been used as a cemetery when they buried the ones with markers. The GPR survey revealed that there are 52 graves behind the building including the six with monuments. I found a death certificate for Benjamin J. Hendley who died on June 15, 1929 in Statesville. An article in The Landmark reporting his death was titled, “Colored Man Dies Suddenly and is Buried in Potter’s Field.” The article stated that the man was buried in the “potter’s field of the local colored cemetery.”
Our research and the GPR survey confirm that there was once a “Potter’s Field” for the African American poor in Statesville. It also extends what we thought was the boundaries of the Green Street Cemetery to the area behind the Annex/funeral home. The Statesville City Council approved a resolution on May 1, 2023 formally take ownership of the cemetery and will be maintaining both areas as one cemetery.
The research conducted for the Green Street GPR Survey project has been placed on the libraries Flickr page for public access at https://www.flickr.com/photos/icplphotos/collections. The first collection on the top left hand corner is titled, “African American Green Street Photos & Maps” and contains an 1956 aerial photo showing the cemetery and Morningside Elementary on Green Street to the left and Morningside High School to the right on Elm Street.
The original Morningside building on the left was built in 1921. In January of 1941 the new Morningside High School building opened with students on the corner of Garfield and Elm Streets. The original Morningside building then became an elementary school. The Morningside High School building at Garfield and Elm became an elementary school after integration in 1969. It was later renamed Alan D. Rutherford on March 9, 1971 after the school’s long time principal.
The photo clearly shows paths cutting across the cemetery. Morningside graduate Vivian Williams said these were the paths the kids used to cut across the cemetery to go to school. You will can also see that the area of the cemetery to the side of the Morningside building has no grass. This is the area that the GPR survey showed was at one time a parking lot over an area where we now know there are graves. Behind the Morningside school is a small building. This structure was put up by the school’s masonry and industrial class as a place to keep their tools and materials. Later the building was converted into a library and dedicated on Sept. 13, 1955. At the dedication, Principal A.D. Rutherford said the school had been keeping its book collection all over the building including the lunchroom. This small library building is later torn down around 1961 when an annex building with classrooms for the younger children is built behind the original Morningside building. This building later becomes a funeral home and is still there today. The original 1921 Morningside building was sold by the school system in April of 1972 and later torn down.
The library’s Flick page also has a collection with the complete listing of those buried at Green Street Cemetery in alphabetic order by the last name. We have a collection online of the death certificates we found of people buried at Green Street along with a collection of death notices and obituaries that appeared in local newspapers. With the Green Street research documents is a collection of photographs and documents from a scrapbook on the Morningside High School put together by the Morningside Alumni Association.
The Iredell County Public Library has put the complete Green Street project report online at www.iredell.lib.nc.us. This program is supported in part by North Carolina Humanities, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, www.nchumanities.org. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of North Carolina Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.