Dixonville Cemetery memorial vision comes together

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 5, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY – With a preliminary price tag of roughly $350,000, the vision for a large memorial park at Dixonville Cemetery has started to take shape.
“The wheel is turning slow, but it hasn’t stopped,” Fred Evans, chairman of the Dixonville Cemetery Task Force, told City Council Tuesday.
Council members said they are not rushing the task force, which has met almost monthly for two years and presented the most complete vision yet for the memorial project.
“It is very important that this be done right,” said Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz, who called for the creation of the task force in 2010. “This is a very important and significant part of history for the city of Salisbury.”
City Council named the Dixonville Cemetery-Lincoln community memorial as an official goal, but most of the money for the project will come from private donations and grants, not tax dollars.
The city-maintained Dixonville Cemetery on Old Concord Road has 28 remaining grave markers, though hundreds, possibly thousands, of African-Americans were buried there from the mid-19th century to the 1960s.
The Dixonville-Lincoln community lost homes and buildings during urban renewal in the 1960s that historic preservationists would be protecting today if they were still standing, Kluttz said.
“This is a sensitive issue,” she said.
Councilwoman Maggie Blackwell said what happened to the community should serve as a “warning knell” for city leaders today.
Decisions made in the name of urban renewal did not serve the community well, Blackwell said.
“If we don’t learn from the past, we will continue to make mistakes,” she said. “This is a great remainder to us, as we make decisions, to consider the long-term.”
The committee has worked to create a design that will stir the pride of the entire city, Evans said. The design aims to complement what’s already been done at the nearby national cemetery, he said.
Presented by City Planner Janet Gapen, the draft design features include:
• A plaza with a commemorative sculpture
• Granite columns engraved with names of people buried in the historic African-American cemetery, dates and historical images arranged in a timeline
• A patterned walkway along Old Concord Road with steps ascending to cemetery
• Low-maintenance ornamental grasses, subtle lighting and trees
The long-range plan for the memorial includes transforming Lincoln Park into a passive, open green space that would better complement the cemetery next door, Gapen said.
Now, Lincoln Park offers a pool, splash pad and other recreational facilities. Eventually, active recreation will move to the Civic Center, where the city plans to build a large outdoor pool, Gapen said.
Residents in the neighborhoods surrounding Dixonville Cemetery still have a strong association with old Lincoln School and the site of the former Dixonville Baptist Church, which was razed in the 1960s during urban renewal.
The design plan calls for creating a pathway to mark the “historic walk” through the cemetery by Lincoln School students and identifying the church’s former location in some way, such as a grassy area marking the footprint or historical marker.
Preliminary costs include:
• $122,028 for phase one, the frontage on Old Concord Road
• $166,500 for phase two, the area between Lincoln Park and cemetery
• $26,000 for phase three, pathways
• $31,000 for contingency
A commemorative sculpture is not included in preliminary cost estimates and would be part of a separate phase.
The task force will seek a grant to develop construction drawings and 3-D models to further refine the design plan, Gapen said. Members are ready to launch a fundraising effort, she said.
Local historian Betty Dan Spencer has documented the burials of 477 people in Dixonville Cemetery from 1910 until the urban renewal effort was launched in the 1960s.
She relied on records from funeral homes and death certificates in the Register of Deeds office. But hundreds more could have been buried there before 1910.
Spencer believes the main burying years on the two-acre tract probably were from 1874, when it became city-owned, until 1910.
Perry Howard, program coordinator and associate professor of landscape architecture at N.C. A&T, generated the overall design concept for the cemetery memorial.The university has provided the design assistance at no cost.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.