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What happened to the potter’s field along 17th Street near the railroad tracks?

Jim Ware

Flemington Cemetery, also known as Flemington-Oak Grove Cemetery, was created in 1961 when Wilmington decided to extend 16th and 17th streets. In the path of the proposed extension lay Oak Grove Cemetery, a burial ground for blacks, whites and paupers dating back to 1870.

The Wilmington Daily Journal reported on May 19, 1870, that Mayor Silas Nelson Martin paid $300 for a 428-foot by 330-foot plot between 16th and 17th streets to serve as a potter’s field. In 1882, additional land was acquired and it was renamed Oak Grove Cemetery, according to reports in the Wilmington Star.

New Hanover County subsidized the burial of paupers in the cemetery, sometimes including inmate-made caskets and inmate labor to dig graves, until about the late 1950s, though records and the memories of county officials were hazy on the subject.

Map of location of Flemington-Oak Grove CemeteryAuthor Bill Reaves, in his book titled “Oak Grove Cemetery,” includes this description of the burial ground: “The whole cemetery was fenced with metal wire and it was divided into three sections.” The largest part of the cemetery was for the burial of blacks, another section was for whites and a third section was known as a potter’s field.

While many thought of the entire cemetery as a potter’s field, Reaves wrote that wasn’t the case. Some people paid to be buried there so they could be near relatives.

User-contributed question by:
Frank Steele

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