A Cleanup of Historical Proportions
Nearly two weeks after the EF3 tornado tore through Raleigh, several area organizations are keeping tabs on the integrity of Raleigh’s cultural touchstones in an effort to preserve history for generations to come.
A complete survey of damaged historic property has yet to be compiled, but the devastation is clear.
“The tornado impacted a number of historic neighborhoods, buildings, and landscapes,” said Fred Belledin, chair of the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission. “Several historic cemeteries were significantly impacted, mostly due to extensive uprooting of trees.”
Madonna Acres is a community of about 40 homes that border Saint Augustine’s College campus in east Raleigh along Delaney Drive between Glascock Street and Milburnie Avenue. Developed in 1960, the homes are considered mid-century modern, making them predominately ranch or split-level in design.
Former N.C. Sen. John W. Winters, who was also Raleigh’s first black city councilor, planned the neighborhood. Considered a prime figure in advancing black, middle-class families in Raleigh during segregation, Winters inherited the land that would become Madonna Acres from a heirs of the country’s first black Episcopal bishop and rector of St. Augustine’s Chapel, Bishop Henry Beard Delany.
The City Cemetery lost several trees as a result of the tornado’s destructive winds. The grounds have been listed to the National Register of Historic Places since June 2008.
“It is an area that is considered a federal disaster,” said Jane Thurman, chair of Raleigh City Cemeteries Preservation, Inc.
The group is a nonprofit that works with the city to restore the integrity and historical relevance to three city-run graveyards, including Mt. Hope,O’Rorke-Catholic and City cemeteries.
“The city is working with FEMA to obtain some funding,” to aid in the restoration efforts, Thurman said.
The City Cemetery was established in 1798, making it Raleigh’s oldest public cemetery.
Some notable graves include Raleigh founding fathers and politicians, free blacks and slaves, as well as English and Scottish stone masons responsible for building the state Capitol building.
Because of the historical nature of the site, “we have to proceed with the clean up very carefully,” Thurman said.
Before real progress can be made, “there needs to be an assessment by someone who has expertise,” she said, “and then we can follow the next steps.”
Though it will be months before the City Cemetery is ready to allow visitors on its premises, “we’re very heartened” by the response of the community to help out, Thurman said.
“Lots of people are upset by the way it looks, but we have to be patient,” she said.
Shaw University, the south’s oldest historically black university, suffered extensive damage — severe enough to end the spring semester early. Displaced students were shuttled to nearby Southeast Raleigh high school and elsewhere for lodging.
According to Fred Belledin, chair of the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission, a large portion of Estey Hall’s copper roof was peeled back due to the tornado. Estey Hall is the oldest remaining building on Shaw’s campus and in 1874 it became the first institution built solely for the purpose of offering higher education for black women in the U.S., according to the National Park Service.
All Saints Chapel
Built in 1875, All Saints Chapel avoided the brunt of the tornado. But the historic pattern-glass in the south-facing windows and the slate roof’s western portion were damaged in the storm, according to Dan Becker, manager of the City Planning Department’s long range planning division.
Originally planned to be demolished in 2006, the chapel was moved six blocks to its location on South East Street, across the street from the City Cemetery, and had been restored into its original state.
The 102-acre Oakwood Cemetery lost much of its tree canopy and many headstones were destroyed.
Uprooted trees churned the grounds surrounding many burial sites, toppling headstones and littering the cemetery with broken limbs from fallen trees.
Historically known as a prominent Raleigh textile mill, Caraleigh Mills is now a condominium complex that was caught in the wrath of the twister, as did much of the area surrounding the converted mill located on Maywood Avenue just off of South Saunders Road.
The property is designated a Raleigh Historic Landmark and is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It’s just one of three textile mills from the late 1800s still standing in Raleigh.
The former mill experienced significant damage, Belledin said. The roof was ripped off of several residential units and a broken sprinkler line led to severe water damage in several more. Residents were evacuated until a temporary roof was installed and power brought back online.
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