Statesville officials held a town hall meeting on Tuesday evening to provide information about ongoing efforts to have the Garfield Street/Green Street Area designated as an historic district.

City Manager Ron Smith, who hosted the meeting in City Hall, announced that the city had been awarded $29,000 from the State of North Carolina to hire a consultant to conduct an architectural/cultural study of the Historically Black Neighborhood. The city will contribute $16,000 to the effort, which will guide the next steps and likely culminate with an application for the area to be designated a National Historic District.

City Manager Ron Smith discusses efforts to identify historically significant sites in the Garfield Street/Green Street area.

Smith said that the city council and mayor could appoint a committee to help guide the effort, which could eventually result in the placement of historic markers throughout the district and a monument at the Green Street Cemetery.

A ground-penetrating radar survey of the cemetery conducted earlier this year revealed 2,224 unmarked gravesites, many of which are believed to contain the remains of descendants of enslaved individuals. Volunteers have since placed metal markers at each of these gravesites.

Smith said that the cemetery project, which was coordinated by the Iredell County Public Library staff, is almost complete. The consultant has not turned in the final report, and the sign has not been erected at the cemetery. That work was funded by a $20,000 N.C. Humanities grant.

Matthew Pierce, assistant to the city manager, and city planner Marci Sigmon, both of whom have been involved in the effort, outlined the progress to date.

Lisa Mozer and other community members requested the town hall meeting, which was also attended by Mayor Costi Kutteh and city council members Frederick Foster and Doris Allison, because of concerns they have over efforts to properly identify and conserve historically significant sites and buildings.

Mozer described the progress made during the past two years as “monumental,” but she asked that community members be more involved in future efforts.

“We want this Black Historic District to meet — for lack a of a better word — it’s potential,” she said.

The library staff, Mozer said, did not collaborate with local families whose ancestors are buried in the Green Street Cemetery. She asked that city staff not make the same mistakes.

“Let’s give this the respect it deserves,” she said. “Let’s not make mistakes because we want to be cheap or we have biases.”

The city manager said he could not speak for the library staff, but he said they did not intentionally set out to offend anyone.

“I think that they did (the survey) in good faith,” Smith said.

Historical sites in the area include:

♦ The former residence of Dr. and Mrs. Holliday at 241 Garfield Street;
♦ Mt. Pleasant AME Zion Church at 537 S. Center Street;
♦ The former site of Peterson & Magnum Funeral Home at 206 Garfield Street;
♦ Green Street Cemetery;
♦ The former site of Morningside School at 410 Garfield Street;
♦ The former site of Billingsley Academy; and
♦ The historic wooden bridge over the railroad tracks

Mayor Kutteh added that the city has had discussions about attempting to purchase property adjacent to the cemetery. That property is in disrepair and should be secured to keep it from further deteriorating, community members said.

Meanwhile, Barry Edwards, who serves on the Statesville Historic Commission, advised city officials and others interested in the project to visit the Dixonville Cemetery in Salisbury. That property has been preserved and improved as a result of efforts that raised more than $500,000 for conservation efforts, Edwards said.

Going forward, the city manager promised to keep community members informed about ongoing work, which includes several grant applications.

“We want you to know we are working on it and we’re thinking about it,” Smith said. “Everything in government takes time.”

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