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The Gainsboro History Project

Old Lick Cemetery

Old Lick Burial Ground

On November 30, 1895, the land now called “Old Lick Burial Ground,” the oldest African American cemetery in Roanoke, was deeded to the care of the Board of Trustees of First Colored Baptist Church, later First Baptist Church, Gainesboro, for $250.00. The old cemetery was near the congregation’s church built in 1876 and formerly owned by a white Episcopal church. The cemetery property purchased in 1895 also contained a city-owned parcel.

In the late 1950s, a new interstate connector (I-581) and interchange at Orange Avenue were planned to connect downtown and the redeveloped urban renewal areas with the U.S. Route 220 Corridor and Interstate 81. At the time, the Old Lick Cemetery extended to Lukens Avene, near what is now the old Booker T. Washington Jr. High School.

Detailed map of where the Old LIck Burial Grounds are located
Detail of location of Old Lick Burial Grounds before urban renewal and redevelopment. This map depicts the evolution of the Gainsboro community from early settler days to the present. The base is Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from 1919; these are overlaid with historic and modern features.
Photo of a 1935 Plat of Old Lick Cemetery
1935 Plat of Old Lick Cemetery. Photo Credit: City of Roanoke.

Relocation to Coyner Springs Cemetery

Attempts to reroute the interchange around the cemetery were unsuccessful. Ultimately, 933 bodies were removed and re-interred in the newly purchased Coyner Springs Cemetery in Botetourt County. Only 28 of the 933 bodies had legible gravemarkers. The 933 bodies were placed in a mass grave there in compliance with City Ordinance No. 14568, dated September 18, 1961.

Photo of a mass grave marker in Botetourt County. In large text it says, "Grant them eternal rest"
Mass Grave Marker at Coyner Springs Cemetery in Botetourt County. Courtesy of Evie Slone.
A photo taken in winter with no leaves on the trees and barren, dry grass at the cemetery
Coyner Springs Cemetery in Botetourt County. Courtesy of Evie Slone.

Efforts are underway by First Baptist Church Gainsboro and Friends of Old Lick to restore the remnant of Old Lick Burial Ground and to identify the names of those buried there and those re-interred at Coyner Springs Cemetery.

See Also


Roanoke Public Libraries. (n.d.). Cemeteries, Roanoke, Old Lick [Vertical File]. Roanoke Public Libraries, Virginia Room. Roanoke, VA. United States.

Roanoke Public Libraries. (n.d.). Interments in Old Lick, First Baptist Church, and City Farm Cemeteries, 1912-1960 [Collection]. Roanoke Public Libraries, Virginia Room. Roanoke, VA. United States.

Chittum, M. (2019, Aug 3). Help us tell the stories of those moved from Old Lick Cemetery. The Roanoke Times.