The History of Haw River: How the River and the Park Came to Be

1,429 acres. Now that’s a lot of acres. Established in 2005, Haw River State Park is a grand state park located in Guilford and Rockingham counties of North Carolina in the Piedmont region. I will discuss the physical features of the park later, but for now, I want to discuss the human history of the river and of the park.

The Haw River has a long and interesting history, dating back to before the colonization of the Americas in the late 15th century. There is archaeological evidence suggesting occupations were practiced in prehistoric times near the Haw River. Additionally, communities have been developing the Piedmont region for a long time. Diseases such as smallpox and war with neighboring communities, among many other reasons, dwindled the numbers of these communities. The Piedmont region has also many strong ties to Native American tribes including the Sioux, Iroquois, and Muskogean.

Europeans’ relationships with the Native Americans had a deep impact on the establishment of the Haw River, specifically its name. Named after the Sissipahau Indians, the Haw River was first coined by English botanist John Lawson. The name seems to have origins in the Eastern Sioux language group. The rest of the settlers in the Piedmont varied as well, from Quakers of Pennsylvania to German and Scots-Irish descendants.

The Haw River is also believed to have a significant impact in the mining industry, during the Revolutionary War, and with slavery. For almost 200 years, the Ironworks on Troublesome Creek operated and housed furnaces, gristmills, sawmills, and blacksmith shops. Additionally, there is evidence that the area was also mined for its iron ore. Haw River State Park is hosting a community hike coming up on March 23rd called the “Pit Trail Hike” to learn about the “Old Revolutionary War Ore Pits” and its significance to the Piedmont in the late 19th century. I hope to create a whole blog post of my findings from that hike, so be on the lookout for that in late March! During the Revolutionary War, the Ironworks area was a campsite for General Nathaneal Greene of the Continental Army. Because of its proximity to Guilford College and the large presence of Quakers nearby, the Haw River likely played a significant role in the Underground Railroad. Although there is not much documentation about the specific routes of the Underground Railroad, the routes probably passed through the state park and the river most likely served as a guide and landmark.

Over the past 150 years, the land has mainly been used for agricultural land and forest area. In 2000, the conversation began to create a state park in the Piedmont region, focused on the Haw River watershed in Guilford County and Rockingham County. One year later, the Haw River was selected as the location for the park and after another year, the headwaters of the river was chosen as the primary focus for the park because of its aquatic biodiversity and notably large beaver pond population. Beginning in 2003, the process to add Haw River State Park to official state parks system launched, in addition to the first acquisitions of land. In the following years, the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation purchased other buildings, such as the currently-named Summit Environmental Education Center, to add to the park and increase its appeal to the general public. Haw River is a unique state park that serves to educate the general public on environmental stewardship and protect the valuable natural resources housed within the park grounds.

Despite all the good aspects of the park, not everything surrounding the park’s history has been fine and dandy. I plan to do more in-depth research, followed by a blog post with my findings, of the effect of logging and other harmful activities on the areas surrounding Haw River. Additionally, there was a brief conflict in 2007 of whether some of the land surrounding the state park should be used for a golf course instead. It is important to preserve natural resources, and I hope to discover new information while researching these topics.


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