Now, I can continue explaining the permanent mark the Guilford woods has left on me, but for those not too familiar with this place, I suppose I should catch you up to speed!
Making up most of Guilford College’s borders, this old-growth forest (that was previously known as the New Garden Woods) has been relatively undisturbed for hundreds of years, but has served so much purpose in its plentiful history. The nearly 200 acres (and beyond) once served as hunting grounds for the Saura and Keyauwee peoples, but the mid-1700s brought European settlements (and slavery) to Guilford county. Since its first meeting in 1752, The New Garden Friends were against slavery and secretively (and publicly) fought for their cause for nearly a hundred years, purchasing rights to slaves to help support and assist with relocation to freedom in Indiana. In 1819, John Dimery was the earliest documented example of Underground Railroad activity, finding his refuge within the protective woods after escaping his captor. Levi and his brother Vestal Coffin were among the few that sought freedom for African Americans and in his dedication, Levi reportedly walked to Richmond, Indiana three separate times (500 miles each way) to mark the path of deliverance. He (and other Quakers) would use nails driven into trees and rocks to signify the correct routes that slaves could readily follow in the dark forest and terrain. Few can still be seen, jutting from the sides of trees, but the actual route was kept secret, so no one truly knows. Accompanied by wagons with false bottoms, a magnificent 300 year old Tulip Poplar, and determination, possibly hundreds of slaves found security under this forest canopy. For a more detailed timeline of the Guilford woods, go to:
Serving yet another purpose, a great portion of the woods was used as farmland up until about 1943, when Horsepen Creek was damned to make the Guilford Lake. Along the creek are remains of an 18th century wagon road that was used by troops in the American Revolution, but that same creek created small crevasses and caverns that helped hide African American slaves and Confederate Army deserters in the Civil War. The forest also saw minor scuffles in the 1781 Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Needless to say, this area holds many ghosts- even if you don’t believe in ghosts, one must admit there must be residual energy that has built up over the centuries, making its presence very powerful and humbling. Years ago, a 0.3 mile trail was built and dedicated to the Underground Railroad tree and the history in which it contains.
Below is a link to a helpful website called Hiking Project that gives a virtual hike tour on the main loop trail, along with the area’s conditions, policies, and rated difficulty.