Nathanael Greene knew this place well.
The Revolutionary War general camped here twice in 1781 as he maneuvered his troops against those led by the British general Charles Lord Cornwallis.
In late winter, he and his men stopped here as they raced north, trying to put the swollen Dan River between them and the pursuing British.
They rested again at Troublesome Creek after their defeat at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781.
“Greene had seen the site and thought it was a good place to make a stand against Cornwallis” if the general had decided to pursue him, said Rockingham County historian Bob Carter.
But that didn’t happen, said Carter, who is working with UNCG archaeologists to preserve the area’s Revolutionary War heritage.
Cornwallis, low on supplies, turned east to Wilmington, then marched north to meet his defeat at Yorktown, Va. Greene, who had dealt the British a decisive blow, headed south to liberate South Carolina and Georgia from English control.
Today, little remains of the small community that got its name from the creek that rose out of its banks each spring.
But history buffs and others who want to see the site saved are trying to get grant money to develop a long-term preservation plan that may lead to a park.
“It’s not as important as the battlefield sites, but it is good history in that it leads up to why the battle ended up at Greensboro instead of somewhere else,” said Lee Templeton, a planner for Rockingham County, which has endorsed the effort.
Some of the county’s early settlers located in this area. Believed to be Scotch-Irish, they were probably part of a band of migrants who traveled The Great Wagon Road between 1740 and 1775.
Most were looking for good farm land, as land in Pennsylvania had become expensive and scarce. The oldest known gravestone, which dates to 1739, is in the Speedwell Presbyterian Church narthex.
In the woods near the church, which was organized in 1759, visitors can find crude stone markers that may denote burial sites of slaves. The Troublesome Creek Ironworks, also known as Speedwell Furnace, is notable as one of the earliest colonial ironworks.
“We know from the early period that the ironworks itself was established in 1770,” Carter said. “There had to be a lot of buildings associated with that, plus an iron furnace because there is much iron slag around the dam.”
Those who support the idea of a park are trying to get a federal grant to determine what artifacts remain at the 50-acre site before they are all disturbed by relic hunters.
And this summer, Linda Stine, director of the Archaeology Laboratory at UNCG, hopes to do an archeological field school at the site.
“Field schools can help move the work along, but we don’t want to spend 20 years doing this,” said Stine, who is writing the grant proposal.
“We want to have something happening in the next three to five years. Grants would really help speed that along.”
The Historical Society obtained the land through James MacLamroc, a Guilford County resident and Revolutionary War enthusiast who also gave the society 20 acres of historic property at High Rock Ford on the Haw River in Rockingham County, another site where Greene camped.
“We’ve just held it to preserve it,” said Carter, whose organization has no funds to develop the property, which is on the National Register.
So the Historical Society got in touch with UNCG for help, Stine said. “They knew they were getting older and worried about what would happen to the land,” she said.
Carter remembers his father taking him, as a child, to the creek, where he found the big grist mill’s wheels and belts fascinating.
The grist mill existed until it was destroyed by fire around 1968. Visitors can still see the mill wheel, the remains of the old dam and bricks left from a warming building where farmers waited for their grain to be ground .
A sawmill operated there until the early 20th century, and an I-style farmhouse built around 1834 stood until someone burned it down on Halloween 1976.
The site also had a post office. The warming house served as a voting place for the Ironworks precinct. The nearby pond was a popular spot for fishing, political rallies and barbecues.
Finding the right kind of Revolutionary War artifacts on the site could get the National Park Service interested enough to help pay for a park, Templeton said.
“People have gotten the ones that were easy to get,” she said. “We’re hoping they didn’t take everything.”
But the site is important for more than just war history, Stine said. The area also is significant because historians know so little about how people lived on small Piedmont plantations in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
“We are interested in looking at how the landscape changed and how people used it over time,” said Stine.
She said the I-style farmhouse there was typical of the time.
Were the park preserved, it might eventually become part of a bike or driving trail leading to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.
“Everyone has in the back of their minds what a wonderful idea if there could be a patch of park protected where people could walk around and bike around,” Stine said.
Contact Carla Bagley at 627-1781, Ext. 120, or email@example.com