Guilford Courthouse
Administrative History
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The National Park Service Comes To Town

In connection with the comment that the Park looks more like a city cemetery than a Park, and the recommendation that less of this appearance be presented, it is reported that this is a matter of time. . . . [T]here is the work of forty-five years to undo. [1]

No one was quite certain how the transfer from the War Department to the Department of the Interior would affect Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. A change of parent agency and site manager clearly suggested that other modifications likely would follow. So they did. But after a fast start, the pace of change slowed markedly and park management assumed a reactive stance in the face of rapid development in the surrounding community. In so doing the stage was set for a dark age of park history that lasted two decades, and was terminated only by the timely intercession of Greensboro civic leaders. In the near term, however, the park's future seemed bright.

On 19 October 1933, five days after Resident Commissioner Roane entered on duty, readers of the Greensboro Daily News awoke to the headline: "Guilford Historic Site Will Be Brought Up To National Level." Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes announced that $97,000 had been allocated to Guilford Courthouse from a total appropriation of $4,392,500 to the Public Works Administration for improvements at national military parks and national battlefields. The article elaborated that inspectors from the Office of National Parks, Buildings and Reservations (the temporary redesignation of the National Park Service) had visited Guilford and produced a "conservative program for park improvements." Subsequently Representative William B. Umstead met several times with P.W.A. staff and argued for a more expansive renovation effort that would make the park "a credit to the nation." The Daily News piece concluded with the optimistic prediction that the "Guilford Project would insure work for a considerable number of men" during the coming winter, a worthy goal in itself as the nation entered the fifth year of the Great Depression.

The following January a high-level delegation of "parks service officials" headed by Associate Director A.E. Demaray came to Greensboro to inspect the park and decide how best to spend the $97,000 windfall. Demaray told the Greensboro Record (15 January 1934) that $30,000 would be expended to improve park roads and trails, with the balance devoted to "physical improvements." Included would be construction of a new fireproof museum and administration building, a superintendent's residence, and a utility building. Demaray also noted that the Davidson and Nash arches would likely be "relocated" to permit widening of New Garden Road to accommodate two-way automobile traffic, provided the State of North Carolina would deed the roadway to the United States. Finally, he indicated the Service would accept an offer made by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to donate the eight and one half acre site of the 1781 courthouse to the park. In turn, the Park Service would construct "a replica" of the original structure that lent the battle, and in turn the park, its name.

The first phase of this program was accomplished in November 1935 with the completion of the buildings and installation of a sewer system. The museum-administration building and the residence were essentially identical two-story brick structures said to be reminiscent of eighteenth century homes built in Salem, a Moravian community twenty-five miles west of the battlefield. The courthouse reconstruction was deferred in hopes of finding historical documentation for the structure. [2]

The park benefited from another Depression-era recovery program when a Civil Works Administration Historical Program was established in Greensboro in June 1934. Directed by a recent graduate of Duke University, Joseph C. Robert, Ph.D., a staff of five untrained historical technicians searched for primary source material, inventoried and labeled the remaining museum objects, compiled a bibliography, traced land titles, and searched futilely for descriptions of the original courthouse building. Terminated 19 April 1934, this program's results were not spectacular; but this effort represented the first on-site research done at Guilford since Judge Schenck's day. [3]

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park's first master plan was completed in 1936. The premise of this seminal planning document was succinctly stated in one sentence:

The work to be done . . . attempts to remedy conditions and to restore the area as much to its original condition at the time of the battle as possible.

Envisioned was a definitive break with the park's past as a beautiful picnic ground. To produce a more authentic period "open woodland" appearance, a number of actions were directed. Foremost among these was the obliteration of Lake Wilfong and its dam. The cleared ground surrounding the two-acre lake bed was slated for reforestation with 22,000 hardwood trees of five indigenous species. Understory planting would be done in existing wooded areas to "bolster up" the forest, whose floor had been reduced to bare red clay by years of raking. Exotic trees and shrubs, principally in the area of the Nathanael Greene Monument, would be removed, as would formal gardens "with bulbs arranged in rows, circles and crescents." Screen planting would follow removal of exotics in the area of the new museum-administration building and the superintendent's residence. A half-mile park road that looped around the lake was scheduled for obliteration, and the two public roads that traversed the park, U.S. Highway 220 and New Garden Road, were to have revisions of grade and alignment, and were to be paved with bituminous macadam. The Southeast Boundary Road (Holt Avenue) and the West Loop Road (First Line Road) were to be similarly resurfaced. [4]

The execution of such sweeping changes was far beyond the capabilities of a part-time resident commissioner, particularly so in that prior to the "regionalization" of the National Park Service in August 1937 there were essentially no intervening supervisory levels between the resident commissioner and the Park Service directorate in Washington. A first step was taken in filling this management vacuum on 15 March 1936 when Guilford Courthouse was placed in the Revolutionary Areas Group under the direction of Coordinating Superintendent B. Floyd Flickinger of Colonial National Historical Park. Flickinger dispatched Rogers W. Young to Greensboro as Acting Historian to supervise historical and educational programs at Guilford, King's Mountain National Military Park and Cowpens National Battlefield Site. Also sent to Guilford was "Mr. Llewellyn to perform visitor contact work and assist with administrative functions." It would be May 1937 before Guilford Courthouse received its first full-time, permanent National Park Service staff appointment. William P. Brandon was assigned to the park as Junior Historian, but functioned as Acting Superintendent, supervising the maintenance staff, and performing all administrative and public contact tasks. Resident Commissioner Roane stayed on the payroll, occupying the superintendent's residence, but doing little more than signing paperwork. [5]

With Brandon on board major renovation projects got underway. By 1939 when the Master Plan was revised all of the major elements of the 1936 Master Plan had been completed with the exception of the screen planting around the superintendent's residence and the museum-administration building. [6]

Two items on the 1936 Master Plan agenda that required the cooperation of the State of North Carolina were the proposals to improve New Garden Road and U.S. Highway 220. New Garden Road traversed the park on an east-west line along the route of an eighteenth century wagon road that ran from Hillsboro to Salisbury. On 15 March 1781 the British advanced along this roadway and the American defenders deployed across it. As such it was the axis of the battle of Guilford Courthouse. Fallen into disuse in the nineteenth century it was reopened locally with the assistance of employees of the Guilford Battle Ground Company. As Greensboro grew in the twentieth century New Garden Road was destined to become a heavily traveled east-west connector. U.S. Highway 220 bisected the park on a north-south line, running parallel to the tracks of the Atlantic and Yadkin Railroad. Through the park it ran along a road bed that was constructed about 1890 and was locally known as Battle Field Road, later Battle Ground Road. It was paved and designated as part of the Federal Highway System in 1925.

The Master Plan proposals for these roadways called for "grade revision. . . for the purposes of drainage, alignment, and aesthetic improvement with the necessary surface treatment of bituminous macadam. . . ." Also contemplated was the relocation of three hundred fifty feet of New Garden Road to "the old original roadbed." To facilitate this work a request was made to the State to donate both roads to the United States. The State willingly acceded to this proposal regarding New Garden Road, conveying eleven and one-half acres to the United States by a deed executed 6 April 1937. Title was obtained by virtue of a 1935 act of the North Carolina General Assembly that permitted taking of lands required for Federal parkway construction upon the State Highway and Public Works Commission's filing of "proper maps" with the local Register of Deeds. [7]

The State was unwilling to make the same accommodation regarding U.S. 220. A 1928 map commissioned by the Guilford Battle Ground Company identified U.S. 220 as a "sixteen foot asphaltic pavement." The State claimed a sixty-foot right-of-way. Permission was readily granted to raise the grade and make other improvements to this road, but State officials were unwilling to deed the right-of-way to the National Park Service. Two reasons were cited for this decision. This road was part of "a State and Federal Highway" and loss of control of the quarter-mile stretch through the park might interfere with maintenance of the entire highway. Furthermore:

Other complications and vexatious questions might arise at some future date over which neither the present Highway Commission nor any agency of the Federal Government could foresee, and therefore could not make any agreement or arrangements that might take care of such questions in the future. [8]

The future would be full of "complications and vexatious questions" regarding U.S. 220. Forty years later the National Park Service would have cause to regret the State's decision in this case. But in 1936, the Service had "no objection to the State's continuing to control and maintain the road." The renovation of U.S. 220, along with the improvement of New Garden Road and the paving of approximately two miles of other park roads, was accomplished by contract with the Bureau of Public Roads of the Department of Agriculture. These projects were completed in February 1938. [9]

Shortly after the departure of the road crews, Acting Superintendent Brandon was surprised by the unheralded visit of a Region One landscape architect who announced that he was to lay out an amphitheater in the area immediately west of the Nathanael Greene Monument. Brandon was mystified because no such construction had been contemplated by the 1936 Master Plan. As a historian he was horrified because the chosen site was near the center of the second American battleline, scene of a furious firefight between advancing redcoats and defending Virginia militiamen. More to the point, this proposal was a throwback to the Guilford Battle Ground Company's discredited philosophy of preservation by ornamentation. Brandon's objections notwithstanding, the amphitheater was built. The lawn running west of the Greene Monument toward U.S. 220 was heavily landscaped to create an artificial riser effect, and a brick stage with a sort of wooden portico was constructed at its apex.

In 1939 a revised Master Plan was issued. The only significant distinction between the 1936 and 1939 plans was an ex post facto provision for the amphitheater construction. [10]

As the amphitheater project neared completion the North Carolina Highway and Public Works Commission decided to adjust the route of U.S. 220 to a new line about one-half mile beyond the park's western boundary. Completed in April 1941 this realignment removed a considerable amount of long-distance through traffic from the park. It also presented the Service a golden opportunity to renew its request to transfer the old right-of-way to the park. No such request was forthcoming. The old line of U.S. 220 was rechristened State Road 2340, locally called Old Battleground Road, a unit of the State-maintained county road system. It remained a lightly traveled rural byway until the City of Greensboro overran the park in the early 1980s. [11]

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Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003