Much of present-day Erwin Road is parallel to, or on top of, a great pre-colonial trail once known as the “New Hope Road” and later called “University Road.”
North from New Hope Creek it followed Erwin road, crossing the old Fayetteville (sometimes called Raleigh) road in the Korstian Division of Duke Forest, before continuing to the junction of modern Mount Sinai Road. From there it veered through the Blaylock farm and the Durham Division of Duke Forest, wherein there is a section of it that is cobbled. Andrews Street is a remnant that ran between Morreene Road and the cloverleaf of the Durham Freeway (NC 147), but immediately beyond that spot its track was erased by the intersections of the Durham Freeway, US 15-501 Bypass, and Interstate 85. It is probable that the New Hope Road forded Ellerbee Creek within the grounds of Hillandale Golf Course, for north of Interstate 85 it continued along the track of modern-day Duke Homestead Road. North Duke Mall has erased the old roadbed between Duke Street and Roxboro Road, but it continued as Denfield Road to the ford of Eno River at the recently abandoned Teer quarry. The section immediately north of Eno River is untraceable on the ground, but its route across Walter Alves’s Mount Pleasant and Snow Hill plantations may be discerned from various maps found in the Cameron papers. The New Hope Road joined with the Trading Path on the plantation of William Johnston called Snow Hill (inherited by Walter Alves, via his marriage to William’s daughter, Amelia Johnston), and the combined track then forded Little River and continued toward Petersburg, Virginia.
South from New Hope Creek, this road followed the gist of present-day Erwin Road, off and on, as far as Old Oxford Road, which it then followed fording Booker Creek, then continuing parallel to Franklin Street, fording Bolin Creek at Yeargin’s mill. The track of this road is described as connecting Petersburg and Chatham courthouse in the 1790 map of the future university campus, rendered by surveyor John Daniel. Cutting diagonally through the future campus it passed very near the landmark Davie Poplar before intersecting with one of several roads connecting New Bern and Salisbury. At that crossroads on Mark Morgan’s “Chappel Land” stood an Anglican chapel-of-ease on a hillside known as New Hope Chapel Hill. It is significant that an early record of this road, found within the Minutes of the Orange County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, cites Mark Morgan, John Patterson, and William Rhodes as overseers—all being prominent land owners, mill owners, officials of the court, and public leaders.
The split of the Trading Path and New Hope Road at Snow Hill, seen close-up, suggests that New Hope Road can be perceived as the “main road” continuing the angle from Virginia, with the Trading Path (via Snow Hill, Mason, and Saint Mary’s roads) to Hillsborough as the bypass. With known village sites at the New Hope Road crossings of Eno River and New Hope Creek, the latter trail would have been of major importance as a trade route, particularly when the Occaneechi village site on Eno River was lying fallow. It was at least an alternative route to Occaneechi-town via several connections including the Fish Dam Road, a native trail that intersected the New Hope Road at the later site of the Washington Duke homestead.