Carolina Curious: Searching For Robin Hood (Road, That Is)

Carolina Curious: Searching For Robin Hood (Road, That Is)

5:22pm Apr 06, 2016
Driving through Winston-Salem, you can find references to Robin Hood, his Merry Men, even their legendary weapons of choice. Here, Friar Tuck Rd. guides residents through the city's lush greenery. (Sean Bueter / WFDD News)
  • Driving through Winston-Salem, you can find references to Robin Hood, his Merry Men, even their legendary weapons of choice. Here, Friar Tuck Rd. guides residents through the city's lush greenery. (Sean Bueter / WFDD News)

  • The naming of Robinhood Rd. in 1928 sparked later developers to run with the theme. And if you're searching for the outlaw himself, the corner of Sherwood and Nottingham might not be a bad place to start. (Michael Burke / WFDD News)

  • Martha and Michael Hartley at Old Salem Museums & Gardens say that, while the path of the road has changed, Robinhood Rd. corridor has been around for hundreds of years. (Sean Bueter / WFDD News)

  • Martha Hartley helped WFDD's Sean Bueter dig into the history of the Robinhood corridor, which stretches back to the Moravian settlement of the town of Salem. (Sean Bueter / WFDD News)

  • Historian Fam Brownlee has done some deep digging into the Robinhood Rd. question. He says ultimately, we can't know for sure where the name came from. (Sean Bueter / WFDD News)

  • Robinhood Rd., one of the busiest corridors in Winston-Salem, first got its name in 1928. (Sean Bueter / WFDD News)

  • In the 1940s and beyond, developers latched onto the Robin Hood theme. You can now residents to the Sherwood Forest gang on street signs, shopping centers, and businesses. (Sean Bueter / WFDD News)

Spend even a little time driving around the Camel City, and you’ll see 13th-century mythic heroes. Everywhere. Robin Hood. Little John. Maid Marian. Even Friar Tuck.

Winston-Salem resident Aaron Graff noticed this theme while cycling around town. And he’s not imagining things. It’s on street signs, neighborhoods, shopping centers: The Dash has a thing for Robin Hood, the outlaw of Sherwood Forest. But Aaron wants to know more:

“Why are there so many streets and neighborhoods and such that have a Robin Hood theme to their naming schemes?”

It's a good question, and a surprisingly tough one. But we dug in, and we have a few theories to run by you.

Theory One: The Moravians

This whole theme starts with Robinhood Road, one of the main drags in Winston-Salem that connects lots of places around town. It's a corridor that goes back centuries to the earliest European settlement of the city.

Placeholder
Martha and Mo Hartley at Old Salem say the original Robin Hood Road corridor was known to the Moravian settlers as Brookstown Road, because it lead to Brookstown. Naming conventions of the time meant streets were often named for where they began or ended. SEAN BUETER/WFDD

The road’s original path was cut by the Moravians more than 200 years ago. And Robin Hood stories are way older than that. Could the Moravians have had Sir Robin of Locksley in mind when they named it?

"We understand that the name Robin Hood was applied to that corridor in 1928, so that was a very recent name," says Mo Hartley, a historian at Old Salem.

The naming conventions of the time tended to favor simplicity. A road might be named after where it started or ended. 

No legendary outlaws in sight here. Let’s move on.

Theory Two: Sticking It To The Man

Nothing like some good old-fashioned spite. The gentleman who asked our question, Aaron Graff, wonders if somebody was trying to make a point about Winston-Salem’s wealthy families.

“Maybe it was someone upset that all the money was in just a few hands in the city, and the city planners or whoever would do that just kind of as a comeuppance," Graff says. "Take from the rich, give to the poor.”

We like this theory. The idea of a rogue city planner sliding a subtle jab into a street name is kind of fun.

It’s probably a fantasy, though. Since Robinhood Road became official in the modern era, street naming often rests with the developers of a particular parcel.

So, two theories down, and still no reason for Robin Hood. It’s time to bring out the big guns: in other words, it's time for the Forsyth County Public Library's Fam Brownlee.

Placeholder
Fam Brownlee with the Forsyth County Public Library has researched the origin of Robin Hood Road's name. He says there's no concrete answer when it comes to its origin. SEAN BUETER/WFDD

Brownlee’s the author of a book on Winston-Salem’s history and the best expert we could find on this matter.

Brownlee has gotten the Robin Hood question before along with questions about other Winston-Salem street names. 

But for all his research into the matter, Brownlee says there’s simply no way to know for sure what the developers were thinking when it comes to the question of Robin. He does have some pretty great ideas though.

Theory Three: The Enchanted Forest

In the late 1920s, according to Brownlee, there was a large triangle of land that was opened up for development. Apparently some folks called it Lover’s Lane – a spot where amorous young couples went to park – but we won’t get into that. Anyway.

“In that triangle there was, according to the newspaper articles that appeared in 1928, the last patch of virgin forest in Winston-Salem,” Brownlee says.

In fact, they called it Sherwood Forest, the place where Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men lived. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“Robin Hood was always one of the most popular characters in the United States," he adds. "So maybe they were saying 'oh well, it’s a virgin forest! Robin Hood could be in there. Hey! Let’s call it Robin Hood.'”

Another excellent theory. And while it makes sense, Brownlee doesn't quite buy it. He has something better.

Theory Four: Artsy Fartsy Fancy Pants

Okay, the silly name is ours, but this is Brownlee’s favorite take.

In the early 1900s, the Triad was a hotbed for the arts. But the region was missing out on one thing: opera.

So in 1927, students at the North Carolina College for Women in Greensboro announced they were starting a grand opera company.

“Really, it created quite a stir. And particularly when the young ladies announced that their first production – which would be put on the following April – would be an opera about Robin Hood,” Brownlee says.

Think about it: a full symphony orchestra, a huge cast of performers from across the region... the legendary archer was creating a stir.

And if you’re a developer who wants wealthy folks to buy a spot on your road, why not latch onto the momentum of the fanciest show in town? It makes sense.

Ultimately, though, we can't quite know what the folks behind Robinhood Road were thinking. These are all just theories, and the real answer could stay hidden forever.

“Who knows? We can’t read the minds of the people in the past,” Brownlee says. 

It sure is fun to speculate though. And really, it’s kind of fitting that the origin of the name is as elusive as the outlaw himself.

We want to hear your question for "Carolina Curious". Submit yours below.

 

Support your
public radio station