Copperline is an area near Chapel Hill in North Carolina where James Taylor grew up, and the song is a nostalgic look back at his childhood, complete with a mention of his dog, Hercules. Taylor visited Copperline before he wrote the song, and discovered that pre-fabricated homes had popped up in the area, destroying it's charm. He sings about this in the lyrics, "I tried to go back, as if I could, all spec houses and plywood, tore up and tore up good."
Morgan Creek, which Taylor mentions in the song, is on Morgan Creek Road, where Taylor's childhood home was located. In 2003, the Morgan Creek Bridge was renamed the "James Taylor Bridge" in a ceremony celebrating the singer.
Taylor wrote this song with Reynolds Price, who was a professor of English at Duke University, and also a playwright, author and lyricist. Taylor met Price when he worked on the score for a 1982 PBS production of a play Price wrote, and the two became friends. The two wrote "Copperline" when Price was visiting Taylor's home in Connecticut. Price died on January 20, 2011 at age 77.
Speaking with Rolling Stone in 2015, Taylor said: "This is another song about home, about my father, about a childhood that was very peaceful, which is a rare thing today. I felt like I was part of a landscape in those days - the trees, the streams and the rivers, the animals that lived there."