Mission schools, centers of education founded early in the 20th century to serve the rural population of our region, enlightened generations of young people. The story of those old schools was carried in this space last week.
That prompted more detailed recollections of such a school by a reader with a family connection to the topic.
A Franklin County mission school was among those listed in this space as belonging to the so-called Harris Mountain network of schools. The information came from a file in the Special Collections unit of Virginia Tech’s Newman Library.
Samuel Guerrant III recognized some familiar names and took to his keyboard to send us a note
about a long-closed mission school located 4 miles west of Callaway on Franklin County property once owned by the first Samuel S. Guerrant.
“My grandfather, knowing the need of education in rural Virginia, established with the Montgomery Presbytery the Algoma Mission School,” wrote Guerrant III, who lives in Botetourt County.
How the grandfather, born July 12, 1867, came to be founder of a small mission school is an interesting story. It starts with him and his brother, two years older, being orphaned as boys. The first parent to pass away was their father.
The two boys stayed with their mother until she died. Then they moved in with aunt Mary Callaway, in Callaway, and thus became members of a larger family.
The boys evidently were old and mature enough to be quartered by themselves in a two-room house that was part of the larger family acreage.
“They ate in the house with everybody else, but these two boys lived by themselves,” their grandson said.
That was until the boys were old enough to become inherited co-owners of the 5,000-acre farm at the foot of Fivemile Mountain.
Sometime prior to that, the grandfather had attended the first of the schools established by Presbyterian preacher J.K. Harris, who “for 31 years labored in Floyd County,” according to a 1912 edition of the “Presbyterian Survey.”
Guerrant III picked that information up from his father, Samuel Guerrant Jr.
Another benevolent uncle in Floyd County underwrote the college educations of the two Guerrant brothers. Samuel Guerrant Jr. matriculated at Washington and Lee. After graduation, he studied medicine at the University of Virginia and Tulane.
Both of the brothers became doctors, eventually setting up practices in Roanoke.
“My grandfather’s house was where First Baptist Church is today,” meaning the downtown edifice at Third Street and Luck Avenue.
Back on the farm they named Algoma, Samuel Guerrant — a shrewd businessman with a long view — planted apple trees to seed retirement income.
“But then he found out that it was going to take more time than he realized, and gave up medicine to move back to Franklin County to raise apples.”
He was evidently a firm believer in the power of education and thus employed a live-in tutor for Guerrant Jr. and his sister.
Having the means for private schooling did not cloud the original Samuel Guerrant’s eyes to the needs of neighboring children who lived in an educational desert. That vision led him to build a school on the farm.
“He had the school built with living quarters for students and the teacher. Some students lived too far away to go back and forth each day.”
Ever community-minded and mindful of rough country roads and long distances, Samuel Guerrant resolved to build a church on the upper edge of his property.
That became the Pippin Hills Church, a Presbyterian home mission.
The guide to Virginia Tech’s Harris schools collection refers to a “Pippen Hill” branch of the school network. Guerrant III disputes both the spelling and school.
“To my knowledge, the only school there would be Sunday school,” he said.
In any event, multiple generations of Guerrants are buried there.
Algoma School was in operation a number of years. Its alumni spread far and wide. Guerrant III was on a business trip to Brunswick County in Southside Virginia when a lady at the bank there recognized his name and asked him if he had a connection to Algoma School. She was a graduate.
Each August or September alumni have a reunion at New Life Presbyterian in Salem.
Guerrant III has attended this reunion “for a number of years now. ”
The Guerrants maintained ownership of Pippin Hills Church for a length of time.
“We sold it to the congregation,” Guerrant III said.
If you’ve been wondering about something, call “What’s on Your Mind?” at 540-777-6476 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to provide your full name (and its proper spelling) and hometown.