As Gershwin, Gershwin and Heyward profited by observing: it’s summertime, and the living is easy. On that musical note, your servant at the answer desk yields to the readership.
For openers, friend of the newspaper and owner of deep Franklin County roots Bob Kinsey wanted to know the origin of the name Algoma, the old Guerrant family estate near Callaway.
John Helie is the source for that answer. His credentials: “My mother Sallie Anne Guerrant was Dr. Sam’s third oldest child,” he wrote by email, referencing his grandfather, the property owner. “She was born at Algoma. I was born in 1930 and spent much of my young life at Algoma.”
Naturally, such an upbringing is a rich mine of content for storytelling.
“The story goes that Granddaddy thought the word Algoma was an Indian word for swift water. He was thinking about Greens Creek and Roaring Run when there is a hard rain.”
Poetic indeed was that line of thought, however —
“Come to find out that was not the correct translation,” Exeter, New Hampshire, resident Helie wrote.
Lost to history is where the good doctor who loved young people and education came up with the name of the farm and the school he built on it.
If there is a translation, the grandson is unaware of it.
One possibility is offered by Andrea Zanatta, writing for Northern Ontario Travel.
“ ‘Algoma’ is a name of many different places throughout North America,” Zanatta reported. “Henry Schoolcraft was said to be the man who invented the word which comes from ‘Goma’ an Algonquian suffix — gamaa for ‘lake’ and the al prefix from the word Algonquian.”
Schoolcraft was a 19th century geographer and ethnologist who penned a federal government-funded six-volume study of Native Americans called “Indian Tribes of the United States.” The work was serialized from 1851 to 1857.
Another Wikipedia search led to references to Algomas from Oregon to Wisconsin and Canada to Mississippi. Claims from competing localities traced the name to American Indian words for snowshoe, valley or park of flowers, and God abides.
Another connection to the Algoma in Franklin County was provided by occasional correspondent to this column Calvin Weddle. His grandmother Minnie Catherine Cooper Gibson was born at Algoma in 1899.
“She thought the world of Dr. Guerrant because he saved her leg. She had an infection on one of her legs and a doctor wanted to amputate but Dr. Guerrant said no. He sent off somewhere for some kind of medicine that cured the infection and saved her leg.”
Perhaps less happy was her recollection of another of the Guerrants, Saunders.
“She told me that he poked snakes through the fence at her when they were children.”
Not that she was skittish, or so we may deduce from her accounts of trips with her father Ike Cooper up Sweet Annie Hollow to the top of the mountain and a store in Floyd County.
The transportation? A cart drawn by a pair of oxen.
More memories came from former Algoma resident John Helie. Because he and his mother made several moves during his childhood, he attended Algoma School for third grade and parts each of fourth and sixth.
His teacher was Miss Gwinn, who was “nice but strict.” She lived at the school.
The nice: “She usually had some children who lived with her for some family reason or another.”
That was a second job for her.
“She had no help” so was obliged to do the cooking and laundry for her live-ins.
Which brings us to the strict. She required pupils to memorize all names of the commonwealth’s counties. While they were at it, she tolerated no foolishness.
“She would switch your bare legs if you did not behave.”
Others of her duties included teaching Sunday school during the academic year and Bible school during summer.
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