Roland Gooch, A Vintage Vignette

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Roland Gooch
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
April 15, 2007

Though travel was somewhat slower than today, it was still a “small world” in the early 1800s. One of the Virginia planters who moved to the Madison area and bought land here on the first day of legal purchase (February 2, 1818) experienced that smallness firsthand. While browsing through old letters in the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, Nancy Rohr of Huntsville found a letter sent from Morgan County (Alabama) by Jesse Garth to his parents in Charlottesville, Virginia. The letter was sent in October of 1833 and detailed Jesse’s trip from Virginia to Alabama, during which he had broken an axle twice. Jesse related that he “…saw an old man just 10 miles below Huntsville, where I broke my axletree the second time, by the name of Rowland Gooch. He knew you and everybody else in Albemarle (County of Virginia). He says he used to live … near where Uncle Garland now lives. He moved from there to Louisa County, and from there to Alabama, and is doing well. He helped me to make a new axletree, was very kind and asked me about you all. He belongs to the Methodist Church.”

Roland Gooch is one of the few area pioneers to have a tombstone that details his life to some extent. That tombstone is located beside another detailed stone for his wife, Elizabeth McGhee, in the Gooch Cemetery on a knoll behind the shops on the east side of Hughes Road at the intersection with Plaza Boulevard. Roland was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, in 1778, a son of James Gooch. He was the first purchaser of 160 acres located north of what is now Old Madison Pike and east of Hughes Road -- land which contains the family cemetery and their old homesite. The junction of the roads was mentioned as “Gooch’s Corner” in the 1857 minutes of the Madison County Commissioners’ Court. A church situated at the site was similarly mentioned as “Gooch’s Meeting House”. In fact, it was 1837 when Roland and Elizabeth Gooch deeded an acre of land for a Methodist Church at the site where the gasoline station and the Regions Bank are now located near the junction of Hughes Road and Old Madison Pike (then known as the Huntsville to Triana Pike). In 1873, that same church was put on logs and pulled by mules to its present location on Church Street in Madison.

Roland and Elizabeth had five children born in Virginia and three born in Madison County after arriving in Alabama. Their firstborn child, Nancy, married William M. Rowe, who had land near today’s airport, along the road to Triana, where the Rowe family cemetery is located. Their second daughter, Eleanor, married James Dublin. Another daughter married Madison area pioneer Hezekiah Bailey first, and then she married Joseph Hambrick after Hezekiah’s death. Two other daughters married into the Petty family. One of their sons, Nathaniel Matson Gooch, married Susan Caroline Litzy, who lived just across the county line, in Limestone County. Later generations of the family married into the Tribble, Balch, Whitworth, Stewart, and Swaim families of the area.

It was Nathaniel Matson Gooch who emplaced tombstones for his parents and others in the family cemetery. He and his wife also have stones there, along with a very small stone for Katie S. Stewart beside Nathaniel’s grave. Katie was born in 1897 and died in 1904. Until it became known that Nathaniel’s daughter Beulah married Matthew L. Stewart, the relationship of Nathaniel to Katie was a puzzle. Family stories told by Roland’s great granddaughter Mary Ann Hamm hold that Katie was born with a “growth in her head”, not “on” her head, and Nathaniel and Susan kept her until she died.

The Gooch family has made a lasting impact on Madison. Gooch Lane is named for Richard Matson Gooch, who lived on “Old Athens Pike”, which was renamed to honor him prior to his death. That street ends at Balch Road, which was named for Richard’s father-in-law Jesse, due to his marriage to Ada Mabel Balch. Richard was a son of Matt Roland Gooch, who was a son of Nathaniel Matson Gooch. However, perhaps the most significant namesake of the Gooch family in Madison never happened. Today’s Dublin Park was a part of Roland Gooch’s original land purchase. It passed into Dublin hands when his daughter Eleanor married James Dublin. Since Roland was the original landowner, the park could well be known as “Gooch Park”, or even more appropriately as “Goochland”, which is also the name of ancestral land in Virginia and the parent county from which Albemarle County was taken. However, it was Dublin descendants of Roland Gooch who donated the land to the city for a park, with the stipulation that it be named as it is today.

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