Unless you were around when Ogkeshkuppe was the name the original people gave Oak Bluffs, it would be too much to ask if you were familiar with Quinni-ummuh Street over in Ooh-quiessa near Asanootucket Pond. These names are clearly indicated on an 1850s map of Cottage City that are today (in order) renamed as Beach Road in the neighborhood (Ooh-quiessa) opposite the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital alongside Brush (Asanootucket) Pond. This was the area just southwest of Bellevue Heights and directly north of what was Onkaw that became the Lagoon Heights neighborhood.

Dr. Charles Banks, author of the History of Martha’s Vineyard, indicated Ogkeshkuppe meant “the wet or damp woods.” I’d love to know what the others meant or stood for. Quite a few Oak Bluffs street names, particularly in the historic district, are of native origin but were actually named by the white man over the years. The book, Names on the Land by George R. Stewart suggests the original people named places descriptively, according to what went on there. For example, Pecoy Point stems from the original name Pohqu-auk’, standing for open land — a specific place that generally meant “where we get shellfish.” The land bank’s Weahtaqua Springs Preserve at the bottom of the Lagoon was the “place of the boundary spring,” where fresh water was obtained. It’s unclear how our ancestors came to name places and streets but clearly whimsy was a factor — like the street Windy Hill that is neither.

Many of the streets in the historic district are named after tribes — or sachems — hopefully as honorifics. The names that are unfamiliar largely come from the Algonquin language, the Wampanoag (or Wopanaak) version. It was the first American Indian language to develop and use an alphabetic writing system that unfortunately was due to the early missionaries — like Thomas Mayhew – who used it to convert the Wampanoags to Christianity. Today, thanks to efforts by members of the Assonet, Mashpee, Herring Pond and Aquinnah Wampanoags, there are substantive efforts to reclaim a language that hasn’t had any fluent speakers for more than 150 years. The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project was started in 1993 by Jessie ‘(Little Doe) Baird who earned a master’s in Algonquian linguistics 2000. There is a young child now being raised with Wampanoag as a first language as part of this project. If you’d like more information you can go online (wlrp.org/project-history.html).

I’ve mentioned the case of Lillian E. Judkins versus Thomas J. Charette and Others from 1925 when the plaintiff (Judkins) brought a lawsuit against Charette, at the time the new owner of Oak Bluffs Eagle Theatre. Yes, the same Island Theater whose fate is yet to be determined today. The theatre was built by A.P. Eagleston in 1915. The crux of the case was that the owner was refusing to continue to rent the theatre to Judkins, who had not been making payments due to the fact that in August 1924 rain caused damage where “. . . the roof of the building leaked and . . . the water had run in on the metal ceiling . . . and there were two or three bad cracks running down through the rear wall . . . the water had caused certain plates supporting the roof trusses to rot.” Thanks to my kid brother Glenn Finley’s translation (he’s an attorney), I found that Charette lost the case. You can read it online (masscases.com/cases/sjc/255/255mass76.html).

Now the building inspector has resigned and our eyesore is in limbo, but the selectmen have heard the will of the people and appear to be moving expeditiously on a solution.

Tuesday marked the first Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting in several years without Walter Vail presiding, but the newly elected and popular Brian Packish impressed, conducting himself graciously and showing that he was well prepared.

One reason reclaiming the indigenous Wampanoag language would be valuable? Well, suppose Quinni-ummuh meant: “Where we hid the gold”?

Keep your foot on a rock.

Send Oak Bluffs new to sfinley@mvgazette.com.