Friday, August 31, 2018

Sharp History

Over the past 60 years Donald J. Sharp has been researching the history of southeast Louisiana, from the early families of New Orleans to the towns, cemeteries and Native Americans of St. Tammany Parish.

His research has filled two-dozen 3-ring binder volumes with notes, pictures, maps, and illustrations centered on key components of area history, with considerable focus on the "Tchefuncte River Corridor."

That geographic area, from the mouth of the Tchefuncte River, including Lewisburg, Mandeville and portions of Tangipahoa Parish, all the way past Covington, has proven to be an incredibly rich resource for understanding how things came to be, the family connections, the military inter-actions, and especially the commerce and industry that helped keep it all going.

A few years ago Sharp published, with co-author Anita R. Campeau, a book entitled, "The History of Mandeville," a 360-page overview of the Mandeville area from the American Revolution to Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville.

That book, available from Amazon, features chapter titles such as "The English Colonial Period," "The Revolutionary War Upheaval in British West Florida," and "The Battle of Lake Pontchartrain."

The West Florida Rebellion of 1810 is covered in detail in the work, as well as the key individuals (many with last names still prevalent today) who helped St. Tammany become a  a part of the United States. He tells about the U.S. gunboats that came up the Tchefuncte River in 1806 to help bring order to southeast Louisiana under the command of Joseph Bainbridge and John Rush. The gunboats anchored in the river in front of the Baham family's cabin, he said.

 This historical marker in Springfield, LA, says that La. Hwy. 22 was part of the "El Camino Real" (King's Highway) Spanish transportation system.

Sharp's eye for family ties, plus his willingness to spend long hours in the records room of the St. Tammany Parish Courthouse in Covington, produced a considerable treasure trove of historical and genealogical information. He was aided in the effort by Bertha Neff, the parish archivist, who helped track down the family legal papers, land grant records, and any other variety of documentation that Sharp needed in his quest for accurate accounts of who did what when.

Sharp was a founding member of the St. Tammany Parish Historical Society in 1972, and he hopes that current ongoing efforts to get the group back up and running are successful.
In fact, Sharp says that back in 1969, he first mentioned the need for such a historical society while he was visiting with Harvey and Melba Colvin in Mandeville. They were all doing research on different aspects of the rather unique history of the area and decided that a group effort to preserve all that history would be worthwhile.
 Dr. Harvey Colvin and Melba Colvin

"The Jefferson Parish historical society had just organized a year earlier," Sharp said. The Colvins agreed that such a group would not only be appropriate for St. Tammany, but a necessity given the interest and broad scope of topics that needed to be researched, verified and documented.

Sharp has some very interesting information about the Tchefuncte River lighthouse, and he has come to think that the lighthouse at Mobile Bay may have been one of the first lighthouses in the country.

Southeastern Louisiana University has received donations of many of his books, plus some of his work has been made available in its Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies, including numerous recorded interviews with key St. Tammany history researchers over the past several decades. His blending of genealogical charts and historical information helps fill in many of the connections of who was related to who and maybe that was why they did what they did.

He began his first serious efforts at researching history in the early 1960's. He met with Zachariah "Cutsie" Sharp of the Mandeville Ford Agency, and then with Edgar "Old Pelican" Sharp also of Mandeville. This led to the meeting with the Colvins. Clerk of Court Robert "Bob" Fitzmorris introduced him to Mrs. Neff, and the course was set. He has also worked with noted local historians Norma Core and Adrian Schwartz, both of Covington. 

His life story is quite interesting. He graduated high school in New Orleans, joined the Army for 18 months to get a free college education, and then was off to Japan with the military. After he got out of the Army, he was accepted into a pre-med program at Tulane Medical School in New Orleans. "I wanted to be a doctor, but then my brother talked me into joining him going to college at Colorado State in Denver," he said. "I jumped on a bus and three days later found myself in Denver."

The college in Denver turned out to be a teacher's college, so he began work to become a physical education teacher. He worked for a while at a grocery store in Wyoming, got a job offer to be a teacher and coach at a Jackson Hole, Wyoming, school, but he wanted to "see the world" so instead he worked for a while in Idaho and then California where he ran into a fellow who had a job teaching in Spain. "What are you talking about," Sharp asked him, and he found out the guy was working as an assistant principal for the Department of Defense in Europe. When the opportunity came along to get the same kind of teaching assignment, he jumped at the chance. 

 "So the next fall, I'm sitting in a bull ring in Spain with Ernest Hemingway sitting in front of me a couple of rows down," Sharp explained. Two years later he was working in Germany. While in Europe he visited the Russian Opera in Moscow, saw Pope John the 23rd in Rome, went to Hitler's "Eagle's Nest," and drove to Oslo, Norway, and many other points of interest throughout Europe.

When he returned from overseas, he got a job teaching and school administration in Metairie, and helped start John Quincy Adams High School. From there he made the move to St. Tammany Parish and began teaching here.

Later, Don's experience as a teacher around the world led him to take advantage of a special two-week teacher's program in Hungary, a country where he had never been. He wore a cowboy hat while on that assignment; the students loved it. 

 On other trips he has done research on Mandeville history in London and worked with other locations in Europe where he was able to find some of the earliest French and Spanish archives, good places to find out about St. Tammany's earliest movers and shakers.

Don has a new website where he is publishing some of his research. CLICK HERE to go to his website, or type in ""