Sunday, August 5, 2018

The History of Sun

      Up in the extreme northeastern corner of St. Tammany Parish lies the Village of Sun, a community of 470 people. The municipality straddles the intersection of La. Hwy. 16 and La. Hwy. 21 with Lock No. 3 of the West Pearl River Navigational Canal to the east and dozens of gravel pits along the Bogue Chitto River to the west. A sign on the highway median welcomes visitors to the "Top of St. Tammany."

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The Sun Village Hall
     Sun, Louisiana, is located on the "high ground" on the north side of the Bogue Chitto river, a spot that made it a natural place for early inhabitants to settle down. According to Frederick S. Elllis in his book "St. Tammany: L'Autre Cote' Du Lac," the area north of the junction between the Bogue Chitto River and the Pearl River had been called Sun as early as 1886. 

     "In 1894, Matthew Mizell was postmaster there, and by 1900, Sun had two stores and a hotel, in addition to the post office," Ellis stated.

     The village was incorporated on October 8, 1958, but its early history goes back 100 years before that, when the post office was first established in 1851.
     Mayor Richard Kivett said there used to be a Choctaw village between the town and the Pearl River, lying along Wright's Creek. 

     How did the town get its name? A town resident once met an old Choctaw Indian in Lacombe who explained that many of the Native Americans who lived at Sun would travel back and forth each year from their home on the Pearl River to northern Mississippi, in order to escape the hot Louisiana weather and mosquitoes in the summer and then back down to Sun in the fall to escape the colder north Mississippi winters. 

     She said that the name "Sun" was what the Choctaw Indians called the area when they returned each winter to the warmer climate in Louisiana to be "warmed by the Sun." The original name of the village was the Choctaw word for sun, which is "Hvshi." 

     After the Great Southern Railroad built a track that ran from Slidell to Bogalusa through the community in 1906, sand and gravel became a key industry. Marilyn Cates said in one of her several Facebook posts that when the railroad came through, people from the outlying areas migrated closer to the town, building homes, two churches ( Sun Methodist and Sun Baptist) five stores, and a sawmill.

     Also at one time there was a pillow factory, a broom handle factory, and The Woodsmen of The World owned a Meeting House there, she went on to say. There was even a Masonic lodge. Mayor Kivett also recalled several old stores that used to serve the town, among them the Hays Store and the Frank Bush store. 

     Ed Kivett owned a brick factory, gravel company and lumber Company, Cates said. The Sun School was built around 1927, remained in operation 22 years, then closed in 1949 when the children were sent to Fifth Ward school  in Bush. 

     "The mail came by trucks and train three times a day," Cates noted. The train didn't stop to drop off the mail, the mailbag was just tossed onto a crane with a hook on it that stood by the track as the train went by. In the evening the mail was delivered by the same method, the bag snagged by the hook and delivered to the platform.

     Cates also tells about the passenger train called the "Rebel" that came through at 9:30 AM in the morning going to New Orleans and came back later that same day passing through Sun at 7:30 PM.  "Sun was a busy community from 1940 to 1945, because of World War II," she said. "Trains moved soldiers, weapons and equipment through here." 

     During Prohibition, Sun was a favorite destination for Bogalusa area residents and soldiers from Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and even afterwards when Mississippi was still "dry." Sun was home to at least four clubs and night spots, among them the Plantation Club and the Swing Club. 

      Ed Kivett's son Richard Kivett is Sun's Mayor now, and he tells about the days of his youth when his family operated the sand and gravel pit, a sawmill, and a short line railroard called the Bogue Chitto Valley Railroad. The steam locomotive and several railcars were used to load up the sand and gravel that had been dug up from the gravel pits and leave them on a siding where the "local" GM&O train would pick them up, take them to Bogalusa rail yards to be sorted, then added to the main train heading south to New Orleans. 

     The Sun area gravel pits were a major source of sand and gravel for the many construction projects in the growing New Orleans. The Jahncke gravel pit there supplied the sand and gravel for the first sidewalks built in New Orleans, Mayor Kivett said. 

 The gravel pits along the river west of Sun
Image from Google Earth 

The La. 21 bridge over the Bogue Chitto River 2017
      The railroad track crossed the Bogue Chitto River on a trestle west of the new La. 21 bridge. It crossed at the point where the river became one again, after splitting into two streams and creating "Holden's Island" further upstream.

      The train trestle is still there and can be seen while driving across the bridge, even though the track hasn't been used in years. From the river, the track headed due north up into Sun, with Silica Road running alongside it at one point. (It is now Renee Street on the official map.) 

     Just west of the old railroad trestle is the old roadbed of the Columbia Road that stretches from Covington to Columbia, Miss. Early travelers using the road had to board a ferry to get across the Bogue Chitto River. 

Columbia Road south of Sun at its La. 21 intersection

     Back in 1958, Lulu Mizell was the town's first mayor, and the first marshall was Taft Hunt, who, according to reports, was appointed by Mayor Mizell and showed up the first day to work in a uniform of his own design and with a sword. "Mayor Mizell told him the sword wouldn't work," Kivett recalled. 

The Sun Town Hall in 1975 (Photos by Ron Barthet)


     Joe Blackwell served three terms as chief of police, beginning in 1975.  According to Cates, one of the funniest stories Joe told about his days of keeping the peace is when folks acted up and he arrived on the scene, he would tell them, “Hey, If y’all don’t listen to me, I’m gonna call the real Law.“ One time he was asked why he didn’t carry a gun, and he would say, ”if I need one, I’ll borrow one of yours."

Joe Blackwell in front of the Plantation Club fountain

       Blackwell recalled that the town built the jail before they built the town hall, what with all the people frequenting the clubs in town sometimes being a source of "disagreements."  Back when it was incorporated, there were only about 300 people in the town, he said.

     Blackwell died on March 2, 2023, at St. Tammany Parish Hospital in Covington at the age of 87. He was born February 14,1936, to Neal and Bevie Talley Blackwell.

     When Highway 21 was going to be four-laned, The Plantation Club had to be removed from the right-of-way, and it was decided to burn it rather than tearing it down or moving it.


     There was a beautiful water fountain in front of the Club, a well-known landmark. After the fire, with great effort, that fountain was moved to the grounds of Sun Town Hall. 

 Lulu Mizell, first Mayor of Sun Louisiana (standing)
(Photo from Joe Blackwell collection) 

Pictured with Mayor Mizell is Neal Blackwell, Joe Blackwell’s dad. The picture was taken sometimes in the 1930’s. Mayor Mizell was responsible for the incorporation of the Village Of Sun. He also brought in a water system and created a Police Department, as well as a system of garbage pickup to the Village, Cates recalled.

     The town hall has a unique feature in that it houses a large roller rink, one that townsfolk and teenagers enjoy every Friday night. The skating facility had basketball goals in it at one time, but now it is used for the weekly skating activity, is also available for private parties, and hosts a monthly fund-raiser event for the volunteer fire department.

 The Sun Municipal Skating Rink

 Other photos from around town...

 Sun Civic Center and Food Bank

  First Baptist Church

 Sun United Methodist Church

The Hog Heaven Smokehouse

The First Settlers

The person who was believed to be one of the very first settlers to come to Sun from another area was Cornelius Cooper, and his final resting place was found in the Sun cemetery. In recognition of his contributions to the area and his family's long line of descendants, a monument was placed near his grave back in 1955.  

Click on image above to make it larger and more readable. 

     From the above article: “Two hundred years of American history will be memorialized on December 3 of this year at the old Cooper Cemetery in Sun when a monument to Cornelius Cooper, one of St. Tammany Parish’s earliest settlers, is erected over his now restored last resting place.

     “Descendants and friends of descendants numbering several hundreds of in St. Tammany and adjoining parishes alone are expected to be present and take part in the ceremonies and to help in the reclamation of the old cemetery at 10 a.m.

     "Russ Williams Jr. of Bogalusa, himself a descendant of Private Cooper in the War of 1812, will represent the Veterans department of the U.S. government which has made the monument available.

     "Cornelius Cooper was born in Granville County, North Carolina, in 1774, of Virginia parentage. His father served in the Revolutionary War. Cornelius was one of eight surviving children at the time of his father's death in 1805 in Georgia.

    "He was married to Miss Jane Wood of Maryland in 1796. After a long overland journey, he settled in St. Tammany Parish in March of 1812 with his wife and children and laid claim to land along the Bogue Chitto River. There he lived a long and useful life, believed to be one of the earliest pioneers in this area. He took up the practice of medicine, a practice his son James was to pick up and use during his life.“

The Bogue Chitto River south of Sun

La.Hwy. 21 crosses over the Bogue Chitto River just south of Sun. The old overhead steel truss bridge that crossed the river was at one time named "one of the most dangerous bridges in America." Fortunately, a national magazine article that listed that bridge as one of the ten most dangerous was published the same week that the bridge was demolished, having just been replaced by the four-lane concrete bridge that spans the river today.  

 West Pearl River Navigational Canal

     Lock No. 3, a mile east of downtown Sun, was built by the Corps of Engineers as part of the West Pearl River Navigation Canal, and it includes a boat launch for the many fishermen that head downstream into the wilderness. The canal was authorized in 1935, to provide for a navigation channel from Bogalusa to the mouth of the West Pearl River. 

     The Corps of Engineers placed the navigational canal project in "caretaker" status in the 1970s because of a decline in commercial traffic, according to Wikipedia.


The scenic West Pearl River Navigational Canal, one way to access the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge

 The boat launch at Lock No. 3

Thanks goes to Mayor Richard Kivett, Joe Blackwell and Marilyn Cates for some of the photographs and much of the information in this article.

Additional information on the Village of Sun is available in an 82 page printed book available from Amazon. Click on this link to go to the webpage.