On September 8, 2018, the community of Start, Louisiana will celebrate its centennial birthday. This date marks 100 years since Start was officially recognized as “our name.” Though unincorporated, many people who live here are quick to tell you they are from Start. I’ve always been fascinated with people’s stories, how they or their ancestors chose to settle in any given place, and the events in their lives that brought them there. What is your Start story? After thinking about our centennial, I decided to take a stab at writing mine.
One thing that has always been special and unique to me, is that all four of my grandparents knew each other as children, here in Start. They all attended Start High School, and were only seven years apart from the eldest to the youngest. My maternal grandfather, Dick Taylor, used to tell me that he boxed my paternal grandfather John Letlow, in High School. I don’t know if I really understood how unique that was, until I left here for college.
In order to tell my story, first some quick background. People lived in “Start” well before we were called that. Native Americans first lived here centuries before it was settled by immigrants. Arrowheads and artifacts have been found all over the area. The earliest records of place names often referred to this area as Crew Lake, Wynn Island, Girard, Charleston, Ward Three, Clear Lake, and Rhymes. Some folks even tried to call it “Titschville.”
For most people who live here now, Crew Lake is just to the west of Start, Wynn Island to the north, Girard is to the east, and Clear Lake/Rhymes is to our south. No one calls it Charleston now, Titschville never stuck, and Ward Three is pretty much an unknown reference too, since Richland Parish no longer uses wards for voting, but rather precincts. Yet many people who live in these areas like Girard, Crew Lake, Wynn Island, and Clear Lake might often also say they live in Start. The USPS seems to think I live at Oak Ridge, but I do not. Some prefer the original historical names of our outskirts, and that’s ok too. If it sounds confusing, that’s because it kinda is, unless you live here.
Girard is the oldest settlement in Richland Parish, dating back to the Girard Plantation financed by Stephen Girard of Philadelphia. He was the largest private financier of the Revolutionary War, and his plantation on the banks of the Boeuf River dates back to 1821. Crew Lake has been a named place dating back to the 1860’s at least, likely populated first as the railroad was being built, and later as a sawmill was built there. Wynn Island was settled by the Wynn family in the middle of the 1800’s, and Charleston is a name that was actually “official” for the community of Start, up until the United States Postal Service wrote to let the locals know there were already too many Charlestons, and a new name would be needed for our “place.”
The name Start was suggested by Rachel Morgan, whose father, James M. Morgan, had a store and postal stop along the north side of the primary railroad crossing at present day Start. That name stuck, and for the most of us, we’ve been Start natives ever since.
Now for my story. My deepest roots in Start date back to 1873, where my maternal great-great grandfather, George Houston Taylor, was here as an orphaned child. It’s believed he came from Monroe County, Alabama, and that his parents likely died once arriving in Richland Parish. George Houston Taylor’s adopted father was a moderately successful planter and land owner named Andrew Jackson “A.J.” Wright. I have never found any biological evidence that Mr. Wright was a relative of my great-great grandfather, but it appears that he raised George Houston to be a committed, hard working, community-oriented citizen.
Living on an adjacent farm near the Boeuf River, was the William H. Doughtie family. They too seem to have been successful planters, having migrated to the northwestern portion of Richland Parish around 1885 from Norfolk, Virginia. After establishing themselves as landowners and establishing a farm, William’s niece, Leila Doughtie, arrived in Richland Parish in the late 1880’s to live and board with her uncle. Leila’s father, Joshua Doughtie, came also for a short while, but ultimately returned to Virginia, never quite finding the same level of success as his younger brother William. Nonetheless, his daughter Leila stayed, and soon a romance occurred with that young orphan next door, George Houston Taylor. They would live their entire lives here, and acquired several hundred acres south of the railroad in present day Start. They planted cotton, and numerous other crops, built a blacksmith shop and installed gas burning lights in their home in the early years of the twentieth century. He also owned a Model-T Ford, and built a ramp to put it on the porch during the flood of 1927. Success for his family farm in the early 1900’s was aided by the unique fact that George Houston and his wife Leila had eight male sons in a row before a daughter came along, with a ninth son to follow, for a total of ten children.
The eldest of these children was my great-grandfather, “Henry” Taylor. He too was a lifelong Start resident, with his original home resting in what is now the west bound exit of Interstate 20. Most of Henry Taylor’s nine brothers and his little sister were eager to leave the farm.Only Henry, Walter, and Lee Taylor would live the balance of their lives in Start. Asking anyone who knew them, pretty quickly I learned that Taylor boys were nothing short of a rough and tumble bunch. I often heard old timers growing up say that, “if somebody was getting into trouble, or raising hell, or getting into a knock down fight, you could bet your ass it was a Taylor, a Bennett, or a Moore.” I wasn’t related to the Bennetts or the Moores, but nearly all of my Start friends were. As for the Taylors, a more gifted writer might use embellishing terms such as “vigorous, frontier worthy, and free spirited.” But these were the days of prohibition, so finding trouble wasn’t hard after long days on the farm. I was told that their father, the once orphaned George Houston Taylor, was an even-tempered, steady and stern, teetotaler. Their mother, Leila D, was a bit more of a pistol. I suspect that’s what a house of nine boys and one girl can do to a woman born in Virginia, removed to the edges of Lafourche swamp in Richland Parish. Legend has it she was a crack shot with her snuff aim too. George Houston Taylor and his wife Leila Doughtie Taylor are buried in New Salem Cemetery.
Henry Taylor’s youngest son, Richard Henry “Dick” Taylor was my maternal grandfather. He returned from the Pacific after World War II and built his first home on land his grandfather owned, and would build another house near there, which is still there today (near the east bound frontage of exit 132 on Interstate 20.) The Start Cemetery was developed on land adjacent to the Taylor place. The cemetery is still separately managed to this day, with Methodists managing the southern end, and Baptists managing the northern end. Henry Taylor and his wife Minnie Harvey Taylor, as well as my grandfather, Dick Taylor, are all buried in the Start Cemetery.
Next in my personal Start timeline requires a jump to 1924, and shifts to my paternal grandmother, Mary Janet (pronounced Jeanette) Clement. Though born in Alto, Louisiana in 1923, the Clement family moved to Start soon after her birth. Her father, Vernon Clement, born in Newton County, Mississippi, only reached the 4th grade before farm work became a necessity back at home. Her mother, Nobie Landers Clement was a descendant of the Boies family, who came to the Alto/Red Mouth area around 1840. Nobie’s brother, Ed Landers, married Rena Morgan, the second youngest daughter of James M Morgan, mentioned previously. Once married, Vernon Clement worked hard as a tenant farmer, where he share cropped a small farm in the northern area of Start, located on Crew Lake. It’s possible the Clement family moved to Start as a result of the new Start High School, which was completed in 1924-25.
In 1931, my paternal grandfather, John “Johnny” Letlow, moved to Start with his parents and nine of his twelve siblings. John was the 11th of 12 children and was about 8 years of age at the time of their move. The Letlow family came from Strong, Arkansas, having previously come from Tallapoosa County, Alabama in 1888. Farming was difficult enough in the hill country of Union County, Arkansas, but as the depression hit, the Letlow family faced financial hardships that proved too difficult, and in seeking new opportunities, they found work sixty miles south, as tenant farmers in the flat fertile lands of Richland Parish. Living first on the eastern side of Clear Lake, they would ultimately make numerous moves, but were fortunate to end up living in the Old Mhoon House. Though it had become a bit run down, this was nonetheless, a step up in the world. Later on, in 1934, they moved to a place two and a half miles south of Start, and lived in a house they called “the Whitten place.” Hard times didn’t go away however for my grandfather Letlow and his family. When he was 13, his father, William T. Letlow died of a stroke, while helping to build a chimney for his neighbor, Mr. A.B. Curry. His mother died the following year. My grandfather Letlow’s eldest brother, Berry Letlow, along with two elder sisters, Doris and Dorothy Lee, would sacrifice much in keeping this family together. With no parents in the home, these elder siblings would continue to care for and raise the youngest four children, Merrell Letlow Davis, James Cloice Letlow, my grandfather John M. Letlow, and his youngest brother, E.E. “Jiggs” Letlow. Each of these youngest children would go on to graduate High School. The elder children, Berry, Doris, and Dorothy Lee, each never married, nor had families of their own, but they remained close, depending on each other as well as living together for many of their remaining years.
After returning from the Pacific after WWII, my grandfather Johnny got a job as “the milk-man” with Clover Leaf Dairy. After a few years, he purchased, owned and operated a small local grocery store in the community called “The Start Mart.” It is still in operation today, though it was sold in the early 1980’s after his death. My grandfather “Johnny” and his wife Mary Janet Clement Letlow, are buried in New Salem Cemetery, north of Start.
The last of my grandparents making Start their home was my maternal grandmother, Mary Catherine Sullivan Taylor, who moved here in 1937 at the age of 7. As the great depression continued to impact families across the country, President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had a program that would ultimately give them a fresh beginning, in Start. A large expansive plantation known as the Millsapps place, (located on the banks of Crew Lake and west of Hwy 133), was purchased by the federal government and subdivided into 40 acre farms. This federal resettlement program, often referred to locally as the “Crew Lake Project” brought approximately 40 new families to present day Start. Most of these new settlers came from Ouachita, Union, Winn, and other surrounding parishes to our west. Among the many families who came here were two large families of Sullivans. Garrett Sullivan and his wife Lillie Sims, and all but one of their twelve children made a move from Calhoun, Louisiana to Crew Lake. Because their family was so large, they ultimately were allowed to move into “the big house,” which was the original Millsaps home, (the former residence of Herbert Uriah Millsaps.) Mary Catherine Sullivan, the seventh child of Garrett and Lillie, is my maternal grandmother. Born in 1930, she attended Start High School, and married my maternal grandfather, Dick Taylor, at her parent’s home in 1947. As of 2018, she continues to reside in Start, Louisiana.
My Start story doesn’t end there. I grew up in Start, and also attended Start Elementary and Start Junior High. After college in Ruston, I moved to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, back to Baton Rouge, then came Shreveport, Denver, and Monroe. In the spring of 2018, my wife and I finished what we both hope will be our “forever” home here on earth. It’s a special place, in that it’s on the same bank of Crew Lake that my great-grandfather Clement once share-cropped, and on land that my grandfather Letlow and his wife Janet later purchased to build a home of their own. My brother Paul and his family live in their old home, just across the pasture. I’m located just over the stream and through the woods from my father and mother, “Johnny Lynn” and Dianne Taylor Letlow. Dad built a small pharmacy in Start and was operating it when I came along in 1979. Later he sold the pharmacy and had a long career in pharmaceutical sales, before retiring. He still serves as a part-time pharmacist in Northeast Louisiana and Southeast Arkansas. Dad was instrumental in creating the “Start Fire Department” and has served as the volunteer chief since 2003.
In September of 2017, my wife Julia and I had our first child, Jeremiah John Letlow. He’s the 5th generation to live on the land where we built.
Start may have gotten it’s official name back in 1918, but as we approach our 100-year centennial, it’s a reminder that many before us helped shape this special place we now love, and hopefully, we will leave it even better than we found it. One-hundred years is a long time, and this community like all others has seen good times, as well as difficult ones. But Start has always been a community of warm and friendly people, full of residents that are independent, yet equally close and in touch with all who choose to live here. It’s a place where fences serve as both a meeting place for neighbors and a boundary, protecting our home places we’ve worked hard for, which provide us with an unencumbered freedom we deeply love. Start is a place we can be proud of. As I look at my own son Jeremiah, I can’t think of a better place I’d like to see him grow up than Start. I pray that his life will take him wherever God’s will leads him, but I cherish that it all begins — in a place called START.