While recently on a road trip to Mississippi, we came upon the unfortunate demolition of Jackson’s iconic Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel. We say “unfortunate” because it played such an important role in both Jackson’s—and the nation’s — history.  Here’s the motel’s story.

Image: Stuckey’s Corp / Stephanie Stuckey

If Those Walls Could Talk

Soon after it was built in 1961, the Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel had already started building its reputation as a local landmark. It served as both a second home to Mississippi lawmakers when the state legislature was in session, and a favorite hangout of the journalists who covered them “off the record”.  

Speaking of politicians and writers, John Grisham wrote his first novel, 1989’s A Time to Kill, at the Sun-n-Sand in his free time while serving as a Mississippi representative. Other writers have included the motel as a backdrop in their literary works — like Willie Morris in his charming tale My Cat Spit McGee, published in 1998, and Kathryn Stockett in her 2009 novel The Help, set in Mississippi’s Civil Rights era. 

Image: Stuckey’s Corp. / Stephanie Stuckey

Along with politicians, Civil Rights activists would also meet there. Starting in 1964, during their “Wednesdays in Mississippi” initiative, Northern women of different races and faiths would travel to Jackson, Mississippi and meet with their southern equals at the Sun-n-Sand in an effort to build relationships, end violence, and help ease the country into racial integration. 

Nonetheless, it would be the familiar ebb and flow of progress that would eventually lead to the motel’s demolition. Over the years, Jackson’s downtown businesses slowly moved into the malls of the city’s suburbs, and the once-thriving downtown slipped into urban decay. 

Consequently, 40 years after it first opened, the owners announced that the Sun-n-Sand would be closing in August 2001. By the end of September of that year, it was shuttered and abandoned, never to open again. It did not go quietly, however.

“They Paved Paradise…”

Image : Stuckey’s Corp. / Stephanie Stuckey

In the last 20 years, efforts were made by the Mississippi Heritage Trust and other advocates to save the landmark motel from the wrecking ball. However, even after it was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s most endangered historic places list in 2020, the fate of the Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel had already been sealed.

So it was that on that February day in 2021 when we happened by, demolition had already begun on one of the nation’s most historic motels. Though the motel’s famous sign and the commercial section will still be there, the rest of the motel will become a parking lot parking lot for employees of the state.  

Even if the walls could talk, they are now silenced forever. 

Every Motel Has a Story to Tell

Image: Stuckey’s Corp. / Stephanie Stuckey

Of course, the Sun-n-Sand is not the first motel of its era to meet the wrecking ball, nor will it be the last. And like the Sun-n-Sand, each one of those motels has its own stories to tell. Oh, they may not be about politicians or famous writers living there; rather, there are often the stories told by people like you and me that take us back to a simpler time. 

Maybe it’s the story of that motel with a pool where you first learned to swim on your family’s first cross-country road trip. Or maybe it’s that little mom and pop place you stayed at as newlyweds on your honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls. Whatever the case, most of us have our own unique motel story that brings back fond memories of our road trips of yesteryear. 

It’s in that spirit that Stuckey’s Pecan Blog Roll has designated Mondays as “Motel Mondays.” We’ll tell the stories of some of the most iconic motels to ever line the American road. Stay tuned!

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