Fascinating History in Lafayette, Louisiana
By Vange Tapia
Lafayette is a welcoming, vibrant city in south-central Louisiana with a rich culture and history. It’s considered the heart of Acadiana – an area settled by French Canadians who were expelled from their homeland of Nova Scotia in the 18th century – and the capital of Cajun Country. Here you’ll find a blend of Spanish, African, American and Native American lifestyles preserved in the city’s historical attractions.
Living History in Vermilionville
My first stop in Lafayette was the Vermilionville Living History Museum & Folklife Park. It portrays the rich Cajun, Creole and Native American cultural influences on Lafayette Parish and the surrounding region.
Vermilionville is a historic village with six original homes filled with artifacts reflecting daily life in the early 1800s. In many of the structures, artisans work as costumed historical interpreters and provide examples of how crafts and musical styles were performed back in the early days when the Acadians and Creoles worked to create a pleasant life in this region. I particularly enjoyed seeing the medicinal herb garden across from the “Maison Acadienne” and visiting “La Forge,” Vermilionville's original smithy.
Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site
About 30 minutes from Lafayette, the beautiful Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site (a nod to the Longfellow poem “Evangeline”) is part state park, part historical site. The historic home on the site, the Maison Olivier, was built in 1815 as part of a cattle, sugarcane and cotton plantation. Along the Bayou Teche near the home is a fascinating reproduction of an Acadian farmstead of the 1800s, including the family home, slave quarters, barn, outdoor kitchen (which was meant to reduce the risk of fire to the actual home), a bread oven and even live cattle! I found the staff to be very knowledgeable about the history of the area – it was like bringing to life a history book full of the Acadians and their past.
St. Martinville Cultural Heritage Center
Another fascinating historical and cultural stop is the St. Martinville Cultural Heritage Center, about 25 minutes from Lafayette. This cultural center includes two museums – the Acadian Memorial and the African American Museum. For a single admission, you can tour both small museums to learn even more about the area’s rich cultural history. The African American Museum covers the history and contributions of slaves and free people of color in the area. The Acadian Memorial tells the story of the Acadians’ exile from Canada to Louisiana in the 1700s and includes several beautiful artifacts, including an Acadian cross, a beautiful mural and a commemorative quilt.
Before my visit to Lafayette, I had only heard of Acadiana and Cajun country, and most of it had to do with food and music. After my stops at these immersive historical sites, I have a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the unique cultural history that brought about the Lafayette and Louisiana that we know today.