While staying at Pioneer Acadian RV Park here in Breaux Bridge we figured we would take one day to explore nearby Opelousas. Opelousas was founded in 1720 and is Louisiana's 3rd oldest city. Opelousas began as a major trading post between New Orleans and Natchitoches where it became known as one of the largest yam producers in the country. Later it was named the spice capital of the world. Those who are musically inclined will know it as the Zydeco Capital of the World since Opelousas is also the home of Clifton Chenier, the king of Zydeco.
In addition this city of nearly 25,000 residents is home to some well known Louisiana names when it comes to food. Targil Seasonings, Savoie's cajun meats and products, as well as LouAna Cooking Oil are all located here. Opelousas is also home to one of the nation's two Yoohoo Factories, a chocolate drink. However, the most well known name from these parts is Tony Chachere. Chef Chachere was born in Opelousas and the Chachere family still owns and operates Tony Chachere's Creole Foods located here.
Opelousas is about a 20 minute drive north of Breaux Bridge and it didn't take long to arrive via the interstate highway. We pulled into town and parked next to the courthouse which dominates the center of town. The courthouse is a fairly unattractive smooth concrete building built in 1939 replacing the original 1802 facility which I would have really liked to see.
We walked down one of the main streets to the visitor center to find a brochure for the historic walking tour of Opelousas. The visitors center also serves as host to the Le Vieux Village du Poste des Opelousas or The Old Village of the Opelousas Poste. This quaint little village was created in 1988 by the Opelousas Tourism and Activities Committee and is a nice reflection of what life might have been like many years ago. Complete with an neat little church, mercantile and a charming schoolhouse there is plenty to see in the town.... And best of all it is free!
As we left the Le Vieux Village we began to walk through the nearby neighborhoods checking off historical buildings on our walking tour map. There is plenty of history here and much of it is reflected in the town's architecture. In 1862 Opelousas became the capital of Confederate Louisiana and by 1880 the railroad had reached town resulting in growth and increased trade.
The train also brought the Orphan Trains from New York in the 1920’s, a social services agency whose focus was the resettlement of orphans. There is an Orphan Train Museum located in an old train depot in the Le Vieux Village. With Opelousas being in the heart of the traditionally Catholic region of French, Spanish, Canadian and French West Indian heritage there were many families that took in more than 2,000 mostly Catholic orphans to live in their community.
As we walked around the neighborhoods and eventually back to the town square we couldn’t help but think how life must have been for those orphaned children. I am sure that they mostly landed on their feet as the people in this town are very friendly and if their ancestors were anything like some of the people we met while walking around town, these orphans were lucky to have landed in Opelousas. One fellow in particular filled us in on the history of a street in his neighborhood. He described two local business women who lived and had shops in this neighborhood. One was a lady from France with a successful flower shop and the other, a small grocery store. He knew these women personally as they lived to be 102 and 103 years old respectively! Another fellow stopped us to describe all the places for good music and good food in the area! These folks are so welcoming!
After enjoying the stroll through town, the lively conversations with locals and the history tour from the brochure we headed out of town. Our next stop was the Bayou Tech Brewery located near the banks of the brown waters of Bayou Tech. This small brewery was a perfect place to stop after a fun but tiring and hot stroll though the town of Opelousas…