Longfellow Evangeline State Park, St. Martinville

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From New Iberia, I left Route 182 behind, but continued to follow Bayou Teche towards the next small Cajun town, St. Martinville.  St. Martinville’s tidy downtown shows off its Acadian roots and hundreds of years of history, with a few buildings that line Route 31.

But the main sight to behold here is…

… St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church.  St. Martin dates back to 1836, making it the 4th oldest church in Louisiana.  A large home for the priest stands next door.

The city of St. Martinville is at the heart of the Cajun culture, and St. Martin of Tours is considered to be the “mother church” of the Acadians — French colonists who settled in what are now the Canadian Atlantic Provinces.  The Acadians were forced to leave their new home by the British during the Great Upheaval, between 1755 and 1763.  Many of them ended up in Louisiana — eventually becoming known as Cajuns or Creoles.

St. Martinville’s history is tightly interwoven with the church.  In the town’s early days (from 1795 to 1890), a semi-feudal arrangement existed, where townspeople would pay “rent” to the church.

In a cemetery next to St. Martin of Tours, you’ll find a statue of Evangeline, the heroine in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem of the same name.  The Evangeline Oak tree (also from the poem) is nearby.

Longfellow Evangeline State Park

Just north of downtown, St. Martinville celebrates its connection with the Acadian culture and Longfellow’s famous Evangeline poem, at a state park that preserves a typical Acadian estate.  When I saw the entrance along the side of the road, I didn’t know anything about the park or the poem, but I decided to turn in and see what was there.

Since admission was just $2, I decided I didn’t have much to lose.  So I caught up with a tour group that was just forming underneath the front porch.

As the guide took us through the house, she explained what it would be like to eat dinner around this table on a steamy Louisiana evening — made slightly more tolerable by a fan, operated through a system of pullies by a slave on the side of the room.

This is the former home of Charles DuClozel Olivier.  His family acquired the property in the late 1700’s, and he inherited it in the early 1800’s.  The home itself dates back to 1815, with renovations done around 1840.

The home, Maison Olivier, has clay brick walls that are 14 inches thick on the first floor, while the upstairs walls are packed with mud and moss in between the cypress studs.  Also interesting: the porch ceilings were painted light blue — a color that apparently repels mud dobbers.

The house was quite luxurious for its time, with a game room…

… and a grand bed upstairs.  This style of bed was called a “rolling pin” bed because, the guide explained, the rolling pin on the headboard could be removed, and used to flatten out the lumps in the mattress.

The kitchen is separate from the house…

… and there’s also a separate guest house…

… with windows that double as doors…

… and a blacksmith shop.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive from New Iberia through St. Martinville to Breaux Bridge:

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