Sunday, April 3, 2011

Preserving Cajun Culture

Many of the sights of the region around Lafayette (LA) and the experiences of the people of the region are rooted in the history of the early settlers. We visited the Acadian Village, which is Lafayette's oldest authentic vision of life in 19th century Southwest Louisiana. As the 1978 Village Director, Mrs. Marti Gutierrez, said in a Times Picayune article, “The old ways are worth keeping alive, worth handing down, worth remembering.”

Seven of the 11 buildings are authentic homes of the 19th century donated by the families whose ancestors once occupied them. All homes are examples of the ingenuity of the early Acadian homebuilders, complete with wooden pegs, mud walls, hand-hewn cypress timbers, and high-peaked roofs. Each was moved piece by piece and carefully restored.

The Doctor's Museum, which houses a collection of furniture, medical and dental instruments (shown in the first three photos), and diplomas of early doctors, was built in 1890.

Ten acres of farmland have been transformed into a typical 1800's Cajun village with a bayou running through it. Shown here are (left to right) The Castille House, New Hope Chapel, the Billeaud House, and the Blacksmith Shop.

The Castille House was built for Dorsene Castille (circa 1860) in Breaux Bridge, LA. The home survived pillaging by Union soldiers and the ravages of time.

The stairway on the front porch leads to a door to the second floor. Here could be found the bedrooms for the boys in the family.

Shown here is one of the two cypress mantels in the home.

The furniture indicates that a prosperous family lived here.

The New Hope Chapel is a replica of an 1850 chapel. It presents a beautiful, serene place.

The ceiling is built of cypress and is held up by pegs. The floor is made of Louisiana long leaf pine that is about 200 years old.

The main altar originally served St. Anne's church in Youngsville, LA and later St. Joseph's in Milton, LA.

The Billeaud House (below) comes from the Billeaud Sugar Plantation in Broussard, LA. It was built prior to the Civil War. Today it is used as the spinning and weaving cottage. One of the looms is a 150-year-old original; the other is a replica.

The Blacksmith Shop is a replica of a typical shop and is filled with dozens of tongs, pincers, hammers, and an anvil, forge and bellows. These are used in demon-strations by the smitty on special occasions at the Village.

Next door is a storage area for items in need of repair and restoration. We hoped this buggy would be brought back to its original form.

Shown here are (l. to r.) the St. John House, the Leblanc House, and the Thibodeaux House. Note the steep slant to the roofs. The construction of these homes was modeled after the early settlers' homes in Nova Scotia where the winter's snows would slide off the roofs because of the steep slant.

The St. John House dates to 1840 and was built of salvaged cypress timbers from another building.

The house is currently being displayed as a school-house. Desks have been set in the center of the room, some chairs are stored on the walls, and old books, inkwells, lunch pails, and a wooden stove round out the exhibit.

The Leblanc House was built between 1821 and 1856 near Youngsville, LA, and is the birthplace of Cajun politician and entrepreneur Dudley J. "Couzin Dud" LeBlanc.

In 1945, he established the Happy Day Company, which manufactured the popular Hadacol brand health tonic. Hadacol, "with high potency iron, vitamin B1, riboflavin, and niacinamide," had 12 percent alcohol and guaranteed to cure all ills. LeBlanc promoted Hadacol extensively, sometimes using major entertainers as spokespersons.

Shown in the photo on the right of the Thibodeaux House is the small rear "cabinet" room, the daughter's room, which is accessible only through the parent's bedroom.

Constructed in St. Martinville, LA, the Bernard House is the oldest structure in the Village. The section on the left (shown here) was built first (circa 1800) while the section on the right is an addition (circa 1840).

In this home is the best example of the type of insulation used within the homes. It is called "bousillage entre poteaux" (mud between posts).

Upon entry into the addition, there is a large painting of the exile of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755.

The painting in the small rear room depicts their arrival and settling along the bayous of Louisiana in 1764-1765. These paintings were created by Louisiana artist Robert Dafford.

Acadian Village is located on the 32 acres of LARC (Lafayette Association for Retarded Citizens). The Village preserves a piece of early Acadian heritage, and its revenues benefit LARC by providing employment for LARC clients.

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