St. Martinville: Louisiana’s Acadian Capital
March 31, 2020
I learned in grade school that Baton Rouge is the capital of Louisiana and that New Orleans is its largest city. But that’s not the whole story. West of New Orleans lies Acadiana. Visit the Cajun homeland, and you’ll see that it’s sort of a separate country.
I had thought that Lafayette was the capital of Acadiana; it’s not, it’s just “the city.” St. Martinville is the Acadian’s capital and spiritual home. At the center of St. Martinville is St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, a grand yet simple church.
I caught a work crew cleaning the church grounds, and a little girl was raking the shrubs around the statues. She was maybe 10 or 11 and had the French Acadian features — brown hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.
More background on the Acadians, or “Cajuns,” is available from Wikipedia here. The Expulsion is the Acadian’s national origin narrative, and “Evangeline” is their epic poem. St. Martinville is the home of this remembrance.
The Evangeline Oak (and the church) lie along the banks of Bayou Teche which runs through town. It was a warm, calm spring day and I took some photos along the bayou, where cypress trees stand along the banks with half their roots out of the water. It was so peaceful and quiet, and not a single mosquito.
I’ve been told that Louisiana bayoux are actually slow-moving rivers and not standing water or swamps. Someday I’ll test that. I’ll set up a bayou-side lawn chair on some warm, mosquito-less winter day. Then I’ll toss a leaf in the water and spend the day with a book, some tunes, some snacks, and see how the leaf travels downstream in an afternoon. It will be an “experiment.”
There are some nice little places along the bayou complete with tall, wide oaks covered with Spanish moss, and this hotel.
The old hotel lies along the bayou, near the Evangeline site and St. Martin’s Church. Their website is here.
I walked around town. Things are quaint, well-run, well-kept, and busy. These aren’t rich folk, but they prosper.
The local shops carry an obvious French influence.
Street signs in the center of town are written in both English and French.
St. Martinville is the seat of St. Martin Parish, Louisiana (counties are called “parishes” here). I found the courthouse a few blocks south of the church along Rue Principal Sud (Main Street South). It’s a two-story wooden building that looks like a southern plantation house. Unfortunately the place was being renovated at the time and I couldn’t go inside.
I hope you have a chance to visit St. Martinville. The town is a real treat. And by the way, Acadian gumbo is a national treasure! Despite the humid climate I could see myself living here for a while.
All photos taken by the author. Photos taken in March, 2011.
A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.