CAROLA LILLIE HARTLEY
Publisher and Contributing Writer
Photographs: Carola Lillie Hartley Photograph Collection.
At the East entrance to Opelousas sits a historic treasure known as Le Vieux Village du Poste des Opelousas, the Old Village of the Opelousas Poste. Created in 1988 by the Opelousas Tourism and Activities Committee, the history of the development of the area where the village is located goes back over fifty years.
How it all began
1970 was a special year for Opelousas and its citizens, the celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the city was a yearlong event. The citizens of Opelousas had a gigantic birthday party that included parades, concerts, street dances, re-enactments and the creation of a village around the courthouse square. Thousands of people came from throughout Louisiana and other states for the celebration.
As a result of the anniversary celebration, local citizens started to realized the benefits of historic preservation, and began promoting the community as a historic tourist attraction.
Soon after the 250th celebration ended, the city, with support from the Kiwanis Club of Opelousas, the Greater Opelousas Chamber of Commerce and other civic organizations, began making plans for a building to be located on U. S. Highway 190 at the east entrance to town, to house a new Opelousas Tourist Center.
At the time the tourist center was located on Landry Street under the Jim Bowie Oak in downtown Opelousas, first in the Homere Mouton Law Office and then in the 19th century law office next door. Located in the tourist center during that time was the Jim Bowie Museum.
The Opelousas Tourist Center and Jim Bowie Museum, a project of the Kiwanis Club of Opelousas, was opened in the mid-1950s. After being in downtown for over 15 years, City officials and civic leaders felt moving the Tourist Center would attract more visitors going along the well-traveled US Highway 190 at the east entrance to the city.
In 1971 the City of Opelousas received a matching funds grant from the Louisiana Tourist Development Commission to build the new tourist center. Property alongside U. S. 167 at the city’s eastern limits, just south of the intersection with U. S. 190 was selected for the new center. The city leased the two-acre tract for an annual rental of $150.00. On March 11, 1971, groundbreaking ceremonies were held at the site, and the construction of the building began.
Plans for the center were developed by Rogers Gobert, who was hired to construct the 30×30 -foot Acadian style building. Managing the project was Dr. Richard Hargroder, the Chairman of the Opelousas Tourist Commission.
On May 31, 1971, Mayor Wilfred Cortez snipped the wide red ribbon across the front porch to formally open the new Opelousas Tourist Center. Chamber of Commerce Director Huey Bourque along with Representatives of the State Tourism department as well as area mayors were also present for the opening. Mrs. Bessie Hebert was hired as the center’s director. During that time, it was called the Acadian Tourist Center at Opelousas.
In 1972, the Earl Fontenot, Sr. Family of Grand Prairie donated a Creole style house (today known as the Venus House) to the city. In June of 1973, the Louisiana Tourist Commission presented the City of Opelousas a matching funds grant of $4,287.48, to be used for the moving, reconstruction and restoration of the house.
The house was moved to the “island” at the east entrance to the city along Highway 190. It was placed next to the Opelousas Tourist Information Center.
After months of reconstruction and renovation, on May 18, 1975, an official dedication of the house was held. Mayor Joe Powers officiated at the dedication with assistance from Dr. Lucius Doucet, Chairman of the Opelousas Tourist Commission.
The Jim Bowie Museum, originally located downtown, was moved into the house following the dedication. The museum, sponsored by the Opelousas Kiwanis Club and the City of Opelousas, remained in the house for a few years, until it was moved in the late 1970s to the Opelousas Acadian Tourist Center next door.
Shortly after the Venus House (aka Fontenot House) was moved to the village area, the Opelousas Farmer’s Market and Pavilion was built in 1974. This area then became a perfect setting for folklife festivals and other community events. Throughout the early to mid-1980s, the area was the site of folklife festivals held at certain times during the year. It was soon realized that this area had the potential for tourism development.
In 1987, Mayor John Joseph and the Opelousas City Council created the Opelousas Tourism and Activities Committee and appointed local citizens to serve as its members. One of the first sub-committees formed from this group was one to consider developing the area around the Opelousas Tourist Center.
It was decided that a historic village created around the existing tourist center would be a good project. Following the full committee’s approval to adopt the village as a project, the members thought long and hard about a name for the site. After much discussion it was decided to name the area Le Vieux Village du Poste des Opelousas. The reason: the old people of the Opelousas area always referred to the City of Opelousas as “le vieux village,” the old village. In 1988, Le Vieux Village du Poste des Opelousas was born.
One of the first things moved to the Village in 1989 was the Mary Jane Train Engine, manufactured by Davenport, Iowa Iron Works in 1904. Prior to that, the engine that served the railroad for 50 years before it was retired, sat on the Courthouse Square in downtown Opelousas since 1959. The Kiwanis Club of Opelousas funded the move of the train from downtown to the village, and its restoration once on the village property.
During the following years, other buildings were donated and moved to the village site. Most of the donated building were moved to prevent them from being demolished. The Opelousas Tourism and Activities Committee partnered with other civic clubs and organizations to finance the moving costs and renovation work once the buildings arrived on the site.
Today, Le Vieux Village du Poste des Opelousas has a collection of buildings and other items that span the history of the area, from the 18th century through the 1900s. A walk through the village is like a step back in time.
A tour of Le Vieux Village is a great way to celebrate Historic Preservation Month this May in Opelousas.
Address: 828 E Landry St, Opelousas, LA 70570
For Information: (337) 948-6263 · (800) 424-5442
Part two of this story, to be published soon, will feature information on the buildings and other attractions of Le Vieux Village du Poste des Opelousas.