History St Landry History Community

Photo from the Past – Washington, LA Main Street

Photograph: Washington, LA Main Street (Carola Lillie Hartley Collection)

Carola Lillie Hartley
Publisher and contributing writer

The photo from the past today is from Washington, LA, in St. Landry Parish. It shows a view of Main Street in the early years of the 20th Century. The second building to the right in the photo is the Washington State Bank. A little further down, also to the right, is the Leon Wolff Store, and just across Main Street, to the left, is the Max Klaus Store. (Maybe some of our readers many know the names of some of the other buildings shown on Main Street in this photo. Please let us know if you do — email info@stlandrynow.com.)

Called the Steamboat town, Washington has a long and fascinating history.

Known as one of Louisiana’s historic places, it was first settled as part of the Poste des Opelousas in the 18th century. The land where Washington is located today was originally part of a land grant deeded to Jacques Courtableau, one of the area’s first settlers. The waterway that runs through the town, first called the Opelousas River, was renamed Bayou Courtableau in his honor.

Later the community was known as Church’s Landing since the Catholic Church that served the Opelousas Poste was built there in 1774. By the early 1800s the original Jacques Courtableau land grant was passed on to the “guardian of the church,” and in 1822 the land was divided into lots and sold. 

In 1835, Washington was officially incorporated, named for the first president of the United States. At that time Washington was a bustling steamboat town. It was important to the state’s economy with cotton, cattle, sugar, and molasses shipped from its port to other parts of the state and the country. During that era Washington was considered the largest steamboat port between New Orleans and St. Louis, Missouri. The first steamboat left Washington in 1832. The coming of the railroad to the area in the late 1800s hurt the steamboat industry, and the town’s seven decade steamboat era came to an end. As the story goes, the last steamboat left Washington in May of 1900. 

Today the entire town of Washington is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. The town contains wonderful examples of Louisiana architecture, from board and batten cottages to towering plantation homes. Brick commercial buildings dot the downtown landscape, still maintaining their 19th century ornamental storefronts. Large oak trees, many recorded on the register of the Louisiana Oak Society, can be seen in many parts of the town and its surrounding area.

An earlier view of Main Street in Washington, LA in 1896. This photo was taken before the 1902 fire that destroyed some of the buildings on this street, mainly on the north end.