CAROLA LILLIE HARTLEY
Publisher and Contributing Writer
Photograph: Courtesy of Tommy Lafleur
A St. Landry Parish treasure and one of Louisiana’s historic places, the town of Washington, was first settled as part of the Poste des Opelousas in the 18th century. The land where Washington is located today was originally 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 the early 1700s. 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. The last steamboat left Washington in May of 1900.
As we celebrate Historic Preservation this month, let’s be thankful we have the town of Washington as part of our imperial parish. The town is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. It has a collection of 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.
This photo from the past shows Main Street in Washington, looking south, around a century ago. To the left is the Plonsky Store and Opera House that stood on that property from c.1905-1934. Across the street to the right is a pharmacy, and the two-story building next to it is a saloon. (Photograph is from the Ophelia Pitre Lafleur photo album collection, courtesy of Tommy Lafleur.)