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Opelousas, Louisiana

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Opelousas, Louisiana

Opelousas is also a common name of the flathead catfish.
Old Federal Courthouse in Opelousas, listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Country United States
State Louisiana
Parish St. Landry
Elevation 69 ft (21 m)
Area 7.1 sq mi (18.4 km2)
 - land 7.1 sq mi (18 km2)
 - water 0.0 sq mi (0 km2), 0%
Population 23,222 (2006)
Density 3,240.0 / sq mi (1,251 / km2)
Incorporated 1821
Mayor Don Cravins
Timezone CST (UTC-6)
 - summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP code 70570
Area code 337
Location of Opelousas in Louisiana
Location of Louisiana in the United States

Opelousas (French: Les Opelousas) is a city in and the parish seat of St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, United States.[1] It lies at the junction of Interstate 49 and U.S. Route 190. The population was 22,860 at the 2000 census. Although the 2006 population estimate was 23,222, a 2004 annexation should put the city's population above 25,000. Opelousas is the principal city for the Opelousas-Eunice Micropolitan Statistical Area, which had an estimated population of 92,178 in 2008. Opelousas is also the 3rd largest city in the Lafayette-Acadiana Combined Statistical Area, which has a population of 537,947.

At only 7.5 square miles, Opelousas is the most densely populated incorporated city in Louisiana. Founded in 1720, Opelousas is Louisiana's 3rd oldest city. The city served as a major trading post between New Orleans and Natchitoches in the 18th and 19th centuries. Traditionally an area of settlement by French Creoles and Acadians, Opelousas is the center of zydeco music. It celebrates its heritage at the Creole Heritage Folklife Center, one of the destinations on the new Louisiana African American Heritage Trail. It is also the location of the Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino.

The city calls itself the spice capital of the world, with production and sale of seasonings such as Tony Chachere's products,[2] Targil Seasonings,[3] Savoie's cajun meats and products,[4] and LouAna Cooking Oil. Opelousas was also home to one of the nation's two Yoohoo Factories until their closing.

During the tenure of Sheriff Cat Doucet from 1936 to 1940 and 1952 to 1968 that part of Opelousas along Highway 190 was a haven of gambling and prostitution. Doucet told the historian Michael Kurtz that the return of Earl Kemp Long to the governorship in 1956 allowed him to bring back brothels and casinos and to guarantee the sheriff a take of the proceeds.[5]


As of the census[6] of 2000, there were 22,860 people, 8,699 households, and 5,663 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,240.0 people per square mile (1,250.2/km²). There were 9,783 housing units at an average density of 1,386.6 per square mile (535.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 69.12% African American, 29.30% White, 0.10% Native American, 0.32% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.30% from other races, and 0.84% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.88% of the population. In 2000, 89.1% of the population over the age of five spoke English at home, 9.7% of the population spoke French or Cajun, and 0.7% spoke Louisiana Creole French.[7]

There were 8,699 households out of which 32.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.7% were married couples living together, 26.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.9% were non-families. 32.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.54 and the average family size was 3.24.

In the city the population was spread out with 30.3% under the age of 18, 9.4% from 18 to 24, 24.9% from 25 to 44, 19.6% from 45 to 64, and 15.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 84.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 77.4 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $14,717, and the median income for a family was $19,966. Males had a median income of $24,588 versus $17,104 for females. The per capita income for the city was $9,957. About 37.7% of families and 43.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 57.2% of those under age 18 and 32.0% of those age 65 or over.


Early years

Saint Landry Catholic Church

Opelousas takes its name from the Native American tribe Appalousa who had occupied the area before European contact.

The first recorded European arrived in the Appalousa Territory in 1690. He was a French coureur de bois (trapper and hunter). French traders arrived later to trade with the Appalousa Indians. In 1719, the French sent the first military to the Territory, when Ensign Nicolas Chauvin de la Frénière and two others were sent to patrol the area and in 1720, the French established Opelousas Post as a major trading organization for the developing area. The French encouraged immigration to Opelousas Post before they ceded Louisiana to Spain in 1762. By 1769 about 100 families, mostly French, were living in the Post. In 1774 Saint Landry Catholic Church was built. Don Alejandro O'Reilly, Spanish governor of Louisiana, issued a land ordinance to allow settlers in the frontier of the Opelousas Territory to acquire land grants. The first official land grant was made in 1782. Numerous settlers: French, Creoles and Acadians, mainly from the Attakapas Territory, came to the Opelousas Territory and acquired land grants.

After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, settlers continued to arrive from St. Martinville. LeBon, Prejean, Thibodaux, Esprit, Nezat, Hebert, Babineaux, Mouton, and Provost were some of the early Creole families. (This was Creole as French born in Louisiana, see Louisiana Creole people.) Other early French Creole families were Roy, Barre, Guenard, Decuir, and Bail. In 1820, Alex Charles Barre, also a French Creole, founded Port Barre. His ancestors came from the French West Indies, probably after Haiti (St. Domingue) became independent. Jim Bowie and his family were said to have settled in the area circa 1813. In 1805, Opelousas became the seat of the newly formed St. Landry Parish, also known as the Imperial Parish of Louisiana. The year 1806 marked the beginning of significant construction in Opelousas. The first courthouse was constructed in the middle of the town. Later in 1806, Louisiana Memorial United Methodist Church was founded, becoming the first Methodist, as well as Protestant, church in Louisiana. Five years later, the first St. Landry Parish Police Jury met in Opelousas, keeping minutes in the two official languages of English and French. The city was incorporated in 1821.

American Civil War

View of St Landry Parish Courthouse at Opelousas during the Civil War

European and American settlement was based on plantation agriculture, and both groups brought or purchased numerous enslaved Africans and African Americans to work as laborers in cotton cultivation. African Americans influenced all cultures as the people created a creolized cuisine and music. The long decline of cotton prices throughout the 19th century created economic problems worsened by the lack of employment diversity.

In 1862, after Baton Rouge fell to the Union troops during the Civil War, Opelousas was designated the state capital for nine months. The governor's mansion in Opelousas stands to this day. The one story mansion is located on the corner of Liberty and Grolee Streets, just west of the heart of town. An observation tower was removed from the top of the residence in the early 1900s but the remainder of the exterior is identical to its original construction in 1863. The entire roof section of heavy rafters is held in place by thousands of wooden pegs, not one nail can be found in the attic. As of 2013, the building is owned by Charlotte Adams. There are plans to restore the building to some of its former splendor.[8] The capitol was moved again in 1863, this time to Shreveport, when Union troops occupied Opelousas. During Reconstruction, the state government operated from New Orleans.

The Union forces led by General Nathaniel P. Banks who occupied Opelousas found what the historian John D. Winters describes as "a beautiful town boasting several churches, a fine convent, and a large courthouse," far superior in appearance to nearby Washington, also in St. Landry Parish.[9] Early in 1864, jayhawkers began to make daring daytime raids in parts of St. Landry Parish near Opelousas. According to Winters in his The Civil War in Louisiana, the thieves "robbed the inhabitants in many instances of everything of value they possessed, but taking particularly all the fine horses and good arms they could find."[10] Winters added that conscription in the area came to a standstill, as men could avoid the army by staying within the lines of the jayhawkers. The conscripts who did not join the lawless element stayed home until the state or the army could protect their families."[10]


After the defeat of the South and emancipation of slaves, many whites had difficulty accepting the changed conditions, especially as economic problems and dependence on agriculture slowed the South's recovery. Social tensions were high during Reconstruction. In 1868, a white mob rioted and killed 25-50 freedmen in Opelousas. Some reports put the number killed even higher, ranging from 200-300, and it was one of the single worst instances of Reconstruction violence in south Louisiana. Opelousas enacted ordinances following the abolition of slavery that served to greatly restrict the freedoms of black Americans. These codes[11][12] required blacks to have a written pass from their employer to enter the town and to state the duration of their visit. Blacks were not allowed on the streets after 10 p.m, they could neither own a house nor reside in the town, unless the employee of a white person, and they were also not allowed in the town after 3 p.m. on Sundays.[13]

Main Street, Opelousas, 24 December 1900

Home of refugees

In 1880, the railroad reached Opelousas. In the late 19th century, New York City social services agencies arranged for resettlement of Catholic orphan children by sending them to western rural areas, including Opelousas, in Louisiana and other states. At least three Orphan Trains reached this city before 1929. Opelousas is the heart of a traditional Catholic region of French, Spanish, Canadian and French West Indian ancestry. Catholic families in Louisiana took in more than 2,000 mostly Catholic orphans to live in their rural farming communities.[14]

In May 1927, Opelousas accepted thousands of refugees following the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 in the Mississippi Delta. Heavy rains in northern and midwestern areas caused intense flooding in areas of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana downstream, especially after levées near Moreauville, Cecilia and Melville collapsed. More than 81 percent of St. Landry Parish suffered some flooding, with 77 percent of the inhabitants directly affected. People in more southern areas of Louisiana, especially those communities along Bayou Teche, were forced to flee their homes for areas that suffered less damage. By May 20, over 5,700 refugees were registered in Opelousas, which population at the time was only 6,000 people. Many of the refugees later returned to their homes and begin the rebuilding process.[15]


The Yambilee Festival began in 1946 and is the oldest festival held each year in Opelousas. It starts on the Wednesday before the last full weekend of October and continues throughout the weekend with events including concerts, cooking competitions, a parade and beauty pageants.

Since 1982, Opelousas has hosted the Original Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Festival.[16] Usually held the Saturday before Labor Day at Zydeco Park in Plaisance, the festival features a day of performances by Zydeco musicians, with the goal of keeping the genre alive.[17]

Additional annual events include:

  • Frank's Downtown Gumbo Cook-off - January
  • International Joke Telling Contest[18] - April
  • Zydeco Extravaganza - May
  • Juneteenth Festival- 3rd Saturday every June, celebration of end of the Civil War and emancipation of slaves
  • Holy Ghost Creole Festival[19] - 1st weekend of November, near All Saints Day (Nov.1)
  • Christmas Lighting of Le Vieux Village- 1st Friday every December
  • Frank's Mardi Gras Parade- Mardi Gras (Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in French Catholic tradition)
  • Opelousas Mardi Gras Celebration/Street Dance on Court St.- Mardi Gras


Opelousas is home to several public and private schools. The private schools include Opelousas Catholic School, Westminster Christian Academy,[20] Apostolic Christian Academy, and New Hope Christian Academy. Opelousas has many public high schools, which are Opelousas Senior High, Northwest High School, and MACA. Opelousas Junior High serves as the area middle school. The city has seven public elementary schools and is home to one of the campuses of South Louisiana Community College.


Opelousas is part of the Lafayette television and radio markets.

Opelousas is home to KOCZ-LP, a low power community radio station owned and operated by the Southern Development Foundation. The station was built by numerous volunteers from Opelousas and around the country at the third Prometheus Radio Project barnraising.

KOCZ broadcasts music, news, and public affairs to listeners now at 92.9, originally was on 103.7, but had to move due to a full power station being licensed to 103.7.[21] Opelousas is home to The Mix KOGM 107.1FM which is owned by KSLO Broadcasting, Inc. There are 2 TV stations based in Opelousas, KDCG-CD (Class A Digital) TV Channel 22 and K39JV, another low power on channel 39.


The primary industries in Opelousas are agriculture, oil, manufacturing, wholesale, and retail.

In September 1999, Wal-Mart opened a large distribution center just north of the city. It is currently generating an $89 million impact per year to the area, employing over 600 full-time workers.

Horse racing track Evangeline Downs relocated to Opelousas from its former home in Carencro, Louisiana in 2003 and employs over 750 workers.

Notable people


Musician Billy Cobham recorded a song called "Opelousas" on his 1978 album Simplicity of Expression - Depth of Thought.[23]

1980s synthpop musician Thomas Dolby speaks of Opelousas in the first person in the song I Love You Goodbye from his 1992 album Astronauts & Heretics. The folk-rock singer Lucinda Williams mentions Opelousas in the song Concrete and Barbed Wire from her critically acclaimed album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Singer-songwriter and comedian Henry Phillips mentions Opelousas as one of the venues in his song I'm In Minneapolis (You're In Hollywood).


  1. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-09-11. 
  4. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-09-11. 
  5. ^ """Stanley Nelson, Matt Barnidge, and Ian Stanford, "Connected by violence: the mafia, the Klan & Morville Lounge. Concordia Sentinel, July 16, 2009. Retrieved December 15, 2010. 
  6. ^ "American FactFinder".  
  7. ^
  8. ^ Former governor's mansion undergoing improvements",; accessed March 17, 2014.
  9. ^ John D. Winters, The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963; ISBN 0-8071-0834-0, p. 233
  10. ^ a b Winters, p. 322
  11. ^ Like the Black Codes, police regulations restricted the freedoms and personal autonomy of freedmen after the Civil War in the South.
  12. ^ The Opelousas, Courier Opelousas, La., 1852-1910, April 20, 1872 Proceedings Of the Board of Police of the Town of Opelousas, on Monday, April 8th. 1872., H. LATOUR, President, Attest: P. LEONCE HEBRARD, Clerk of the Board
  13. ^ Black Reconstruction (NY: Harcourt Brace, 1935). W.E.B. Du Bois
  14. ^ "St. Landry Parish profile". Retrieved April 27, 2008. 
  15. ^ Speyrer, John A. "1927 High Water in St. Landry Parish". Speyrer Family Association Newsletter. Archived from the original on 2007-12-24. Retrieved 2007-03-21. 
  16. ^ "". 2013-08-31. Retrieved 2013-09-11. 
  17. ^ "Opelousas Festivals". City of Opelousas. Archived from TOURISM_festival.htm the original on 2007-07-05. Retrieved 2007-03-19. 
  18. ^ "Opelousas Little Theatre". Opelousas Little Theatre. Retrieved 2013-09-11. 
  19. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-09-11. 
  20. ^ "Westminster Christian Academy website". Retrieved 2013-09-11. 
  21. ^ KOCZ licensing information,; accessed June 24, 2014.
  22. ^ Filosa, Gwen (April 22, 2008). "Orleans Judge Sets July 15 Execution Date for Antoinette Frank".  
  23. ^ "Billy Cobham - Simplicity Of Expression - Depth Of Thought (Vinyl, LP) at Discogs". 2012-06-19. Retrieved 2013-09-11. 

External links

  • Official website
  • Opelousas and St. Landry Parish
  • Louisiana's African American Heritage Trail
  • St. Landry Parish Economic Industrial Development District
  • St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission
  • USGenWeb St. Landry Parish
  • USGenWeb Genealogy Records for St. Landry Parish
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