Old Federal Courthouse in Opelousas, listed on the National Register of Historic Places
|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%|
|Density||3,240.0 / sq mi (1,251 / km2)|
|- summer (DST)||CDT (UTC-5)|
Opelousas (French: Les Opelousas) is a city in and the parish seat of St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, United States. 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.
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, Targil Seasonings, Savoie's cajun meats and products, 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.
As of the census 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/km ). There were 9,783 housing units at an average density of 1,386.6 per square mile (535.0/km ). 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.
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.
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 Fr ni re 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 the 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 the year, the 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.
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 Street 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. Today the home is a private residence and not accessible to the public. 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. 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." 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."
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 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.
In 1880, the railroad reached Opelousas, which became a stop for at least three of the Orphan Trains arranged by New York social services agencies to provide for resettlement of orphans until 1929. Opelousas is the heart of a traditional Catholic region of French, Spanish, Canadian and French West Indian heritage. Families in Louisiana took in more than 2,000 mostly Catholic orphans to live in their rural farming communities.
Opelousas accepted thousands of refugees in May 1927 following the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Heavy rains in northern and midwestern areas caused intense flooding in areas of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana downstream, especially after lev es 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 which suffered less damage. By May 20, over 5,700 refugees were registered in Opelousas, which itself had a population of only 6,000 people. Many of the refugees were later able to return to their homes and begin the rebuilding process.
The city of Opelousas is constructing an Orphan Train Museum (second in the nation) in an old train depot located in Le Vieux Village. The first museum dedicated to the Orphan Train children is located in Kansas.
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. Usually held the Saturday before Labor Day at Zydeco Park in Plaisance, LA, the festival features a day of performances by Zydeco musicians, with the goal of keeping the genre alive. The exposure helped the city to be named the Zydeco Capital of the World on May 27, 2000, reflecting its significance in the history and continuing evolution of zydeco. Opelousas is also the home of Clifton Chenier, the king of Zydeco.
Additional events include:
A complete list of festivals in the Opelousas area can be found at the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission's website.
Opelousas is home to several public and private schools.
Opelousas has many public high schools, which are Opelousas Senior High, Northwest High School, and MACA - Magnet Academy for Cultural Arts. Opelousas Junior High serves as the area middle school. Opelousas is also home to 7 public elementary schools which are North Elementary, Northeast Elementary, Grolee Elementary, South Street Elementary, Southwest Elementary, Creswell Elementary and Park Vista Elementary.
Opelousas is home to the South Louisiana Community College (T.H. Harris Campus).
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 at 103.7FM. Opelousas is also home to The Mix KOGM 107.1FM which is owned by KSLO Broadcasting, Inc. There is 1 TV station based in Opelousas, KDCG TV Channel 22, and the city also uses the ABC, FOX, and CBS affiliates of nearby Lafayette.
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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.
Singer-songwriter and comedian Henry Phillips mentions Opelousas as one of the venues in his song I'm In Minneapolis (You're In Hollywood).
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