It’s not often that a poem can awaken the public to the history of an entire culture, but Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie has done just that. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous fictional tale tells of an Acadian woman named Evangeline, who was separated from her beloved Gabriel during the Acadians’ expulsion from Nova Scotia (circa 1755). The poem’s popularity taught Americans about the people known today as Cajuns, who moved to Louisiana from Canada over 200 years ago and made an indelible imprint on Louisiana.
Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, the first in the Louisiana State Parks system, honors the story of Evangeline and the author who made her famous. The main attraction here is Maison Olivier, a Creole plantation built around 1815 that once grew indigo, cotton and sugar. Sitting on the banks of Bayou Teche in the Cajun Country town of St. Martinville, Maison Olivier features a mix of French, Creole and Caribbean architectural influences that were typical of the early 1800s.
Enjoy sweeping views of the Bayou Teche and the surrounding landscape from the long veranda that stretches across the second floor of the big house. The blacksmith shop and visitor center, which contains an outstanding museum, are nearby, and walking down the path towards the bayou you’ll find the Acadian farmstead that includes a kitchen and barn. All are open for group tours that can be arranged at the visitor center.
There are plenty more ways you can get up close to Cajun culture in St. Martinville. The city itself is historical, being the third-oldest in Louisiana. Another town worth visiting is New Iberia, where you’ll see the Bayou Teche meandering through its picturesque downtown and plenty more historical homes (Shadows-on-the-Teche is one that’s highly recommended). Avery Island, home to the TABASCO hot sauce factory and the nature preserve known as Jungle Gardens, are other attractions worth seeing in southern-central Louisiana. And don’t miss Lafayette, the capital of Cajun Country and one whose wide selection of restaurants will guarantee you don’t leave town hungry.
Entrance fees: $4 per person; free for seniors age 62 and older, and children age 3 and under.