GMA Dave Trips: A drive through St. Martin Parish

Posted at 11:26 AM, May 04, 2018
and last updated 2020-01-03 13:10:33-05

Traveling in St. Martin Parish, you may have passed one of the oldest lock and dams still in operation, and never knew it, St. Martinville is rich in history, Some of the first Acadian settlers arrived there and life thrives along the Bayou Teche. It’s time for a Dave Trip!

Our destination was Bayou Teche. Some say the bayou’s name came from a great snake slayed by the region’s earliest natives. The bayou was formed from the mighty Mississippi River that eventually changed course over the centuries. It was the lifeblood of native Americans. The migration path for generations of people from all over the world. A significant trade route lined with fertile agricultural land.  

We started in southern St. Martin parish. The Keystone Lock is one of the oldest locks and dams in the Mississippi River Delta area. It dates back to 1913 at a time when the railroads were coming through Lafayette, bypassing steamboat communities along the Teche. Towns like St. Martinville, Breaux Bridge, up to the beginning of the Teche in Arnaudville were depending on water traffic to deliver their goods and keep men employed. A dam would mean deeper water in the upper Teche. The devastating flood of 27 and the subsequent building of the levee systems nearly killed the Teche. Fortunately today water is pumped from the Atchafalaya into Bayou Courtableau.

Today the locks are still operational mostly small boats and a handful of kayaks will lock through. The lock keeper’s house is still there. It’s abandoned, but the grounds are well manicured and the sounds of the water going over the dam are soothing. The only way to see it is from the water and you’ll need to call ahead of time to go through.

Next, we wandered north along the Main highway, LA 31, past century oaks and beautiful rural homes. Into one of Louisiana’s oldest cities, St. Martinville, Once known as the Attakapas Post. It’s here where the first Acadians came from Nova Scotia in the 1700s. Where Longfellow’s poem  Evangeline is set.

Today you can follow those steps from the past. Not just the Acadians, the African American Museum will open your eyes to their journey from Goree Island and west Africa to Louisiana. How tropical agriculture thrived at the expense of slavery. See the famous Evangeline Oak. The Castillo Hotel serving travelers beginning in 1840. Then a school by the Sisters of Mercy at the turn of the century.

Stroll down Main street past restored buildings. There are shops, cafes, and restaurants for you to enjoy.  There’s the 1830s Duchamp opera house once the gem of the town, traveling operas and shows, then a department store, and now the home for local arts and the Evangeline players. 

Looking over all is St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church. Founded in 1765, the current building consecrated in 1844.  Its It’s one of the oldest churches in America and the third oldest in Louisiana. It was placed on the National Register of Historic places in 1972.

Finally, we drove to the Longfellow Evangeline Historic site. This is where you can get a feel of life along the Teche. The main attraction is Maison Olivier an early 19th-century plantation home. A raised Creole Cottage mixed with Creole, French, and Caribbean architecture. Truly showing the unique blend of diverse people who’ve occupied the Teche Region for centuries.

And we were only on one side of the Bayou Teche. You can drive LA 347 through parks up through Breaux Bridge and then northward to Cecilia and Arnaudville. 

A trip along LA 96 to Catahoula to the levee road then around to Butte La Rose is some of the most iconic Louisiana scenery you can find!