Whether you are in search of history and culture, a family day out, or just a pleasant walk, visitors to Lafayette shouldn’t miss Vermilionville Historic Village. This is a living history museum in a natural area between a river and a bayou, where you can learn about the history of Lafayette and Louisiana, enjoy the peaceful setting, and even sample some traditional Cajun food.
A Living History Museum
Vermilionville Historic Village is situated on the banks of the Bayou Vermilion. Originally home to a sugar cane plantation, this was the first place in Louisiana permanently settled by the Acadians (French immigrants from Canada). The museum was established as part of a regeneration project, moving buildings from the surrounding area to recreate a typical village of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The park includes several houses and other buildings representing the different people, cultures and activities in what became the city of Lafayette. Most are original structures, although one or two – such as the schoolhouse – are reconstructions of typical properties of the time.
Typical Acadian Architecture
The buildings demonstrate aspects of the traditional local architecture. You’ll find evidence of the distinctive French, Spanish and Creole cultures, and of the Native Americans who first lived here. Note the verandas and outside staircases: these houses were designed for outdoor living. In most cases the interiors were used only for cooking, sleeping and escaping the extremes of weather.
Some of the houses have guides in contemporary costume to explain a bit more about life in that period. Outside the Maison des Cultures I met Chief John Mayeux, a member of the Avogel tribe, who talked about the large family who lived in this small dwelling. Inside the house was a fascinating exhibition outlining the histories of the various peoples and cultures of the area.
Elsewhere I was shown the art of spinning and told about the textile industries that were once so important here. As well as the artisan dwellings I saw the homes of wealthier citizens with the trappings of middle-class life – pianos, paintings and even purpose-built kitchens. And there was a church and a schoolhouse, a barn and a shop.
The Petit Bayou
Vermilionville Historic Village is situated in pleasant parkland, and a path winds its way between the houses. Some of the houses have their own small gardens and you may encounter the odd sheep grazing peacefully beside a fence. All of the trees and plants are native flora – look out especially for the Spanish moss that seems to grow on all the trees.
At the end of the village you come to the Petit Bayou. This is now a peaceful stretch of water, but at one time it would have been a significant obstacle to travellers, and you can see the remains of the landing where a ferry would once have crossed. Close to the bayou is the Native American Common Ground, still used as a ceremonial space.
Cajun Food At Vermilionville
Beside the gift shop is La Cuisine de Maman, a restaurant serving a small but authentic Cajun menu. Here you can enjoy a “plate lunch”, a Lafayette tradition featuring a cafeteria-style combination of meat and vegetables followed by dessert. For myself I was pleasantly surprised to find a well-cooked dish of vegan red beans and rice (meals without meat seem to be a bit of a rarity in Louisiana…)
How To Visit Vermilionville Historic Village
- Vermilionville Historic Village is around 4 km from the centre of Lafayette. It has a large car park.
- The village is open every day except Monday. Last admission is at 3 pm.
- Allow around an hour and a half to look round the village and its buildings.
- The site is fully wheelchair accessible.
- Special events take place throughout the year – see the website for details.
If you are inspired to find out more about Louisiana’s history, culture and countryside you can read more here – Explore Southern Louisiana, The Heart of Cajun Country.