Opelousas, Louisiana, (population 23,222) was established as a military garrison in 1720. Opelousas was part of the Louisiana Purchase acquired by the United States in 1803. It was incorporated as a town in 1821.
At first, the community depended on agriculture and raising livestock as its main sources of income. Cotton was the primary crop around the time of the Civil War, and Opelousas later became the sweet potato capital of the world. For a brief period during the Civil War, Opelousas served as the state capital, and the oldest Governor’s Mansion in the state still stands within the city.
Opelousas is known as the home of Alamo hero Jim Bowie and as the Creole capital of the world, the birthplace of Zydeco music, and the Spice and Music Capital of Louisiana. Several waves of immigrants, including the French, Irish, Italian, German, and Spanish, have made Opelousas their home, contributing to great cultural diversity.
Opelousas has many significant historical buildings and homes, and the 20 blocks surrounding the historic Parish Courthouse in downtown Opelousas has been designated a National Historic District. Within the district is Le Vieux Village (“the old village”), a complex of historical structures that includes a rural doctor’s office, two private homes, a rural general store, an early African American church, a rural schoolhouse, and a railroad depot.
The historic train depot will be the site of an Orphan Train Museum, telling the story of a period between 1854 and 1929 when as many as 200,000 orphaned and abandoned children in New York City were transported, primarily by train, to new homes across the country. This first foster family program in the country sent at least 2,000 orphans to rural Louisiana families. Thanks to a $400,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation and Development and another $100,000 from the Department of Natural Resources, the city is transforming the Union Pacific Depot in Le Vieux Village into the state’s first and only the nation’s second Orphan Train Museum.
The Opelousas Museum and Interpretive Center hosts a Black History exhibit every February, and each October the town offers historical tours in the St. Landry Cemetery. Music & Market, a seasonal series on Friday evenings in Le Vieux Village, combines performances of Zydeco and Cajun music with a fresh produce market, attracting tourists and residents alike.
Designated a Preserve America Community in November 2008.