Opelousas Museum & Interpretive Center
An Interpretive Exhibit of a Community, Its People, and Their Culture
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
Group tours by appointment
The Opelousas Museum and Interpretive Center is a general history museum dedicated to collecting, preserving, and interpreting those objects and artifacts which provide information about the history and culture of the Opelousas area from prehistoric times to the present.
Exhibits cover prehistory, agriculture, home and family, business and professions, music, food and a Hall of Fame. One room is dedicated to the Civil War, and two other rooms house the Geraldine Smith Welch Doll Collection of over 400 dolls. The museum is also home to the Louisiana Video Collection Library and the Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival Archives.
Join us as we explore this exhibit on the present City of Opelousas, Louisiana.
- Learn Learn about the people, their folkways, and floodways, their religions, their businesses, their fun, and their festivals.
- Explore the time periods of the earliest inhabitants of the area, the many waves of immigrants, the periods of war and strife, and the resurgence born of tenacity and determination.
- Learn where Zydeco began, when Opelousas was capital of Louisiana during the Civil War, or when Bonnie and Clyde ventured into town.
Main Exhibit Room
Prehistory: The first humans to arrive in the region now called Opelousas were the Paleo-Indians. These people lived in the area from 10,500 B.C. to 5,000 B.C. and were followed by Meso or Archaic Indians (5,000 B.C. to 2,000 B.C.) and Neo-Indians (2,000 B.C. to A.D. 1,600). Archaeologists have identified 110 sites in the area where these prehistoric people lived. Europeans arriving in the late 1600s, were met by a group of people called the Opelousas, a band of the Historic Attakapas Tribe of Louisiana.
Agriculture: The importance of agriculture to the community of Opelousas can never be overstated. Since the days when prehistoric peoples roamed this region of Louisiana, the fertile soil of the Opelousas area has provided food and clothing and has been a major contributor to the local economy.
People of Opelousas: Opelousas is a Cultural Gumbo. The town is a "community" because of the contributions made by people of many different religions and ethnic backgrounds. Descendants of these many groups can be seen throughout the city today.
Home and Family: Home and family is the center of life in the Opelousas community. Area citizens work hard, play hard, practice their religious beliefs and enjoy life with their family and friends.
Business and Professions: From its earliest beginnings as a colony to the present time, Opelousas has had a variety of businesses and professionals ranging from A to Z. Opelousas citizens have earned money by working in various fields, from agricultural workers and barbers in the early days to chef, manufacturer, lawyer or Zydeco musician during the present time.
Music and Food: Known as the city of Joie de Vivre and the Cajun/Creole Food Capital of Louisiana, Opelousas is famous for its music and food. Cajun and Creole food, prepared to perfection, can be found in all area restaurants and food stores. Music from Cajun to Zydeco to Swamp Pop, can be heard coming from the doors of local clubs and dance halls and over the airways in the area. Through the years the community has produced many fine chefs and musicians.
Opelousas Hall of Fame: Opelousas boasts of its heroes. Many of its citizens have contributed to society in special ways. The Opelousas Hall of Fame features famous Opelousas citizens and celebrates their accomplishments.
Founded on Faith: The St. Landry Catholic Church in Opelousas is called the Mother Church of Acadiana, possibly because it was the first Catholic Church in the area. The Catholic influence has always been strongly felt in the area, and in fact it was not until the United States bought Louisiana from France in 1803 that the Protestant religion could be openly practiced in the state. The first Protestant church in the area was the Methodist church established in Opelousas in 1806, making this city also important to the Methodist community of Louisiana.
Native Americans: The first inhabitants of the area today called Opelousas, Louisiana were Native Americans. The city takes its name from the Opelousas Indian Tribe, and is a name that is sometimes translated as blackleg referring to a habit of body paint. Indians have been living in the area that is now Louisiana for approximately 12,000 years. Little remains to tell us about the lifestyle of these earliest inhabitants except stone and bone tools, since other objects have long since decayed. We do know that groups were very mobile, moving to follow the patterns of the harvest of wild plants, the migration of animals, and the seasons. Today there are eight Indian tribe officially recognized by the state of Louisiana, three of which are recognized as sovereign nations by the United States of America. Each group has a distinctive history and traditions which help to bring the early years of Louisiana to life.
Folk Culture to High Fashion: When visitors to southwest Louisiana experience the joie de vivre, their feet begin to tap in time to the music and their mouths start to water. Anyone who has ever smelled the distinctive aroma of green onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic simmering together with roux in a black iron pot can hardly wait to come back! Cajun and Creole cooking is more popular than ever. Colorful Cajun and Zydeco music, once found only in the backwoods of Louisiana, is well-received throughout America and world-wide. Zydeco is a unique blend of traditional music that traces its birthplace to the Opelousas area and to the influence of Afro-American, Cajun, and Afro-Caribbean music. Both Cajun and Zydeco refer not only to the music, but to a way of life that accompanies the playing of the music. Both traditions come from groups that had to work hard to survive, so the music was accompanied by dancing, eating, laughter, and good times in general — a way of life that is still evident and contagious in the area today.
Civil War - A Separate Nation: During the Civil War, Opelousas was very important to the Confederacy, serving as the capital of Confederate Louisiana from May 1862 to January 1863. Governor Thomas 0. Moore lived in the community and the state legislature met and enacted legislation in the courthouse and the LaCombe Hotel. The town also served as a federal post and military depot. General Nathaniel Banks was in the community and federal troops camped near the St. Landry Catholic Church. After the fall of New Orleans in 1862, a training camp for new recruits was established in Opelousas, and a total of 21 companies of soldiers were formed in Opelousas during the Civil War. Federal troops occupied the city following the Battle of Opelousas on Wednesday, October 21, 1863. Forced occupation by federal troops caused a great deal of turmoil and discomfort for the residents.
Those Left Behind -The war left few families untouched. Nearly every family in Opelousas had a husband, brother, uncle or cousin enrolled in a military or medical company. Many of these men fought in battle; many were never to return home. One of the companies of soldiers raised in Opelousas during the Civil War suffered a 50% casualty rate in a Virginia battle. The wives, mothers, sisters, and others hoping for the safe return of these men could only watch and wait in prayer. We can only imagine the hopes and fears of those left behind to wait.
Up From Slavery -One of the earliest records of slavery in Opelousas is that of two men who came into the area in 1740 accompanied by three black slaves. By 1796, there were 779 slaves recorded in Opelousas, and by 1803, the slave population was numbered at more than 1000. Many of these early slaves were brought to Louisiana directly from Africa, coming from such places as Senegambia, the Windward Coast of West Africa, Benin, and from Angola. Others came to Louisiana from the French Islands, such as Martinique and Haiti. In many cases, plantation owners relied on the agricultural knowledge and skills of their slaves to insure successful harvest. Although the slaves came from many different places, and often spoke different languages and had different customs, they formed bonds among themselves.
Nostalgia: The sight of an old barber shop evokes nostalgia and thoughts of days gone by. Here the men of the town could swap stories, conduct a little business on the side, and hear all of the news of the townspeople. Life just seemed to move at a slower pace back then. If you had been present at the Old Star Barber Shop, located in Shute's Drug Store at the corner of Court and Landry streets, on a certain day back in 1932, you might have been startled to see a stranger come into the shop. If you were Otis Welch, an Opelousas barber, you would definitely remember giving this man a shave. You could feel the curiosity of all of the men, who wondered where this silent stranger had come from. Imagine your surprise when you later learned that this was the last shave that stranger was ever to receive! Two days later, the stranger, also known as Clyde Barrow, of the notorious Bonnie and Clyde team, was killed on a dusty road in Bienville Parish in north Louisiana by federal agents. The talk in town has not died down yet.
Cotton was King: The land around Opelousas has proven to be fertile and rich. Agriculture has always been a mainstay of the area. The tall pine forests provide timber for the logging industry, and the high water table in the southern part of the state is ideal for rice fields. Soy beans and wheat grow throughout the state, sugarcane grows in the south, while cotton grows well more to the north.
Geraldine Smith Welsh Doll Collection: Dolls were originally designed to be toys for children to play with as they learned the roles they were to hold in society. The earliest Louisiana dolls were simple and made of ordinary materials, such as moss dolls and dolls with cotton bodies. Dolls themselves evolved as society did, so that by 150 years ago dolls were made of materials such as paper and porcelain, and eventually materials such as plastic were introduced. This collection contains over 400 dolls that will delight men and women of all ages. The dolls exhibit depicts, American Heritage, Acadiana and Folk Culture, Antiques and Reproductions, Pop Culture, International Culture, Literature, Miniatures, and Royalty from around the world.
Reaching for the Gold - The Rod Milburn Story: The dream of a young boy from Opelousas, LA, which led him to Munich, Germany where he won Olympic Gold and the world was at his feet(Permanent Exhibit Opened August 20, 2001). Milburn, born May 19, 1950, started his path to Olympic glory at J. S. Clark High School in his hometown of Opelousas, LA. The wooden hurdles and grass track were there, and so was Coach Claude Paxton. Besides refining Milburn's speed and form, Paxton also instilled his "dime" philosophy. Paxton told his star athlete to only leave space for one dime as he soared over the hurdles. This quick and efficient approach was Milburn's starting gun to greatness. He defeated the best prep trackers in the state to earn a spot on the 1968 All-American team. Milburn crowning achievement came in 1972, when he earned a gold medal in the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. His Olympic hurdling time of 13.24 went unsurpassed for five years. After 1972, Milburn turned to professional track but resumed amateur competition in 1980 and was ranked fifth in the world. The United States boycott of Moscow Games ended his chances of winning another medal. He remained world ranked until his final retirement in 1983. After retirement, Milburn coached young hurdlers at Southern from 1984 - 87. He also became known for his community work in Baton Rouge and surrounding area. Shocked echoed through the track world and beyond when Milburn was killed November 11, 1997 in an industrial accident in Baton Rouge. Even President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary sent a message of condolence, which was read at Milburn's funeral. Honors continue even after Milburn's death. A member of the USA Track & Field and Louisiana hall of fame, Milburn was selected one of Louisiana's Top 25 Athletes of the Century. During his stellar career, Milburn held world records in the 120-yard, 55-meter and 60-yard high hurdles.
"It is not what the world sees, but what God sees in your heart that counts."
- Rodney Milburn