Acadian, Antebellum, Architecture, Ascension Parish, Cajun, Donaldsonville, Greek Revival, Historic Preservation, Louisiana, Louisiana history, Mississippi River, New Orleans, Plantations, The Cabin Restaurant, The Cajun Village
Louisiana has particularly interesting historical roots. The annals of our state’s history are chock full of exciting, historically rich tales that always seem to engage students of its heritage. Luckily, many early exploits were put down on paper and have survived into the 21st century. But documents only chronicle part of Louisiana’s past; the structures that have been erected throughout the state speak to the progress of Louisianan’s as much as the documentary evidence does. Ascension Parish is a prime example of that.
The Mississippi River flows through the heart of Ascension Parish, and so too has Louisiana history, creating a legacy that has proven fascinating for generations of visitors. The first Europeans to set foot in Ascension Parish in the area now known as Donaldsonville was led by Hernando de Soto in 1542.
After the initial de Soto quest, Europeans were largely absent from Ascension Parish and the Louisiana territory until the French explorer, LaSalle, sailed down the Mississippi in 1682. He named the area Lafourche des Chetimaches, or “the fork in the river of the Chitimachas Indians”. Hence the name “Bayou LaFourche”. It was from this point forward that the built environment in Ascension Parish and Louisiana began to take shape.
The French originally colonized Louisiana in 1718, but eventually gave it to Spain in 1763. In 1766 the Spanish Government issued land grants to Acadians from Nova Scotia and Canary Islanders. This part of Ascension and St. James Parishes is what came to be known as the Acadian Coast, giving us our noted Acadian heritage. The Acadians, or “Cajuns”, were responsible for constructing most of the vernacular structures in our parish, simple Cabins that were made of local materials. However, the grand plantation homes that are spread along the Mississippi River today weren’t constructed until the 19th century.
In the 1820’s, Ascension Parish was known as the Gold Coast due to its prosperous farming operations. Ascension was home to some of the most productive sugar plantations in Louisiana, evidence of which still exists on River Road. The sugar barons erected mansions such as Ashland, Bocage, Hermitage (the state’s earliest-known Greek Revival mansion), Tezcuco and Houmas House. These were and are grand examples of Louisiana’s antebellum plantation homes.
But those aren’t the only buildings that tell the story of Ascension Parish. Numerous vernacular structures dot the landscape of Ascension, with a few large concentrations at the Cajun Village and The Cabin Restaurant.
Donaldsonville also has quite a large collection of historic structures. It is the second largest historic district in Louisiana behind New Orleans. In 1825, Donaldsonville was selected as the Capital City of the Commonwealth of Louisiana. However, the capitol existed only for one year, in 1830-31, before being moved to New Orleans on January 8, 1831. Donaldsonville is also home to the Civil War era Fort Butler, a building that stands as a distinct reminder of the end of the old antebellum days.
All of these buildings serve to tell the story of the people who inhabited them and who constructed them. In order to understand Louisiana, one must understand the role of architecture in its development. If you are a student of history, a proponent of historic preservation, or just a curious person in general, come visit Ascension Parish’s plethora of historic buildings. It will be a boon to your knowledge, and a trip you’ll never forget!