Breaux Bridge back in the 19th century
Every great city has a story. Breaux Bridge is no different. Back in 1771, Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux began buying the land from which the present day city of Breaux Bridge would evolve. He purchased the land from Jean Francois Ledee, a wealthy New Orleans merchant who had acquired the land as a French land grant. By 1774, Breaux's branding iron was registered and by 1786 he was one of the largest property owners in Teche country.
In 1799 Breaux built a footbridge across our beautiful Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for his family and neighbors. This first bridge was a suspension footbridge, likely made of rope and small planks. It was stabilized by being tied to small pilings located at each end of the bridge, as well as to a pair of huge live oak tress on both sides of the bayou. When traveling directions were given, folks would say "go to Breaux's bridge...", which eventually was adopted as the city's name. In 1817, Firmin's son Agricole built the first vehicular bridge, allowing for the passage of wagons and increased commerce in the area. This bridge distinguished Breaux Bridge as the only city on Bayou Teche to evolve from both sides simultaneously. The town received its official founding in 1829 when Scholastique Picou Breaux, a strong and determined French speaking Acadian woman (and Agricole's 33 year old widow), drew up plans for our city and began developing her property by selling lots to other Acadian settlers.
Settlers persevered through hardships associated with The Great Flood of 1927, The Great Depression, and numerous epidemics. The growth of the town's population eventually necessitated the establishment of a church parish in 1847, and in 1859 Breaux Bridge was officially incorporated. One of Breaux Bridge's main attractions is its cuisine, especially crawfish
. Restaurants of Breaux Bridge were the first to offer crawfish openly on their menus, and it was here that the now world-famous crawfish etouffee was created. Breaux Bridge became so well known for its crawfish farming and cooking that, in honor of its centennial celebration in 1959, the Louisiana legislature officially designated Breaux Bridge as "la capitale Mondiale de l'ecrevisse" or "the crawfish capital of the world". Since this designation, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival Association
has hosted the annual crawfish festival, recognized as one of the state's finest festivals.
Two hundred years after Firmin built his bridge, we still have good neighbors, our bridge remains one of the highlights of our town and we remain a bilingual community, proud of our Cajun French ancestry.
Sources: Kenneth Delcambre, Breaux Bridge City Historian; Grover Rees, A Narrative History of Breaux Bridge; Jim Bradshaw, History of Acadiana
Scholastique Picou Breaux founded our wonderful city when she was just 33 years old. A determined Acadian woman, Scholastique drew up Plan de la Ville Du Pont des Breaux, the plan for the Village of Breaux Bridge, a plan which included land for a school and a church, a diagram of streets, and a detailed map of the area, including her late husband's bridge. She then proceeded to sell lots, resulting in Breaux Bridge's founding date of August 5, 1829.
Scholastique was born Scholastique Melanie Picou on July 25, 1796. She married young, had five children, then at the age of 32 became a widow. It is assumed that financial troubles motivated her to begin developing the Village of Breaux Bridge, for once she had a plan, she could then sell lots. After founding Breaux Bridge, Scholastique remarried and became the mother of two more children.
Erecting the statue of Scholastique that embellishes City Parc was a labor of love and an example of community spirit. A multigenerational and multiracial group of women from all walks of life came together to form The Women of Breaux Bridge, a group whose sole purpose was to honor Scholastique as the founder of our city. They solicited donors at $100 per donor. In exchange for the donation, the name of a woman was placed on the bronze plaque located on the wall behind the statue. Some women contributed to have their names on the wall, but other contributors listed female ancestors, daughters, wives, sisters, aunts, granddaughters, and maids. After over three hundred donors came forth, the Women of Breaux Bridge commissioned Celia Guilbeau Soper with sculpting a life-size bronze statue of Scholastique.
Celia, who had ancestors from Breaux Bridge, had been chosen because of her artistic abilities, but once she started researching her subject's family tree she made an amazing discovery, her grandmother's name. Celia soon realized that she was Scholastique's great great granddaughter! And Celia's connection to Scholastique does not end there. She also happens to share the birth date of July 25th with her great great grandmother.
Since no pictures of Scholastique emerged during the research, Celia's daughter, Scholastique's great great great granddaughter, became the model for the statue. With help from Breaux Bridge resident and Acadian textiles expert Audrey Bernard, it was determined that Scholastique wore what was common for her time, a handwoven skirt, chemise and shawl.
Our bronze Scholastique stands surveying her beloved community, with worn boots perched upon a log and the plan the developed grasped in her hand.
An editorial by Bob Hamm in The Daily Advertiser suggested that Scholastique was a symbol of life in Louisiana after the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia. An excerpt from the editorial reads:
"Longfellow's Evangeline will always be a symbol of the heartbreak and suffering that was part of the Acadian expulsion form Nova Scotia. Now, however, we have been given an Acadian heroine whose life symbolizes, not the pain and suffering, but the incredible fortitude and resilience of the Acadians. Scholastique Breaux possessed qualities with which the poet did not endow Evangeline. In this remarkable woman were those characteristics of the Acadians that allowed them not only to endure the hardships of the brutal expulsion, but also to prevail in a strange and often hostile land.
The story of Scholastique Breaux speaks of the unflagging determination and indomitable courage of the Acadians. . . Scholastique symbolizes the Acadians of Louisiana, . . ."
In the 17th century, a group of French families colonized land in the area now known as Nouvelle Écosse (Nova Scotia), then referred to as L'Acadie. Les Acadiens, as they called themselves, were a simple people, who highly valued their God and their families. They wisely settled the best lands in the region, and developed a rich, though simple, prosperous society. But the prosperity was short-lived. Soon the British arrived. In a brutal act of ethnic cleansing, the British overwhelmed the Acadians, took away their land, burned their homes, and separated their families. Large numbers of Acadians were packed into cramped boats and deported to the sea. This traumatic period in Acadian history is what we call "le grand derangement."
For the first ten or so years, the Acadians were scattered among the American colonies, England, and France. Eventually a few groups found their way to Louisiana where they were welcomed by the then Spanish government. Word quickly spread that a "new Acadie" was being formed, and over the next few decades, many Acadian families found their way to Louisiana and were united again with family. And indeed, a new Acadie was born.
While the Acadians remained the major population in South Louisiana for quite some time, they quickly found themselves surrounded by more and more cultural influences. Eventually, Spanish, French, German, and Native American Indian elements blended with the Acadian culture to form what is now known as Cajun (Cadien) culture. The French language remained the dominant language in South Louisiana until the early 20th century, when a state mandate forbade the speaking of French on the school grounds. Two generations of Cajuns were punished and made to feel ashamed for speaking French. Subsequently, the language (which is at the heart of the culture) nearly died. In 1968, the CODOFIL (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) was formed and the tide began to turn. A renaissance of the French language was spurred by French immersion programs throughout South Louisiana. Today, thanks to the efforts of groups like CODOFIL, ACTION CADIENNE, the Cajun French Music Association, L'ACadjin and others, the Cajun culture and French language is experiencing new prosperity. Vivre le français et vivre les cadiens!
So how did the lowly crawfish gain such prominence in our culture? Well, actually, Native Americans in the area were the first credited with harvesting and consuming crawfish even before the Cajuns arrived on the scene. They used to bait reeds with venison (deer meat), stick them in the water and periodically pick up the reeds with crawfish attached to the bait. By using this method, the Native Americans would catch bushels of crawfish for their consumption. By the 1930s nets were substituted, and by the 1950s the now ubiquitous crawfish trap was widely used. The trap is still the current method of harvesting mudbugs.
Mrs. Charles Hebert is credited with being the first to put crawfish on a menu in the early 1920s. By the 1930s, crawfish were seen as a good source of protein, especially for poor Cajuns, though it actually took some convincing to get the locals to eat them. Crawfish étouffée
made its debut in the 1950s, and now is the quintessential Cajun dish. Étouffée is prepared in as many ways as there are Cajun cooks living in our area-each one an original.
Today, more than 1,600 farmers produce crawfish, utilizing over 111,000 acres of man-made ponds. Louisiana is the largest producer of crawfish in the world. St. Martin Parish, Breaux Bridge's home, produces the most crawfish in the state and has the most crawfish acreage in the eight-parish area known as Acadiana. Crawfish is now a multimillion dollar industry. All of this from a relatively insignificant crustacean.
Sources: Kenneth Delcambre, Breaux Bridge City Historian; Jim Bradshaw, History of Acadiana; Jimmy Avery and Dwight Landreneau, Lousiana Crawfish, LSU Agricultual Center
The Bridge of 1899
The Bridge of 1899 (pictured at left) was our first steel bridge. It collapsed , fortunately with no casualites, 50 years after it was erected and was replaced by our current bridge.
Other Bridges in Historic Downtown Breaux Bridge
The Bridge of 1799
The first bridge to span Bayou Teche in what is now Breaux Bridge, was a footbridge built by Firmin Breaux. It is very likely that the bridge was a suspension bridge made of rope and small planks, with stability being provided through small pilings located at each end of the bridge. The bridge was further stabilized by ropes tied to a pair of huge live oak trees on both sides of the bayou.
The Bridge of 1817
This was the first vehicular bridge in Breaux Bridge and was built by Agricole Breaux, the son of Firmin Breaux.
The Bridge of 1845
A simple modification of the Bridge of 1817 resulted in the draw bridge of 1845. With the use of masts and cables, oxen or mule teams were used in lifting the center portion of the bridge to allow passage of boats. Ship logs of New Orleans captains acknowledge this bridge.
The Bridge of 1855
Also located in Parc des Ponts de Pont Breaux is the bridge that spanned Bayou Teche from 1855 to 1891. The bridge, like most of the bridges along Bayou Teche at that time, was a turntable bridge.
In 1863, Confederate troops burned the bridge to prevent the passage of Union troops. Union troops found the bridge to be repairable, and their repairs to the bridge sustained it in Breaux Bridge until 1891, when it was moved to the neighboring community of Ruth. In recent years Ruth constructed a new bridge and the Bridge of 1855 was returned to its original location and reassembled to run along Bayou Teche, rather than across it, and now serves as an outdoor cultural events stage, as well as a fishing pier.
The Bridge of 1950 (current bridge, shown at right)
The bridge of 1950 is a steel bridge with a vertical lift span and concrete approaches. It was built by J. P. Ewin, Inc. Contractors of Mobile Alabama at a cost of $233,728. Local resident Ana Belle Dupuis Hoffman Krewitz was the first to drive over the bridge in her Model "A" Ford. In honor of Breaux Bridge's reknowned status as the "Crawfish Capitol of the World", colorful crawfish were added to the overhead structures of the bridge.
Sources: Kenneth Delcambre, Breaux Bridge City Historian