Heart of Louisiana: History comes alive in Vermilionville

Cajun dancing in Vermilionville (via Rob McNamara)
Cajun dancing in Vermilionville (via Rob McNamara)
Vermilionville (via Rob McNamara)
Vermilionville (via Rob McNamara)

VERMILIONVILLE. LA (WVUE) - It's a place to Cajun dance on a Sunday afternoon, or visit some of the oldest Acadian homes in Louisiana. History comes alive in Lafayette and the village of Vermilionville.

A 91-year-old Cajun fiddler, Merlin Fontenot, entertains in an old schoolhouse. A new fiddle takes shape on a nearby workbench.

"There's Jole Blond and there's Jole Brunet. They can be fun too," said Fontenot.

It's an authentic lesson in Louisiana Acadian heritage on display at Vermilionville, a bayou-side Cajun village in a Lafayette City Park. Visitors are immersed in an old community - from the food gardens, the church, the laundry and a woman spinning cotton.

Brenda Lalonde shows why it can take an entire year to make one shirt.

"It's pretty strong," she explained. "This thread is strong, this is still soft. Now these balls right here take about 50-hours apiece and I need six of them to make a shirt, so that's why you didn't have a whole lot of clothes."

They started collecting these Acadian homes 25-years ago. Now, they have seven original structures on the property with the oldest dating back more than 200 years.

This house was built in 1790 by Armand Broussard. As a child, he was with the very first group of Acadians to reach Louisiana.

"In 1765 they were the original Acadians in Louisiana," explained tour guide Steve Chandler. "There was, like I said, around 200 of them and not all of them lived for a whole year."

Chandler shares the history of this house.

"I want them to get a little feeling for the culture and what it meant to be somebody in the wilderness in those days," he added.

Visitors arriving on a Sunday afternoon find live music and Cajun dancing.

"We take grassroots traditional Cajun music that was written and recorded late 1800s [and] early to mid 1900s and we bring it again up front and center to the people. It's dance music," said Shane Bellard.

One of the regulars is Pete Melancon, a long-time New Orleanian. After retiring, he returned to his Cajun roots.

"I can't dance anymore of course but we used to come here for the dances now we come to watch the people dance and listen to the beautiful Cajun music," said Melancon.

The band is La Recolte, which means "the harvest", and it relates to the seeds of a culture that were planted long ago.

"We're only one generation away from our culture dying," said Bellard. "It's our responsibility, it's our job, it's our duty to pass the culture, pass our heritage down to the next generation."

It's about understanding the past and experiencing a culture that is not ready to fade away.

In addition to the Sunday Cajun dances, you can also join in a Cajun music jam session on Saturday afternoons at Vermilionville.

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