We enjoy history but don’t often visit all the places we could. For example in Oklahoma City we were within walking distance of the Cowboy Museum and never went, but we have been to Dodge City and Deadwood, and we’ll hike miles to see some petroglyphs over going to a Native American Museum. I guess you could say we’re more into tactile history than walking around in buildings.
While in Lafayette we explored as many of the Wildlife Reserves, National Forests and parks that we could for hours in all directions and were running out of things to do nearby. I have a special place for Cajun music and history, maybe it’s the whole “French Canadian” association, since I’m apparently, in part, French Canadian; And I’ve always been interested in Cajun French, Cajun Music, etc (everything but the food basically). Our last weekend in the area we found a restored Cajun Village just a few miles from where we were staying and decided to skip canoeing for some history.
I may geek out a bit because I love restored mining towns, settler villages and the like and this place was more hands on than most. Some of them have an entire plexiglass wall between you and the contents of the homes, others have a velvet rope or simply a painted line and a sign but Vermilionville was all about getting to know the conditions people lived in and what life was like.
We started off with a little watershed conservation walk through, just past the gift shop, and learned how the Louisiana delta was formed and what kinds of snakes (Susa had just gotten bit a few days earlier), insects and animals lived and thrived in the region, then we moved on to a rustic looking building pumping out the sounds of live Cajun music. Apparently this is a regular thing but this weekend they had a rather famous female (aka rare) Cajun musician, Sheryl Cormeir, the Queen of Cajun Music. Her husband was (singing) and a whole mess of talented local musicians of all ages were playing in a syncopated unison.
We stayed for several songs and story telling, which was pretty fascinating, then went on on our meandering tour of the rest of the village.
The village featured a spread of little houses with no roads, only walking paths between. Also included was a chapel (catholic), a smithery, a schoolhouse, a cemetery and a hand driven ferry. The ground themselves were gorgeous, a healthy pond in the middle, the Vermilion River to the side and dozens of Live Oaks covered in air plants and vines. We spent our time walking around and exploring every building, many of which had actors in era appropriate clothing who would tell you about the home or process.
In one home a woman explained the tedious nature of making cotton into yarn and then weaving it into clothes. A single shirt could take 8 months to complete (mostly the gathering cotton and converting to yarn part) so most or all of the women in the village would at some time be involved in making the yarn and clothes.
In the chapel a woman dressed as a nun sat making rosaries out of what appeared to be beads, they were in fact seeds that grew in the region in a perfect black or grey, already with a hole through the middle. They were a great source of trading with the indians in the day and were used for rosaries and jewelry similar to the ones she was making.
In the school a man sat making violins, literally making violins just as if he was in a wood shop – while an older man sat at the front of a few rows of seats talking about cajun music and playing a bit of fiddle music.
What surprised me the most was how cool all the buildings were. It was at least 90 outside and high humidity and every building whose doors were shut was as cool as an air conditioned room. The walls were thick and plastered, so as long as the place was kept closed up it stayed perfectly cool. It completely destroyed everything I imagined about life in the South for people back then (at least rich white people). They didn’t sit around in 50lbs of peticoats and wigs fanning themselves, passing out 3 times a day from the heat, they sat comfortably indoors making yarn.
As far as restored villages go, of all the ones we’ve been to, Vermilionville was the best, or sort of neck and neck with South Park, Colorado since I love mining towns. It certainly was the most well kept, the best for the price and the best for the experience. It also made me want to visit as many of these places as I can during our travels. Maybe we don’t want to visit every Folk Art Museum along the way, but we’ll take the real deal any time.