CROWLEY, LOUISIANA
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The Louisiana Western railroad had finally completed freight and passenger train serve between New Orleans and Houston in 1881. Five years later in 1886, brothers C.C. and W.W. Duson with the financed-backed support of a group

 

of St. Landry parish businessmen founded the town they named Crowley Switch.

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It was named for Patrick Crowley, the roadmaster for that section of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Mr. Crowley had migrated at age 19 to America from County Cork, Ireland. Eventually he became a successful roadbed contractor for the railroad and upon it’s completed connection through Louisiana, joined Southern Pacific as roadmaster. Ironically, Mr. Crowley never actually lived in the town. His residence was in Lafayette until his retirement from the railroad in February, 1889.

Between 1890 and 1900, with improvements to irrigation, harvesting, and the construction of rice mills, Crowley experienced tremendous economic growth. Capitalizing on the South Louisiana abundant rainfall, a system of levees was constructed around rice ponds in order to maintain optimum wet conditions for the grain.

Probably the most significant factor in the establishment of Crowley as the “Rice Capital of the World” was the scientific research and development by Salmon L. “Sol” Wright. He arrived in Crowley Switch in 1890 after spending 10 years farming wheat in Oregon. In Crowley Wright purchased 320 acres of land where he experimented and developed a domestic rice seed replacing the Japanese rice that had been grown up until that time. This new seed was a far more disease-resistant and productive species.

Wright’s rice variety was known as Blue Rose; named for his beloved mother-in-law, Rose. The bluein the name came about during his late night research under the glow of a kerosene lamp and the moon casting a blue illumination over his experiment. Although successful with his farm crop, the time and cost of his experimentation practically bankrupted him.

As word spread of this new variety, Louisiana’s rice industry quickly adopted Wright’s creation. Had he been able to patent his rice, he would have undoubtedly become very wealthy. In 1907 he was awarded a gold medal for exhibiting a sheaf of Japanese rice at the Jamestown Tercentennial. He continued to assist rice farmers throughout the South with cross cultivation and management of their crops. Wright passed away in 1929 at the age of 77.

A weather event almost ended Crowley’s early reign in the rice industry. It occurred in August of 1940 when torrential rains fell on Southwest Louisiana for 4 consecutive days, dropping over 20″ in one 24-hour period. Eighty percent of the homes and farms in Crowley were flooded and most of the 9,500 citizens were left without homes or businesses. In the days, weeks and months following the storm, its undaunted residents returned to Crowley and diligently restored its outstanding historical sites and return to agricultural success in Louisiana.

No city in South Louisiana is without mention of its musical heritage, and Crowley is no exception. Residents, Joesph and Cleoma Breaux Falcon made history by becoming the first to record a Cajun French song, Allons a’ Lafayette, which appeared on the Columbia label in the early 1920’s.

Today, with its population of nearly 20,000 people, it is the largest city in Acadia Parish and serves as the parish seat. The historical district spans a 32-block radius featuring over 200 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of them are included in tours. A few noteworthy buildings include the Grand Opera House which opened its doors to notable international performers in 1901. The large audiences included many well-known personalities including Babe Ruth, Buffalo Bill, and Huey Long. It closed in 1940 and after 60 years has returned to its once grand opulence, reopening in the summer of 2007.

At 705 East Street you’ll find the Ellis Delahoussaye home built in 1901 and exemplifying a beautiful southern charm. It was built by Herbert Ellis and is one of only 13 homes in Crowley to have a basement.

At the corner of Parkerson and First Street visit the Wells Fargo building erected in 1904. It was later sold to the Railway Express Company and is now the site of the Farmers’ Market held on Saturdays throughout the spring, summer and fall months.

With over 200 historic buildings listed on the National Registry, you’re sure to experience a true sense of the pride the people of Crowley in preserving its rich history.

Each October the International Rice Festival is held in Crowley. This event features the naming of the festival queen and farmer of the year awards, dances, poster contests, a 5K run/walk event, arts and crafts, rice eating contests, classic car show, music, and would you believe, lots of great Cajun food!

Some notable Crowley natives with whom you may be familiar include Tommy Cassanova, former LSU All-American football player and All-Pro defensive back with the NFL Cincinnati Bengals; former governor, Edwin Edwards who served several terms at Louisiana’s top post; and John Breaux, former US Senator and chair of several important congressional committees.

So if you desire an interesting and informative road trip, visit Crowley and plan on spending a couple days absorbing the unique culture and history of Cajun Country.