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Opelousas, Louisiana – Main Street

Main Streets 2017: Louisiana

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Known as the Zydeco Capital of the World, Opelousas is as culturally diverse as the music itself. Along with Creoles, the creators of zydeco music — Creoles was first used to describe descendants of European and Spanish settlers, then broadened to include a mix of Native Americans and African-Americans — this city’s diverse population of 16,500 also includes many Cajuns, who came here in the 18th century as French-speaking refugees from the Canadian maritime provinces. People from many other places and backgrounds live in Opelousas as well, making the city a cultural gumbo as interesting and spicy as the local cuisine.

To taste the local flavor, check on Soileau’s Dinner Club on North Main Street — or head a little left or right off Main on Landry Street to eat where the locals do at Back in Time, Mama’s Fried Chicken and Frank Po’ Boys.

The city’s motto is “Perfectly Seasoned,” a pun but perhaps also a salute to the late chef Paul Prudhomme, a native son of Opelousas who, in 1957 at age 17, opened his first restaurant in the city, a drive-in hamburger stand called Big Daddy O’s Patio. Today, Main Street intersects with Prudhomme Street (named after Michel, though not Paul) in a section of the city’s Historic District where you will find St. Landry Church, home of the Festival De La Grande Eglise. The church’s history and influence in the area dates back to the mid-1700s.

East of Main Street you’ll find Le Vieux Village, a historical park and museum, and the Louisiana Orphan Train Museum, a restored freight depot dedicated to the Orphan Train Riders, abandoned and homeless children from New York who traveled to Louisiana between 1873 and 1929.

On North Main is the Opelousas Museum & Interpretive Center, whose exhibits, covering prehistoric times to the present, include a room devoted the Civil War and the archives of the Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival. Each Labor Day, festival-goers can participate in traditional storytelling and learn about French, African and Caribbean cultural influences.

Opelousas has annual Mardi Gras festivities, many of which take place at the Civic Center near Main Street and feature the Half-Fast Krewe of Frank Mardi Gras Parade through the downtown area.

On the second Thursday in December, families gather on Main Street for the Opelousas Children’s Christmas Parade, featuring colorful floats, marching bands and, of course, Santa Claus.

A feast for the eye, ear and taste buds, Opelousas truly is the “Perfectly Seasoned” city.

All photos courtesy of the City of Opelousas, LA

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New Orleans, Louisiana – Saint Charles Avenue

Main Streets 2016: Louisiana

From downriver to Uptown, St. Charles Avenue is famed in New Orleans lore, in American culture — even in urban transportation. Following the curve of the nearby Mississippi River, the avenue is the pathway for the distinctive green cars of the St. Charles Streetcar Line, the world’s oldest continuously operating streetcar route. The line has been running since 1835, which is about how long this avenue has been a colorful corridor through the heart of America’s most unique and musical city.

Known as Nyades Street in the first half of the 19th century, St. Charles Avenue begins “downriver” at Canal Street, on whose other side is the tourist-thronged French Quarter. The streetcar passes through the Central Business District, where riders see handsomely restored historic buildings, along with office towers and specialty and retail stores. The district wasn’t always an evening hotspot, but today it offers a wealth of clubs, restaurants, and nightspots, with many featuring the diversity of live music that fuels the city’s rollicking nighttime energy. For more than 150 years, Lafayette Square here has been a popular site for concerts by jazz bands, school groups and other ensembles. It’s the setting for a free summer concert series and a fall blues festival, both drawing top-level acts.

Next on the St. Charles Line is the Garden District, a beautifully preserved neighborhood where 19th century tycoons used their wealth from shipping, sugar, cotton and other businesses to build elegant homes in Victorian, Greek Revival and Italianate styles. Many of those heirloom houses are still set within the manicured gardens that gave this district its name. The Garden District also offers shopping, cafés and the Commander’s Palace restaurant, which has been a leader in the legendary New Orleans cuisine scene since 1890.

The St. Charles Line travels the length of Uptown New Orleans, whose historic district, replete with splendid 19th century architecture, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood is home to Tulane University and Loyola University, and across St. Charles from Tulane is the world-famous Audubon Zoo, home to some 2,000 animals — including an albino-like, blue-eyed alligator that has become a symbol of the century-old zoo. The avenue finally ends in the Riverbend area, known for quaint shops, thrift stores and a funky, old-time atmosphere.

Along the way and through the years, St. Charles Avenue has richly earned its reputation as the “Jewel of America’s Grand Avenues.”

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