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History of the Cajuns: Encyclopedia of Cajun Life
Architecture


Palmetto Home, 1800s

First Generation Acadian Homes

When the Acadians first arrrived in Louisiana, some put up quick, temporary shelters made of wood and palmetto leaves.  The Native Americans had been building such dwellings for years.  Built upon a pole frame, palmettos would be uses on the roof (as was straw in France and Acadia).  Many also used palmetto for walls until wood could be cut. This first generation of Acadian homes was used primarly from 1765-1795.

Palmetto home, late 1890s [Louisiana State Museum, George Francois Mugnier Collection]
Palmetto Home, late 1890s

Second Generation Acadian Homes

When they had the time to build a more substantial structure, they often built homes by putting wood vertically into the ground for walls. These 2nd generation Acadian homes (1766-1827) were either poteaux en terre (post in ground) or planche debout (upright planks). The easiest of the two, poteaux en terre, was to cut logs, strip off the bark, and place it in a hole in the ground. The gaps between the logs would be filled with a mud and straw/moss mixture (bousillage). If they had the time and manpower, they might cut planks from the logs and place the planks vertically in the ground (planche debout) to make the walls (again, filling the gaps with bousillage). Roofs were covered with shingles or wood. These homes were built directly on the ground.

Bousillage: a pit would be dug and mud and moss (or straw if moss wasn't available) were thrown in. They would take turns stomping the mixture together with their bare feet. When it was ready, two-foot lengths were taken out and draped over the cross-pins (batons, or barreaux) that went between the vertical timbers. It would be smoothed down and allowed to dry. The outside was usually covered with wood and the inside was plastered.

Third Generation Acadian Homes

The Acadians soon learned that to build a wooden home on the ground was not the way to go.  The occasional flooding and insect damage was terrible to these kinds of homes.  Upon arriving in Louisiana, they noted that Creole homes were often built off the ground. This kept the home from water & insects and helped provide better ventilation. The 3rd generation Acadian home (1790-1850) was built on pillars of wood or brick. It was small, averaging about fifteen by twenty-five feet in size. Many had galleries in front. The chimney - made of bousillage at first, later of brick - was on one end of a one-room home. Two-room homes often had the chimney in-between the rooms.

Fourth Generation Acadian Homes

The 4th generation Acadian home (1790-1920) was often larger that previous versions. By the mid-1800s, it was the common type of Acadian house. It has a gallery (porche on the front (and sometimes the back). This served two purposes. It gave them a place to sit to cool off and to socialize. It also allowed for a taller roof to provide room for storage and sleeping quarters. There were stairs to the atttic, usually located on the inside of homes in east Acadiana and outside the homes in west Acadiana. The upstairs sleeping area for the boys was called the garçonniere. The roof was covered with wood shingles at the beginning of this time period, but these were often replaced by corrugated tin roofing later in the 1800s. As the family grew, a separate but connected building was often built to the rear for kitchenspace or a bedroom.  The windows had no glass, but were covered by wooden shutters. Some had two rooms side-by-side, with a front door opening up to each. One room was the common family room and kitchen, while the other room was a bedroom for the parents and daughters. As some Acadian families grew in size and wealth, larger homes with multiple rooms would be built.

The Bernard House, Acadian Village

Shotgun Homes

By the late 1800s and 1900s, the shotgun house was common in some rural areas. They were called shotgun because the rooms were one behind another and doors were lined up so that a shotgun blast would go through the entire house.

As the 20th century progressed, most Cajuns began occupying contemporary housing styles, though some still have similar features to the old Acadian homes. Though there are a few 18th century Acadian homes scattered around south Louisiana, they are disappearing.

RESOURCES:
  • Places to see original 18th century Acadian homes ...
    - Acadian Village (Lafayette) - the first collection of Acadian homes, plus a replica of a church
    - The Cajun Village (Sorrento) - a collection of Acadian homes serving as a restaurant and shops
    - Vermilionville (Lafayette) - a mixture of original and replica Acadian buildings
    - Le Vieux Village (Opelousas) - several buildings at the Opelousas tourist center
    - Laurel Vally Plantation (Thibodaux) - has over fifty 19th/20th century buildings from a former sugar plantation
    - Clarence Hebert home (Houma) - built c. 1826, this 3rd generation home is the oldest structure in Terrebonne Parish.
    - Rural Life Museum (Baton Rouge) - a collection of 18th century buildings (including an Acadian home) and artifacts
  • Printed Resources
    - Louisiana's Remarkable French Vernacular Architecture
    (LSU, 1988)
    - Cajun Country (Ancelet, Edwards, Pitre, 1991)
Clarence Hebert home, bult c. 1826
Note: The 4 generation designations are from Jay Edwards' work on Acadian architecture.
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