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 French Lousiana. (French heritage shown in architectural design)
Three clusters of small structures in rural southwest Louisiana define the state's singular style of architecture and reflect its strong French heritage. These evocative places, all within 20 miles of each other, are the Longfellow-Evangeline State Commemorative Area in St. Martinville, Acadian Village in Lafayette, and the circa 1821 Henri Penne House in Breaux Bridge.

Of all the American states, Louisiana owes its most enduring heritage to the French, who founded New Orleans to control the Mississippi River. The state was the southernmost area of France's vast Louisiana Territory and became part of the United States in 1803 when President Jefferson doubled the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase.

By that time, Creole and Cajun influences had stamped New Orleans and the countryside with a distinctive look adapted from the architecture of their homeland in ways that met the exigencies of the climate and natural environment. Creole (French who were born in America) architecture developed around New Orleans in the early 18th century. It featured hipped roofs and half-timbered construction using cypress, which was abundant and did not rot in the warm, moist climate. Roofs extended over wide galleries, or porches, to protect walls and provide shade. Doors from first-floor rooms opened onto galleries, not a central hall. After experiencing rains, floods, and invasions of insects, settlers began to build their houses on low brick or wooden posts to raise living areas above ground level. The Cajuns (a corruption of the word Acadians) arrived after 1755 when the British forcibly deported them from Acadie, now Nova Scotia, where they were farmers and fishermen. The French Acadians chose Louisiana as refuge, settling along the rivers and bayous in the southwest section of the state. They adapted Creole architecture, changing it slightly. For example, the Acadians built steep-pitched roofs with gabled end walls, just like those once so useful in Nova Scotia for casting off snow. The need no longer existed, but the old way persisted. Still later, the simple Creole and Acadian cottages evolved into plantation houses and raised cottages with tall pillars heightening the cellar section, which became a living area of the house. After about 1820, many Louisiana houses added such Anglo-American features as double-hung windows and central halls, while still retaining their Creole and Acadian design. Romance joins history at the Longfellow-Evangeline site, which features a circa 1790 Acadian cabin, Acadian House, and an Interpretive Center with historic exhibits, programs, and demonstrations. Acadian House, built about 1815, is actually a typical Creole raised plantation house. The ground level has a dining room, plantation office, work room, and storage room. The main level has a drawing room, salon or parlor, and two bedrooms. The site is named in honor of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his 1847 epic poem "Evangeline," which retold an Acadian legend of a newly betrothed couple. Evangeline and Gabriel, after the expulsion of the French from Acadia, became separated on the long arduous journey from Canada to Louisiana, and then searched for each other for years. Some folk tales say the real-life Gabriel lived here, and the huge oak near the house is called Gabriel Oak.

Acadian Village in Lafayette is a folk-life museum set along a bayou. Cypress cottages have been restored to their early 1800s appearances and furnished with Louisiana-made antiques of that period. Also on site are a chapel, general store, barns, doctor's museum, blacksmith' s shop, and the small Mississippi Valley Museum, all surrounded by 10 acres of gardens and woodland. The Henri Penne House in Breaux Bridge is now owned by Robert E. Smith, a restoration and research consultant for historic buildings, interiors, and gardens. Penne, who was born in Nantes, France, built his home in Creole plantation house style with such Anglo-American features as a central hall, double- hung windows, and double entrance doors with side lights. Mr. Smith moved the Penne House 38 miles from its original site to family land in Breaux Bridge and restored it, using original paint colors. He furnished it with a blend of French, Louisiana, and Anglo-American pieces that date to about 1830 and include a fine collection of Acadian textiles. Meticulous in researching historical detail, Bob Smith's goal was to see the Penne House accurately reflect life in rural Louisiana.

Bob also saved, moved, and restored several dependency buildings of the early 19th century. They include a circa 1827 pigeonnier or dove cote (roast pigeon was a favored dish at the time), a magasin that is used to store food, two privies, and a maison dimanche, or Sunday house, which is a small townhouse where a plantation owner often stayed when coming to the village to attend church. The pigeonnier and maison dimanche are on the National Register of Historic Houses. Bob has also moved and restored a petite maison, which is a 28-foot-square, three-room house that could have once served as an overseer's residence. He has furnished it with period Louisiana-made furniture and decorative arts from France.

Completing the re-creation of an early 19th-century Louisiana Creole plantation is a garden encircled by oak trees. It is patterned after one in Meaux, France, with crepe myrtles, a central lawn, and brick- edged flower beds in geometric shapes. It features such period blooms as Duchesse de Brabant amaryllis, phlox, pansies, pinks, camellias, and Louis Philippe roses. Malmaison and Souvenir de Malmaison roses, named for Empress Josephine's famous rose garden at Malmaison in France, add to the garden's overall design.

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