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May 17, 2010 6:59 PM by Melissa Hawkes

Lafayette's First Growth Spurt in 1880

The city of Lafayette is home to more than 110,000 people now, but in the late 1800's it was one of the smallest towns in the area.

Dr. Carl A. Brasseaux, a history professor at the University of Louisiana, said "Lafayette for example couldn't hold a candle to New Iberia in terms of economic importance."

So, what was the city like?

“A very small community...a village,” Brasseaux said. “It consisted of a few professionals, artisans who basically provide services to the farming and ranching people in the area.”

Lafayette was originally carved out of the western part of St. Martin Parish.

Mr. Kaliste Saloom Jr., a former Lafayette judge, said "they couldn't rule everything from St. Martin Ville so they started to create different parishes."

After Lafayette Parish was created...John Mouton helped create the downtown area.

"A block that he carved out of the streets and redesigned it and made it the court house square," Saloom said.

Between 1880 and 1910 Lafayette’s population had a big jump--growing from 800 people to more than 6,000--mostly because of the railroad.

"It went to New Orleans, it went to Houston, eventually to Baton Rouge....your engineers your mechanics, and the construction crews were located in Lafayette," Saloom said.

The railroad sparked the first economic growth in Lafayette…making it the city we know it as today.

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