May 18, 2010 6:47 PM by Melissa Hawkes
In the early 1900s Lafayette had a population of about 6,000, but it didn’t take long for that number to rapidly grow.
One of the first population spikes came after "the people voted to build their own water and electric plant,” Kaliste Saloom Jr., a former Lafayette judge, said.
Lynn Guidry, a history enthusiast and local architect, said "a tremendous attraction to be able to come into the city where there's a water plant and electricity."
The LUS plant was completed in 1897—much before any of the cities in the area. Guidry said, "Approximately 30 years ahead of other small towns in our region."
Between 1910 and 1930 Lafayette’s population more than doubled—growing from 6,000 to 14,000. The reason was because of a major flood in 1927 near the Atchafalaya Basin, which left 300,000 people in search of higher ground.
Saloom said Lafayette is "30 or 40 feet above sea level, which secured us from the flooding.”
Lafayette became a safe haven for many.
"I was told that at least 40,000 refugees from the surrounding areas were housed in tents in Lafayette,” Saloom said.
In the 1950’s Maurice Heymann had an idea that’s still fueling the economy today.
Guidry explained, "He built buildings, he rented to the oil companies and that's what we know as the oil center today. It started off as one building and eventually grew to 100 buildings."
Saloom added, "the oil industry really was the catalyst that sparked Lafayette."
The development of Interstate 1-10 through the city in the 1960’s, made Lafayette impossible to pass up.
Guidry said, "It was a major artery that connected us and still connects us to the rest of the world."
With a population of almost 70,000 by the 1970’s, Lafayette was well on its way to being one of the largest cities in the state.