The Legend of the Evangeline Oak in St Martinville Louisiana

Driving around South Louisiana I photographed a big oak tree thinking it must be the Evangeline Oak. Without knowing the full story of the famous oak tree it’s easy to get confused, but once you know the details, you’ll remember the story of Evangeline and Gabriel. And you’ll know where to find the Evangeline Oak in St Martinville Louisiana. It’s a perfect day trip from Lafayette.

Did you know that the legend of the Evangeline Oak started with a poem?

 

The legendary Evangeline Oak in St Martinville Louisiana

The legendary Evangeline Oak in St Martinville Louisiana

 

Roots in New England

Of course, the Evangeline Oak wouldn’t be such a popular tourist attraction in Louisiana if it weren’t for a certain New Englander.

The famous poem, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, written in 1847 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reveals a story of loss and true devotion.

While attending a dinner party Longfellow heard the story of a French woman separated from her husband on their wedding day during the tragic events after the expulsion of the Acadians. A few years later Longfellow published his poem based on the story and it became highly successful.

Longfellow’s epic poem brought attention to the plight of the Acadians, exiled from their homes in Acadie (now Nova Scotia) in 1755 by the British. Many of the Acadians later settled in Louisiana but thousands perished during their harrowing journey.

 

Statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow located at Evangeline Oak Park St Martinville Louisiana

Statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow located at Evangeline Oak Park

 

Louisiana link to Evangeline poem

Longfellow’s poem mentions Bayou Teche, Atchafalaya, and the town St Martin. Allegedly a work of fiction, many people believed the story to be true back in the day. The great success of the poem bolstered Cajun pride and the story of Evangeline is now embedded in the culture of South Louisiana.

Continuing the legend, Louisiana Judge Felix Voorhies published Acadian Reminiscences: The True Story of Evangeline, in 1907. In Voorhies version of the story the lovers reunite under a big oak tree next to the Bayou Teche. Unfortunately for Evangeline, her dear Gabriel remembers he’s married to another woman. Tormented by this news, Evangeline goes crazy and dies.

Now the Evangeline Oak with its branches over the Bayou Teche is a reminder of this tragic story.

Related: Awesome Things to do in Lafayette Louisiana

 

Plaque at the Evangeline Oak Park in St Martinville LA

Plaque at the Evangeline Oak Park

 

Evangeline Oak St Martinville Louisiana

Stretching to form an elegant canopy the grand old oak tree’s branches provide shade along the bayou and habitat for birds. Evangeline Oak Park is located right alongside the Bayou Teche in St Martinville Louisiana. This is the site of the legendary Evangeline Oak.

 

Evangeline Oak Park on the bank of the Bayou Teche in St Martinville LA

The Evangeline Oak Park on the bank of the Bayou Teche in St Martinville LA

 

Lots of people go to the wrong tree (not just me!) mistaking the big oak in front of the Longfellow Evangeline State Historic Site down the road for the Evangeline Oak. But don’t go skipping the historic site, it’s another one of the top things to do in St Martinville. Grab some lunch in town in between your sightseeing, after all Louisiana is known for its great food.

READ: Oldest oak tree in Texas – the Big Tree – Goose Island State Park

After you admire the great Evangeline Oak go towards the bayou and walk along the boardwalk where you’ll see cypress trees on the banks of the bayou. Birds such as the Great egret and snowy egret frequent the bayou fishing for a meal.

And yes, there are alligators in Bayou Teche so maybe you’ll see one when you visit Evangeline Oak Park.

 

An ancient Cypress Tree sits along the bank of Bayou Teche next to the boardwalk in St Martinville Louisiana

An ancient Cypress Tree sits along the bank of Bayou Teche

 

Directions to Evangeline Oak St Martinville LA

From Breaux Bridge take highway LA-31 south for 6.5 miles then turn left onto Evangeline Oak Blvd. Takes about 20 minutes.

From Lafayette take US Hwy 90 E (Evangeline Thruway) for about 8 miles and turn right onto LA-96 E (just past Broussard) and continue for 7.3 miles to St Martinville where the road name changes to Evangeline Blvd, continue straight to the Evangeline Oak Park.

If you are driving from New Orleans take Interstate 10 W and follow it for 120 miles. Take exit 115 for LA-347 and follow it to E Bridge St, turn right and follow it to Catfish Alley, turn left and then left again onto Evangeline Blvd and straight to the park.

 

Info card at African American Museum in St Martinville tells of the arrival and struggle of the Africans

African American Museum in St Martinville tells of the arrival and struggle of the Africans

 

Museums nearby

While you’re in the area, go visit the Museum of the Acadian Memorial and the African American Museum both located in the St Martinville Cultural Heritage Center.

A modest fee of $3 allows entry to both museums.

In the foyer of the St Martinville cultural center you will find the small but helpful tourist information center. And if you see Elaine Clement tell her hello/bonjour for me and ask her anything about St Martinville, she may even tell you a story or two. Elaine is the Tourism Director and Curator/Director of the Acadian Memorial. I enjoyed chatting with her on my visit to the museums.

 

Mural "The Arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana" by Robert Dafford

Mural “The Arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana” by Robert Dafford

 

Evangeline Statue

Also, be sure to go visit the Evangeline Monument Located in St. Martin de Tours Church Square on Main Street, just a couple blocks away. There is another historic site in Canada with a statue in Grand Pré Nova Scotia, birthplace of Evangeline.

Although the tale of Evangeline may be fiction, the story of the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia is factual. Grand Pré National Historic Site in Nova Scotia became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012 in part due to “the iconic place of remembrance of the Acadian diaspora, dispersed by the Grand Dérangement”, the grand deportation.

Summary

The myth of Evangeline memorialized in Longfellow’s poem brought attention to the tragedy of the Grand Deportation of the Acadians.

Although the British took away homes and land, they could not steal the culture of the Acadian people. In Louisiana the Cajun culture lives on. And you can experience this strong cultural influence in the Cajun Country of Southwest Louisiana.

Visit the historic sites and explore Acadiana. Most importantly listen to the folklore, dance to the music, and sample the Cajun cuisine, all passed down from generations of Acadians. That’s what Evangeline and Gabriel would want you to do.

You’ll forever remember a visit to Acadiana, a truly unique experience.

Tags: ,

About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 4 of living a nomadic life, roadtripping around the USA and Canada and writing about her experiences with a focus on hiking and cultural encounters. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Top