a ST. MARTIN PARISH article

Cultures of Acadiana
a look at the French, Cajun, Creole, and Native American cultures of south Louisiana
(a project of Carencro High School (721 West Butcher Switch Road, Lafayette, LA  70507)

Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser, July 29, 1997

Breaux's first bridge was only footpath

by Jim Bradshaw


Breaux Bridge gets its name from Firmin Breaux who, in 1799, built a footbridge across Bayou Teche.

Firmin Breaux and his parents were sent to Boston at the time of the Acadian dispersion in 1755. His parents would eventually find their way back to the old Acadian homelands, but Firman did not go with them.

Instead, he came to Louisiana, where we find him listed on the Spanish census of 1766 as a bachelor living, at Bayou Tortue southwest of today's Breaux Bridge.

Apparently he didn't stay there. He shows up as a householder in the 1769 census St. James Parish, married to Marguerite Braud. Then, in 1781, he is listed on the Attakapas District census, as the head of a household--now with seven children, 153 animals, and 25 arpents of cleared and cultivated land.

Breaux family genealogist Geneva Bailey Seymour has him living in 1786, at the west end of his bridge and owning a large piece of land extending from Bayou Vermilion to the 40 arpent road east of Bayou Teche (La. Hwy. 347).

Firmin's land was part of a 92 arpent grant made originally by the Spanish to Jean-Francois Ledee, who apparently subdivided his lands and sold them to Acadian emigrés.

Firmin's first neighbors in the Pont-Breaux area, as listed in the succession filed at his death in 1808, were Dominique Melancon, David Rees, Jean Guidrie, Michel Bernard, and Benjamin Bonin.

Sometime after 1815, one of Firmin's sons, perhaps Agricole, perhaps Joseph, built a bridge that could accommodate carts and wagons. The U.S. Survey Map of 1816 indicates a bridge connecting Firmin's property to that of his son Joseph, but we don't know whether this is the original foot bridge or a later, bigger one.

At any rate, as a result of the bridge, Breaux Bridge evolved from both sides of the Teche simultaneously. Soon after the death of Agricole Breaux in 1828, his wife, Scholastique, faced financial difficulties, and, on Aug. 5, 1829, she had the Plan de la Ville du Pont des Breaux drawn up and proceeded to sell lots. This gave the village its official founding.

Businesses soon began to spring up at the bridge area where imports and exports were concentrated. On March 14, 1859, the town received its official act of incorporation.

With expanding population came a growing business section and from the bridge down along the way by the boat landing where Washington Street is now, and along what is now Main Street there were taverns, general merchandise, and hardware and dry good stores, and blacksmith shops.

According to the "Centennial of St. Bernard Parish," a group of settlers from Pont-Breaux made arrangements for a chapel with a visiting priest at the present location of Farmers and Merchants Bank as early as 1841. Before then services were held in the homes. In 1847, Rev. J. Zeller was placed at the settlement, thus establishing St. Bernard Parish.

Ten years after the chapel was established, a new church was constructed on land donated by Servilien Bernard at the site of the present church. This present church was dedicated on May 11, 1934, by Bishop Jules B. Jeanmard, the first Bishop of Lafayette and a native of Breaux Bridge. The Josephite Fathers founded the parish of St. Francis of Assisi for an African American congregation in 1923. The first black Baptist church, the Bethlehem Baptist Church, had been organized in 1876.

Pont-Breaux was incorporated in 1859, with a population of more than 800 people. The corporate limits included an area of seven arpents in depth on each side of the Bayou Teche. The part on the east side was bounded north by the dividing line between lands of Henry Rees and Mrs. Ursin Broussard and the south by the dividing line between the lands of Adolphe Castille and Judge Edward Simon. The part on the west side was bounded north by the line between the lands of Cyprien Doiron and Mrs. Louis A. Chaigneau and south by the division between the lands of Charles Hebert and Mrs. Hermogene Broussard.

Selerive Domengeaux was the first president of the town council.

By 1890, historian William Henry Perrin found Breaux Bridge as a town that "has increased rapidly in population and wealth. It...is noted for the energy, politeness and hospitality of its inhabitants, who are mostly of French origin. Its school facilities are good, and the fondness of its people for theatrical performances and social gatherings bespeaks their refinement and sociability.

"Its race track attracts sportsmen from the surrounding parishes," Perrin continues, "The commerce of Breaux Bridge is extensive, and its merchants are noted for their enterprise and steadiness in business."

Several private schools served as the early predecessors of public education in Breaux Bridge. A school was founded in 1850 by Albert Degueter, a native of Belgium, who taught only French. A one-room schoolhouse was operated by Alfred Patin about 15 years later. At first, he too taught only French, but English was added later.

St. Bernard's Free Parochial School opened its doors in 1891, then, in 1905, a two-story frame building was rented on Bridge Street as the first public high school. A two-story brick building was completed in 1910 to replace the rented facility. This so-called "red school" served until 1922, when the "white building" was built to replace it. The white building was destroyed by fire in 1980.

This article is copyrighted by the Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser and is used with permissionThis web site was originated through a grant awarded to Carencro High School (Joel Hilbun/Bobbi Marino, Grant Administrators) by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from the Louisiana Quality Education Support Fund - 8(g).