Lafayette, Louisiana and The Old Spanish Trail Auto Highway

The Old Spanish Trail Highway is a transcontinental highway running from St. Augustine, Florida to San Diego, California.  It runs through Louisiana as U.S. Highway 90 and, in places, as Louisiana 182.  Today the road in Lafayette is concurrent with Pinhook, University, and Cameron Streets having traversed other streets in Lafayette in the past.

Old Spanish Trail - Rice Festival Sign 1938

(Sign of Welcome on the outskirts of Crowley, LA. 1938 · LIbrary of Congress.)
 

Our city, Lafayette, Louisiana, is located in an area settled by Attakapas Indians. (1)  It may have initially been called Pin Hook, the name of a trading post and trading route located close to the Vermilion River running through the area.  European settlement began here in the mid-1700s and a village was later developed in the area (started by Jean Mouton in the early 1800s) and named Vermilionville.  The name was changed to Lafayette in 1884.  Early transportation and travel in the area followed paths established by traders, trappers, and drovers who used streams, bayous, and rivers as well as overland routes.  Some early roads followed alongside waterways and were forded or bridged when needed and where possible. Drovers, beginning in the late 1700s, helped cement the foundation for what became known as the Spanish Trail in Louisiana because of the trails they followed when driving cattle to New Orleans. The Spanish Trail and other roads and trails followed high elevations to avoid swampy conditions.  Others followed in parallel fashion the routes established by railroads, which appeared in Lafayette in the late 1800s. Higher elevations partly determine overland roadways as well as signaling good routes for the development of railroads.  Thus, roadways sometimes come first and sometimes railroads come first.  What became the Southern Pacific railroad in particular was important in the development of the Old Spanish Trail Auto Highway as LA Hwy 182 and U.S.  90 even today run close to the tracks in numerous places in Lafayette and vicinity.

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(Buggy-stopped-on-highway-near-Lafayette,-Louisiana · LIbrary of Congress)
 

The Old Spanish Trail Auto Highway was the creation of the Old Spanish Trail Association.  The OSTA formed in 1915 at a meeting of over 400 people in the Battlehouse Hotel in Mobile, Alabama.  Attending that meeting as Louisiana representatives were the upcoming Governor, Ruffin Pleasant, and the longtime Mayor of New Orleans, Martin Behrman.  The meeting was part of the “Good Roads” movement that developed momentum when automobiles began appearing in larger and larger numbers.  The name “Old Spanish Trail” was possibly selected [archives do not give the reason] because of the location of numerous Spanish Missions established beginning in the mid-1500s in northern Florida and in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Numerous highway associations sprang up in the U.S. in the early 1900s with approximately 250 roads developed carrying the names of the associations.  These roads were called “banded” roads because they were identified by names, symbols or initials of the roadway which were placed on metal or paper bands placed on trees, posts, or stakes.  Associations prepared travel logs, maps, and guides directing travelers to use their routes and to stop at places along their routes.  Confusion for early auto travelers produced by competitive groups lasted until 1926 when a highway numbering system was approved for the U.S.

Old Spanish Trail - Hwy 90

(Traveling evangelists pushing cart on road between Lafayette and Scott, Louisiana · Library of Congress)
 

Early on, “Locke’s Official Guide to the Old Spanish Trail”, 1916,  states that Lafayette had a hotel and garage, a large school, and a cemetery along the Old Spanish Trail [the Methodist Cemetery at Pinhook and University].  Further, “Lafayette is a difficult town to get through, owing to its many jogs, turns, and curves.  A gravel road winds through and should be followed.”

The 1926 Old Spanish Trail Travelog touts Lafayette as having a railroad and bus center, a “fine college” named The Southwest Louisiana Institute, the Gordon Hotel, the Deluxe OST Café, two large motor companies, and support from the Chamber of Commerce.

Old Spanish Trail - New Iberia

(New Iberia, Louisiana. Truck entering on U.S. Highway 90 · Library of Congress)
 

The 1950 “Louisiana Tours” guidebook by Stanley Clisby Arthur speaks about the Old Spanish Trail cement road running through Lafayette, one that goes by Les Jardins de Mouton, Southwestern Louisiana Institute, and the Cathedral Oak.  The General Alfred Mouton Statue is mentioned as a place to visit as well as the city having many beautiful antebellum homes.  The Azalea Trail and the Camelia pageant are also mentioned.

A pamphlet titled “Louisiana’s Old Spanish Trail: Journey into Cajun Country Traveling U.S Hwy. 90 and LA. Hwy. 182” (no date) mentions that Lafayette has an appetizing selection of restaurants and a multitude of historic attractions.  The pamphlet encourages visitors to visit the Jean Lafitte National Park, Acadian Culture Center, exciting museums including the Lafayette Museum and the Natural History Museum, Acadian Village, and Vermilionville.

Much progress and growth has occurred along the OST from the time Pin Hook (Lafayette) was a trading outpost to the time a travel guide urged OST auto travelers through Lafayette not to get off the gravel road-- to the modern era.  Now Lafayette boasts a population of over 129,000, is famous as the home of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Old Spanish Trail - Road Sign

(Highway Direction Markers, Crowley, Louisiana · Library of Congress)

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NOTES

1. Spanish conquistadors of the early to mid-1500s (e.g., Pineda, Narvarez, de Vaca, Castillo, Dorantes, Estebanico, De Soto) were the first Europeans to travel along the Gulf Coast of what is now the United States. French explorers (e.g., d’Iberville, de Bienville, de Toni) in the early 1700s may have  crossed some of the same territory and French Canadian St. Denis, working with Spanish authorities, helped establish a “Spanish Trail” (Rand, 1953:13) in the late 1600s to early 1700s running back and forth from Natchitoches to Mexico. These routes may have also been called El Camino Real de los Tejas.  St Denis is credited with founding Natchitoches, Louisiana, in 1714.  Many early trails developed along animal paths and the routes first established by indigenous people. Several early transportation routes are actually networks of routes with travelers selecting different branches of the network due to time of year, physical conditions, and perceived safety of choosing one route and not another.

Old Spanish Trail - Crowley

(Highway direction markers, Crowley, Louisiana)
 

SELECTED SOURCES CONSULTED

Griffin, Harry Lewis. 1959.  The Attakapas Country.  New Orleans, Louisiana:  Pelican Publishing Company.

Hebert, Nelwyn and Warren A. Perrin.  Iberia Parish.  Charleston, South Carolina.  Arcadia Publishing.

Hollier, J. Harold (Compiler).  1984 (Revised 1991).  Broussard, Louisiana:  A Brief History.  Unpublished Manuscript.

Kiesel, Jean S.  2007.  Lafayette.  Charleston, South Carolina:  Arcadia Publishing.

Rand, Clayton.  1953.  Stars in Their Eyes:  Builders and Dreamers in Louisiana. Gulfport, Mississippi:  The Dixie Press.