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The name of the parish is derived from the former French colony of Acadia in Canada (which consisted of the modern provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and much of Maine), many of whose French-speaking inhabitants were deported to France and then migrated to Louisiana in the Great Upheaval (see Cajuns).
The parish itself was formed from the southwestern portion of St. Landry Parish. On Wednesday May 19, 1886, a bill was introduced in the house entitled "An act to create the parish of Nicholls, and to provide for the organization thereof." The title was later changed to read: "An act to create the parish of Acadia." Father Joseph Anthonioz, the first pastor of the Catholic Church at Rayne, is credited with having suggested the name, Acadia Parish. The bill passed the house on June 11, the senate on June 28, and was approved by Governor Samuel D. McEnery on June 30. On October 6, an election was held to affirm the creation of the parish, with 2,516 votes for and 1,521 votes against the creation. The population of the new parish was from 10,000 to 12,000. Acadia Parish population in 1890 was 13,231.
After a close election held on March 1, 1887, Crowley was chosen as the parish seat, gathering 698 votes to Rayne's and Prairie Hayes' 560 and 519, respectively. The election also determined the first officers in the parish: Elridge W. Lyons, first sheriff of Acadia, and R. T. Clark, first clerk of court. The first courthouse was therefore constructed in Crowley and completed on June 30, 1888, and continued to be used until May 1, 1902, when it was destroyed to make way for the second building.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the parish has a total area of 657 square miles (1,700 km2), of which 655 sq mi (1,700 km2) are land and 2.3 sq mi (6.0 km2) (0.4%) are covered by water.
As of the census of 2000, 58,861 people, 21,142 households, and 15,666 families were living in the parish. The population density was 90 people per square mile (35/km2). The 23,209 housing units averaged 35 per square mile (14/km2). The racial makeup of the parish was 80.73% White, 18.25% African American, 0.20% Native American, 0.15% Asian, 0.21% from other races, and 0.47% from two or more races. Around 19.04% reported speaking French or Cajun French at home.
Of the 21,142 households, 38.50% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.50% were married couples living together, 14.90% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.90% were not families. About 22.60% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.30% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.74, and the average family size was 3.22.
In the parish, the age distribution was 29.80% under 18, 9.60% from 18 to 24, 27.40% from 25 to 44, 20.90% from 45 to 64, and 12.30% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 93.50 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.80 males.
The median income for a household in the parish was $26,684, and for a family was $31,812. Males had a median income of $29,353 versus $17,179 for females. The per capita income for the parish was $13,424. 24.50% of the population and 21.00% of families were below the poverty line. 30.30% of those under the age of 18 and 25.20% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.
Arts and culture
Elton Richard, captain of Church Point Mardi Gras (1970s)
Many festivals and cultural celebrations are held annually in Acadia Parish, including the International Rice Festival in Crowley, Frog Festival in Rayne, and Buggy Festival in Church Point. Cajun food and music, both specialties of the local population, feature prominently in these festivals.
Several communities in Acadia Parish celebrate the tradition of Courir de Mardi Gras. Disguised with masks and costumes, Cajuns travel through their rural neighborhoods, making merry while begging for gumbo ingredients. The gumbo is the centerpiece of a communal supper and dance.
Bill Cleveland, Crowley real estate developer and member of both houses of Louisiana state legislature from 1944 to 1964; defeated for third term in state senate in 1964 by Edwin Edwards
Francis Dugas, state representative from Lafourche Parish from 1956 to 1960, was born in Rayne in Acadia Parish in 1919.
Paul B. Freeland coauthored Acadia Parish, Louisiana: A History to 1900. His collection of photographs and memorabilia of the Crowley area can be accessed from the archives of the Acadia Parish Library in Crowley.
Sidney Brown, a musician from Church Point (28 October 1906 - 6 August 1981) who was known as one of the first accordion makers and repairmen in Louisiana. Brown also has the distinction of having recorded the third-best selling Cajun music album of all-time (Noir Chaussette's "Two Step/Pestauche Taunte Na Na").