One of the most southern of all Louisiana parishes, Terrebonne Parish was established March 22, 1822, from the southern part of Lafourche Interior, bordering upon the Gulf of Mexico. Covering an area of 2100 square miles, it is the 2nd largest parish in the state. The early French settlers who christened this parish must have been impressed with the fertility of the soil and marshes because the words "terre bonne" mean "good earth." In 1834, Terrebonne Parish founded the city of Houma in order to establish a centrally located and more easily accessible parish seat. Prior to this, the county seat had been set at Williamsburg (now Bayou Cane) approximately 4 miles northwest of present-day downtown Houma. While Williamsburg sat at the junction of two bayous, Bayou Cane and Bayou Terrebonne, government officials felt that Houma, which sat at the convergence of six bayous, would provide better access for commerce and development in Terrebonne Parish.
Richard H. Grinage and Hubert M. Belanger donated one arpent of frontage along Bayou Terrebonne on March 18, 1834 for the new government seat. This land became the foundation around which Houma was developed. Because of this significant donation, Grinage and Belanger are considered the “Fathers of Houma.”
Houma was named after the Houmas Indian. The native word "houma" means red, and the tribe's war emblem was the crawfish. Historians say the Houmas Indians originally came from Mississippi and Alabama and settled near Baton Rouge. After many conflicts with other Indian tribes, losing a war to the Tunicas in 1706, and to escape the encroachment of the white man, the Houmas Indians continued moving south to more remote areas. They settled in Terrebonne Parish in the mid to late eighteenth century and established a camp known as Ouiski Bayou on the high ground northwest of present-day downtown Houma. They were subsequently pushed from the highlands of the north to the coastal regions of the south by the European settlements in the late 1700's and 1800's. Evidence of the Houma Tribes can still be found in this area today.
Most of the pioneers who came to Terrebonne migrated from the Mississippi River, down Bayou Lafourche to Bayou Terrebonne. There was an influx of the French from New Orleans to the bayou country after the Spanish domination in 1762. The district Spanish commandant granted concessions of title to not more than 630 acres of land to each newcomer to the bayou lands. While many Frenchmen came into the area prior to this, there are recorded claims by Anglo-Saxons and Spanish as well.
Other pioneers in the area in 1760 were the exiled French colonists known as Acadians from Nova Scotia, who roamed the world for 10 years in search of a home before they settled on the banks of the bayous in Terrebonne Parish. They chose this area because of its isolated geographic location, a minimum of government control, fertile land and an abundance of fish and wildlife.
These people lived in seclusion for generations and continued their family traditions of living off the land. Today they celebrate their heritage and joy of life through their festivals and church fairs.
In 1848, Houma was incorporated as a city by an act of legislature. By this time, industry in Houma consisted largely of farming plantations, seafood, fur trading and logging industries. The cultivation of sugar cane was the principal agricultural industry in the parish. The first plantation was established in 1828. By 1851, Terrebonne had 110 plantations with 80 sugar houses. Southdown Plantation was founded in 1858 by the Minor family. Stephen Minor was the Secretary to the Spanish Governor Gayoso. Today, the home serves as the parish museum. The sugar mill itself was sold in 1979, dismantled and shipped to Guatemala where it was reassembled and is still in use today.
Canals were dug between the bayous to decrease travel time within the parish and make trade more efficient. In 1872, a railroad that linked Schriever to Houma became instrumental in increasing trade and travel within and outside the parish. These canals were later abandoned with the construction of the Intracoastal Waterway in 1923. The Intracoastal was later extended into Lafourche Parish and to Bayou Lafourche which further increased Houma's importance as a portal city.
During World War II, the centrality of Houma along the Gulf Coast made it an ideal area to establish a Lighter Than Air Blimp Naval Station, which was in operation form May, 1943 to September, 1944. The Navy base, which used blimps squadrons to scan the coastline for enemy vessels, was one of only two blimp stations operating on the Gulf Coast.
Terrebonne has always depended on Mother Nature for its livelihood. Oysters, shrimp, crabs and fish contribute their share of wealth to the parish. The oysters from Terrebonne Parish have become internationally known as the finest in the world. In the great stretches of marshland surrounding Terrebonne Parish, trapping of Louisiana muskrat, mink, otter, raccoon, and nutria pelts are another form of local commerce.
Oil and gas made its debut in 1929 and brought a period of economic development and prosperity unparalleled anywhere in the state. The industry grew into enormous dimensions with the discovery of offshore oil. Terrebonne became the gateway to the heaviest concentration of offshore oil service companies in the state. By 1960, the combination on rich oil production backed by Houma's productive waters, fertile soil, and natural mineral resources, Houma became one of the fastest growing cities in America. In 1961, the Houma Navigational Canal was completed to provide a 30 mile link to Terrebonne Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
By the late 1970's, Houma's main focus was the oil industry. Those companies not related to oil and gas depended on this industry for their survival. When the bottom fell out of the oil industry in the early 1980's because of cheaper foreign product and dwindling local resources, Houma fell with it. For nearly two years, the Houma-Terrebonne area experienced an unemployment rate near 25%.
Learning from our mistakes, the Houma community has begun to strive to diversify. While the oil industry is still the primary source of revenue for the Houma-Terrebonne area, alternative industries are emerging to fill in the gaps. Terrebonne Parish still accounts for over 20% of Louisiana's seafood production. In addition, the medical industry is creating a stronghold for itself in the parish area. Tourism, too, is a popular source of commerce for, in, and around Houma. The addition of Houma's Civic Center promises to bring an influx of entertainment and convention revenue to Houma. The draw of authentic Acadian culture, diverse environment and wildlife, plantation homes, excellent food, and close proximity to New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette make Houma-Terrebonne an excellent central location for the visitor who wishes to see all the sights and sounds of the bayou wonderland of South Louisiana.