History of Rayne
Rayne wasn’t built in a day. It goes back to the 1800’s when the railroad came to town.
We were first called Pouppeville, but changed our name to honor the engineer who laid the tracks – Rayne. Today, folks know us for our frogs, but it all started when a trio of Parisians, Jacques Weil and his brothers, began a profitable export business, shipping our hoppy residents to restaurants across the country. And then there’s St. Joseph ’s Cemetery, listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! As the only known U.S. cemetery facing north-south. But this is only the beginning . . .
A Tale of Three Cities:
Queue Tortue, Pouppeville and Rayne
1852 Queue Tortue, Township 9 South Range 2 East, established as a voting precinct in St. Landry Parish
Prior to 1854 Jules Poupeville, a French native, set up his residence and a store on public land.
1855 The November election counts the voter turnout at 72 persons. Women, of course, did not vote.
1875 Father Joseph Anthonioz, a Jesuit priest, purchases a large tract of land in the southwest quarter of what is colloquially called poupeville.
1877 Church building, erected by Jesuits, is completed.
1878 October 23, the post office is re-established northeast of the Queue Tortue settlement, closer to the church. The United States Post Office officially spells the name as Pouppeville, a village with a population of 150.
1880 The main line of the Louisiana Western Railroad nears completion. Pouppeville is by-passed and the settlement is moved farther north to meet the railway. 1882 Father Anthonioz raises the church and hauls the building to the new village.
1883 The town of Rayne is incorporated, with J.D. Bernard serving as the first mayor.
Before there was Rayne . . .
Romance . . . violent vigilantes . . . a settlement on the move. These phrases establish the drama that played itself out in the mid-1800’s, when what is now Rayne was still part of St. Landry Parish, before the coming of the railroad, before the establishment of Acadia Parish and before anyone even spoke the name Poupeville. First came Township 9 South Range East located along the banks of Bayou Queue de Tortue (literally, “line of turtles”). The small settlement, eventually named Queue de Tortue for the bayou along which it was located, was the setting for the humble beginnings of Rayne , Louisiana , a town rich in Cajun heritage and just hopping with frogs!
Bayou Queue de Tortue divides Acadia Parish and Vermilion Parish in the south and Acadia Parish and Lafayette Parish in the east. Between what is now Rayne and its east neighboring community, Duson, the bayou turns into little more than a coulee or drainage ditch. At the time, however, Acadia Parish had yet to be divided from preexisting St. Landry Parish. Along the banks of the bayou, J. Damonville Bernard established a store, which also served as a tax-collection point and a voting precinct. In 1855, 72 people voted at the Queue Tortue poll. By 1863, there were two polls for Queue Tortue; one at Onezine Trahan, fils and the other at J. Damonville Bernard’s store.
Queue Tortue becomes Poupeville
While many people were going to Queue Tortue for the life of pain perdu, others were traveling to the bayou settlement to visit the general store of merchant Jules Poupeville. The expression, “Je vais au magazine de Poupeville” (I am going to Poupeville’s store) brought the name Poupeville into prominence. Eventually, it became synonymous with Queue Tortue. Jules Poupeville, a native of France , was one of the settlements original merchants. He moved from France to Louisiana at an undetermined time, setting up his residence and a store on public land. In 1854, he sold movables on the property to Jean Remy Vion, including two houses (one occupied as the store and the other as a residence.) In 1872, Father Joseph Anthonioz was put in charge of the settlement of Queue Tortue. In 1875, Father Anthonioz bought 162.25 acres of land from the U.S. Government and a church was erected by the Jesuits and completed in 1877. The post office was re-established near the church in 1878. The United States Post Office officially named the station Pouppeville, a corruption of the spelling the merchant’s name (Poupeville) that had been formerly used to refer to the area.
Another Move, Another Name
In 1880, the main line of the Louisiana Western Railroad neared completion. Pouppeville was by-passed and the settlement was moved farther north to meet the railway. Dr. William H. Cunningham, at the time an employee of the railway company, is considered founder of the new town. The station was named for another railroad employee, B.W.L. Rayne. Three Pouppeville merchants, J.D. Bernard, M. Arenas and Francois Crouchet moved their businesses approximately a mile north to the railroad and the Rayne station.
In 1882, Father Anthonioz raised the church, placed on large wooden wheels and used teams of oxen to haul the building to the new village on a site of land donated by M. Arenas. Finally, in 1883, the town of Rayne was incorporated, with J. D. Bernard serving as the first mayor. Councilmen were B.H. Harmon, A. S. Chappuis, L.R. Deputy, M. Arenas and J.F. Morris. E.C. Fremeaux was the first town clerk and J.O. Bull was the first town marshall. The Frog Capital of the World had leapt upon the United States and Louisiana maps.
In Rayne, we have a lot to croak about!
Frog Capital of the World – In Rayne, frogs captivate our imagination and have gained iconographic stature. Frogs and Rayne have a long history that dates back to the 1880’s, when a gourmet chef named Donat Pucheu started selling, juicy delectable bullfrogs to New Orleans restaurants. Word of Rayne’s frog delicacies spread like wildfire and soon attracted the Weil brothers from France , who started a lucrative business exporting frogs to restaurants. Jacques Weil and his brothers started using “Frog Capital of the World” in their marketing information, once they learned that Sardi’s in New York boasted on their menus of offering frog legs from Rayne , Louisiana , USA , Frog Capital of the World. According to our records, although Jacques Weil did ship to Sardi’s, it was actually restaurants in Weil’s native Paris that first put the slogan “The best frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana, USA, the Frog Capital of the World” on their menus.
The Weil business was soon joined by the Babineaux family’s business, Louisiana Frog Company. Both companies continued to export frogs until the early 1960’s to restaurants and medical universities for research. There is no longer a viable frog export business in Rayne, due to a number of reasons, some of which are the growth of populated areas and the change in field irrigation systems which contributed to the decrease of the area’s frog population. While there are not any businesses left in Rayne that ship frog legs for eating, one business, Martin Chatelain’s Acadian Biological Supply on Hwy 98, still ships frogs for research purposes to high schools, universities, pharmaceutical and medical laboratories.
Frog Festival- The annual Frog Festival, celebrating the city’s role in promoting this unique Louisiana delicacy, is held the second weekend in November. Activities include frog racing and jumping contests, the Lions Club Frog Derby, a queen’s contest, parade, carnival and live music. The first official Rayne Frog Festival was held in September 1973 under the sponsorship of the Rayne Chamber of Commerce. The Rayne Jaycees deserve credit for helping set the Frog Festival in motion by sponsoring a festival the year before that was considered the forerunner of the first official festival. Similarly, tribute should be paid to the Rayne Lions Club, whose members had been promoting the city by staging the Frog Derby races at Crowley ’s International Rice Festival since 1946.
Frogs in Space – In 1970, twenty bullfrogs from Rayne left the Lafayette Airport for a thrilling trip which would eventually take two of the hardiest and best-suited specimens on a five-day orbited flight into outer space. The flight was an important NASA research project to aid in determining the effect of prolonged weightlessness on pilots and astronauts for the future. Frogs were chosen as space flight specimens because the ear system of the frog is similar to that in man; it’s size permits small packaging for space flight; and it is amphibious and therefore capable of surviving in an environment of air while pre-launch surgery is performed and in water during the flight. Rayne’s ‘astrofrogs’ blasted off into space on Monday, November 8, 1970 at 1:00am. The launch and experiments were successful, whereupon the heroic frogs expired after 7 days when the power supply was expended. NASA made no plans to recover the craft and bodies of the frogs, thereby remaining in orbit . . . boldly going where no frog has gone before . . .
RV Park – Rayne is quickly becoming known as “ Cajun Country Camper Convention City ”. The Civic Center and RV facilities host approximately 20 RV rallies each year, being able to accommodate over 700 rigs per event. Louisiana ’s City of Murals – In June 1990, Rayne was designated as “ Louisiana ’s City of Murals ” due to the extensive mural work being done and being planned for the city. This designation is the result of a cooperative effort between the City of Rayne and a group of citizens who formed the Rayne Beautification Board. Professional and amateur artists have painted the walls of buildings in Rayne, as well as the I-10 interchange with approximately 30 colorful murals that depict the local history, culture and of course, whimsical frogs.
Cleanest City Contest – The City of Rayne along with the Rayne Garden Club has consistently won the District’s Cleanest City Contest as well the State Cleanest Contest in our population division. Judges from the Louisiana Garden Club Federation visit Rayne each year to tour and enjoy the efforts of our citizens continued work in keeping Rayne clean.
The Bernard-Bertrand House – The City of Rayne ’s Cultural Center is housed in the first mayor of Rayne’s home, J.D. Bernard. Art exhibits, receptions and special events originate from this cultural hub that was moved from the original sight at the center of town to the Boulevard of Banners to better serve the cultural and historic community.
Historical Markers – History is now less of a mystery in Rayne. Five historical markers, installed along major thoroughfares, are telling the story of Rayne’s unique past. You can learn about the original Pouppeville site, The Bernard-Bertrand House, the Jacques Weil Shipping Company, the Depot Square and St. Joseph ’s Church and Cemetery.
Ripley’s Believe It of Not - After the original church at Pouppeville was moved closer to the Rayne depot, at the current sight of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, a cemetery was laid out to the south of the relocated church. Bucking Christian tradition, the graveyard began with the graves placed in a north-south position rather than the traditional east-west position (the east metaphorically representing the beginning of life with the rising of the sun and the west metaphorically representing the ending of life with the setting of the sun). Perhaps the gravedigger did not have a compass! Whatever the case, the most commonly accepted version of what happened is that the graves were mislaid and before the mistake was discovered, too many people had been buried; the expense of reburials (not to mention the effect it would have had on the grieving families) was too great a cost. The citizens allowed the cemetery to remain as it had originally been placed, albeit at the expense of being a rarity in the civilized Western world. Such an oddity caught the attention of Robert Ripley, who included the St. Joseph ’s Cemetery in his famous newspaper cartoon early in the century. Only recently has the graveyard again been run as an attraction in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” and people come from around the world to see the only cemetery in the Judeo-Christian world that faces north-south rather than east-west. A copy of the Ripley article is on display in the lobby of the Rayne Chamber office.
Germanfest – The annual Roberts Cove Germanfest is another especially noteworthy even held nearby the first weekend in October at St. Leo’s Catholic Church, just 3 miles north of Rayne. The festival offers homemade German food, German bands, German folklore exhibits at the Germanfest Museum , German folk dancing and crafts.
Rayne Facts -- Rayne is located in Acadia Parish along Interstate 10 near Vermilion Bay and the Gulf of Mexico . Rayne is part of the Lafayette , Louisiana metro area. The population of Rayne is approximately 8,000 people. The approximate number of families in Rayne is 3,375. Rayne is positioned 30.23 degrees north of the equator and 92.26 degrees west of the prime meridian.
If you would like more information on Rayne, contact the Rayne Chamber office at (337) 334-2332