Crowley: Where Life is Rice & Easy

A wonderful blend of the past and the present where life is rice and easy

At the crossroads of LA 13 and U.S. Highway 90 lies the city of Crowley. It was founded by C.C. and W.W. Duson back in 1886. At just 137 years old, Crowley is practically a teenager compared to other cities in the state. But what a ride it’s been!

Crowley is a railroad town. It was named after Pat Crowley who was the railroad owner who brought the depot to the land owned by the Duson brothers. The town was a planned community. The streets and properties were plotted out and developed. Unlike many Louisiana towns, the layout is a grid using numbered and lettered streets with the courthouse circle being the center.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rice is the bedrock of the region’s celebrated Cajun cuisine and no other Louisiana community is as intimately tied to the crop as Crowley. The shallow ponds and level prairies surrounding the city produce lots of crawfish too, but it was the turn-of-the-century rice mills that gave Crowley its identity and made possible today’s impressive collection of historic structures.

Victorian hone in Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its district lined with oaks and ornate Victorian homes, downtown Crowley is part of the state’s Main Street Program. Many historic buildings still play prominent roles in the city’s life. One such example is Miller Stadium, a 1940s-era ballpark and the Grand Opera House of the South that first opened in 1901 and was recently revived as an elegant space for world-class performers. Visitors can relive regional music history at the J.D. Miller Recording Studio Museum downtown or get a taste of prairie life at the Crystal Rice Heritage Farm.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Opera House of the South

One of the most unique second-story opera houses still standing, the Grand Opera House of the South is a beautifully restored historic theater that hosts shows and events. Built in 1901 by David E. Lyons, a livery stable owner and deputy sheriff, the Grand, as it was named then, was referred to by the Daily Signal as a beautiful little playhouse.

Costing a mere $18,000 to build, Mr. Lyons carefully constructed his masterpiece using virgin Louisiana cypress, pine, and oak. The Grand Opera House of the South featured everything from musical performances to theatrical presentations with figures from Clark Gable, Huey Long, and Babe Ruth to opera singer Enrico Caruso and Madame de Vilchez-Bisset of the Paris Opera gracing its stage.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As for why The Grand Opera House lured so many A-list performers to its stage in its early years, consider Crowley’s location, positioned halfway between New Orleans and Houston. It was a convenient stopover point along the rail line where performers could spend a night or two.

The Grand Opera House of the South was more than a performance venue, too. On the first floor there was a saloon, café, mortuary, and a pool hall. Until the opera house closed its doors in 1939—the victim of changing times and the advent of modern movie theaters—it was a thriving part of Crowley’s downtown.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Restored in 2004 and reopened in 2008, the revived auditorium seats up to 400 guests and offers a schedule of performances that’s guaranteed to entertain. One hour tours are offered by appointment only ($10 per person/minimum of 3 guests/$30).

The Grand Opera House is one of more than 200 Crowley structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Other buildings of historic interest include the Houssaye House (1887), the Egan Hotel (1914) and the Blue Rose Museum (1848).

Crowley Motor Co. in Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crowley Motor Co.

Next door to the opera house, the Crowley City Hall, housed inside a restored 1920 Ford Motor Company building has been restored and features a museum on the city’s history. All are worth checking out when visiting Crowley.

The Crowley City Hall, Historic Ford Building is comprised of four interesting museums—Rice Iterpretive Center, the History of Crowley, J.D.Miller Music Recording Studio, and Ford Automotive Museum. Built in 1920 at the cost of $40,000 the Crowley Motor Co. was the city’s Ford Motor Model T dealership. Designed by an architect for the Ford Motor Co, it was one of 1,000 similar Ford dealerships constructed in the U.S. Admission is free to the museums.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kelly’s Landing Agricultural Museum & Cajun Prairie Farm

Explore the agricultural importance of the area with Kelly’s Landing Agricultural Museum & Cajun Prairie Farm. Tour a working farm on the Cajun Prairie, learn how crawfish and rice are farmed, view Kelly’s extensive collection of antique toys and equipment, and take part in an AgiTour.

Rice and crawfish farming © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kelly started his John Deere collection in 1989. Visitors frequently ask Kelly, “How many toys do you have?” To which Kelly responds, 1837, give or take. But, the truth is that no one’s ever counted and the collection grows too rapidly to try. The real John Deere enthusiasts and farming fanatics will recognize 1837 as being the date that John Deere invented his first successful steel plow.

The collection at Kelly’s Landing goes beyond John Deere. Kelly has also acquired an array of Massey Ferguson, Case, Moline, and Oliver toys, as well as model planes.

Rice and crawfish farming © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

AgiTours include:

  • Crawfish Pond Tours: Learn how crawfish are farmed at the only working agritourism destination in the parish, possibly in all of Acadiana
  • Rice Field Tours: Learn how Acadia Parish’s #1 crop is produced; from field flooding to harvesting, Kelly covers it all
Crawfish trap © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal Rice Heritage Farm

The Crystal Rice Heritage Farm is the historic location in Crowley where Sol Wright (full name Salmon Lusk Wright) invented the Blue Rose variety of rice which changed the rice industry—and the world—for the better. The rice varieties Sol bred successfully are the basis for the strong, disease-resistant American rice seed being used today.

In 1890, Sol Wright purchased 320 acres of land 5 miles south of Crowley. He made the move from the Midwest to a tract of land down south that would later become Crystal Rice Plantation. Since he was already a successful wheat farmer getting to know the rice field was easy. He soon found out that the imported seed from Japan and Honduras was not well suited for the area.

Rice and crawfish farming © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sol’s next challenge was to produce seed rice that would offer a better yeild in the field and be hardy enough to withstand the milling process. He was on a mission to turn around a struggling industry. Using natural selection and cross-pollination he labored for 12 long seasons with patience and determination.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At last, in 1912 his hard work paid off. Laying before him in his study were the grains of crystal rice he had sought to achieve.  Sol went on to develope new varieties in long, medium, and short grain rice. News spread quickly and soon Sol’s seed rice varieties were being used in 70 to 80 percent of the United States. Some say that Sol Wright saved the rice industry.

The Crystal Rice Heritage Farm is also the location of the Blue Rose Rice Museum, home to many relics of the Acadian era and other pieces of history including some from Abraham Lincoln. The Blue Rose Rice Museum is a National Historical Landmark located in Crowley adjacent to the Wright Group’s manufacturing facility.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crowley Rice Arena

The Crowley Rice Arena hosts seasonal events and activities including rodeos, youth 4-H and FFA live-stock shows, tractor pulls, barrel racing, cutting horse shows, timed events, youth and LRCA rodeos. Forty RV hook-ups sites are available for rent whether you are attending a function or just passing through and need a place to overnight. 

Victorian home in Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

International Rice Festival

Plan a visit for the International Rice Festival (86th annual; October 19-22, 2023) and stay to explore the area. The International Rice Festival, held annually every third full weekend in October, is one of Louisiana’s oldest and largest agricultural festivals.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reggie’s Downtown

Dine and drink at Reggie’s Downtown, a restaurant and microbrewery in Crowley’s historical, main street, and culture district. All of their beers contain Crowley Rice and other locally sourced ingredients which is why their beer is so tasty.

Specialty beers include:

  • Mermentau: This is where it all began. Their German Hefe Weisen Dunkel or Dark Wheat lagered beer is named after the Mermentau River. Color and complexity with a light smooth finish.
  • Atchafalaya Amber: A crisp lager with a hint of caramel for a smooth taste. 
  • Vaux Sur Sure: Belgian style ale with a hint of citrus for a light flavor. This beer is named after Crowley’s twin city Vaux Sur Sure, Belgium.
  • The Standard: Pilsner with heavy Rice elements, lagered. Named after Standard Mill Road where Crowley had 16 Rice Mills in its peak.
Crawfish traps © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fezzo’s Seafood Steakhouse & Oyster Bar 

Fezzo’s Seafood Steakhouse & Oyster Bar cooks up a large menu of authentic Cajun food in the Cajun tradition in a family dining atmosphere. Something for everyone: steaks, seafood, pasta, po-boys, salads, and more.

Worth Pondering…

Jambalaya (On the Bayou)

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954