Carencro is a small city in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, United States. It is a suburb of the nearby city of Lafayette. The population was 6,120 at the 2000 census. Its name comes from the Louisiana Creole word for buzzard: the spot was one where large flocks of buzzards roosted in the bald cypress trees. The name means "carrion crow."
Many senior Carencro natives attest that the town's name originates from an unspecified episode of dialogue before the American Civil War. According to this local legend, native Americans told Vermillionville settlers that a large number of "carrion crows" had settled around the Vermillion River between Lafayette, Louisiana and Opelousas, Louisiana to feast on the large carcass of a stranded whale or unusual fish die-off. This legend comes from a mastodon, whose bones were collected by a French naturalist shortly afterward and shipped to the Musee du Jardin des Planteurs of Paris, but were unfortunately wrecked and lost at sea. The only relic of the mastodon was a femur or leg bone that was kept by the first Guilbeau and used as a pestle to bruise indigo which was then cultivated in the Attakapas country. Buzzards, in uncountable numbers, flocked to the spot to feed on the mastodon's flesh. The Indians then living in the country, unable to pronounce carrion crows, termed the birds carecros; and from the spot where the mastodon died, the river takes the name of Carencro Bayou.
The "carrion crow" (vulture) nomenclature eventually became the town's name according to this local legend. Although Carencro's current town center lies well west of the Vermillion river, this legend has permanence within the community.
In a letter written on April 23, 1802, Martin Duralde, a former commandant of the Opelousas post, related the legend as it had come down from an Attakapas Indian. Duralde wrote: "Many years before the discovery of the elephant in the bayou called Carancro (sic) an Attakapas savage had informed a man who is at present in my service in the capacity of cow-herd that the ancestors of his nation transmitted (the story) to their descendants that a beast of enormous size had perished either in this bayou or in one of the two water courses a short distance from it without their being able to indicate the true place, the antiquity of the event having without doubt made them forget it."
Some people think that the name comes from the Spanish carnero, meaning "bone pile." This idea also comes from the mastodon legend, and the idea that the buzzards left nothing but a pile of white bones after they had picked the mastodon clean.
There is yet another theory, that the place is named for the carencro tete rouge, a red-headed buzzard described in 1774 by Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz and referred to by other European explorers as early as 1699. Du Pratz described the bird as having black plumage and a head covered with red flesh. He said the Spanish government protected the birds, "for as they do not use the whole carcass of the buffaloes which (the Spaniards) kill, those birds eat what they leave, which otherwise, by rotting on the ground, would ... infect the air."
In 1769, Juan Kelly and Eduardo Nugent toured the area for the government and reported to O'Reilly that "the inhabitants maintain everything imaginable in the way of livestock, such as cows, horses and sheep." A Frenchman named Lyonnet, visiting in 1793, found thousands of cattle on the Attakapas and Opelousas prairies.
Jean and Marin Mouton were among the early settlers on Bayou Carencro. Other early settlers in the Carencro area were Charles Peck, Traveille Bernard, Rosamond Breaux, Ovignar Arceneaux, and the Babineaux family. An 1803 census of' the Carencro area listed family names including Arceneaux, Babineaux, Benoit, Bernard, Breaux, Carmouche, Caruthers, Comeaux, Cormier, Guilbeaux, Hébert, Holway, LeBlanc, Melançon, Mire, Mouton, Pierre, Prejean, Rogers, St. Julien, Savoie, and Thibodeaux.
According to Roger Baudier's history of the Catholic Church in Louisiana, the Carencro area was first served from Grand Coteau, Louisiana, later from Vermilionville, and then from Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. St. Peter Parish was established there in 1874 and Father Andre Marie Guillot was sent as its first pastor. The church was at first called St. Pierre au Carencro, named for Pierre Cormier, who donated land for the first church. Before a church was established at Carencro, services were held in the Carmouche Blacksmith Shop. Father Guillot died of yellow fever while, serving in Carencro and is buried in the church cemetery.
According to Baudier, "(Father Guillot's) successor was Father J.F Suriray. Trouble with the parishioners arose and Father Suriray was threatened by the people. Some three years after his coming to Carencro, he was obliged to leave. Some time after, the church was destroyed by fire and the parish remained without a pastor until 1883." A new church was built in 1893, but was destroyed by a tornado before it was ever used. Another church was built, and it burned in 1904. The current church was built in 1906 under the administration of Father F.J. Grimeaux, who served the parish for some 25 years. A young carpenter named Hector Connolly worked for $2.50 a day to build the 110-foot steeple. Father Grimeaux, in addition to serving as pastor, organized and played clarinet in the Carencro Brass Band.
The Church of the Assumption was completed in 1925 to serve a black congregation. The Holy Ghost Fathers accepted an invitation to direct the parish and sent Father Joseph Dolan as the first pastor.
About the turn of the century, Father J.B. Laforet sold three lots to Mother St. Patrick of the Sisters of Mount Carmel, who opened St. Ann's School of Carencro, in 1897.
In 1874, what was probably the first school in Carencro, was opened on the Auguste Melchior farm. Melchior, a Frenchman who had come here from New Orleans, was named director of the Lafayette Parish educational system about 1870. His wife, Viviana, taught at the Carencro school.
In 1889, Carencro had two private schools. Charles Heichelheim, a German, ran a school for boys, and Edmond Villére operated one for both boys and girls. That year, the first public school was built in Carencro, and a second story was added to it 10 years later. The school became an approved high school about 1917.
On September 6, the newspaper gave this account: "The little village of St. Pierre, at Carencro, born only a short time ago, tends to stretch itself in an astonishing fashion with numbers of buildings where all kinds of trades and professions are prospering there. Many beautiful stores, well assorted with that which meets the needs of the inhabitants, are established there since a short time ago and we note, among others, the fine establishment of Mr. Ignace Bernard near the church."
In 1891, historian William Henry Perrin suggested that "there is no prettier site for a town (than Carencro) nor one with more solid advantages than comprised in this place. "
Carencro's St. Peter's Catholic Church and cemetery is an artistic centerpiece of the town. Carencro notables such as former postmaster William J. Broussard and former lumberyard owner Oliver Richard are buried in this cemetery. Carencro's cemetery is above ground, unlike low-lying areas to the east in the Atchafalaya basin and areas below Baton Rouge, which eschew the ground level graves of Lafayette (as well as points west and north) for mausoleums.
St. Peter's Catholic Church has an ornate cypress-carved entrance, altar and narthex, as well as intricate pew end caps, once sold to parishioners to raise money for the church. These unique end caps were directed by Catholic Frs. Wassler and Edwards. (Both Deceased)
The City Hall and Fire Station, designed by local architect Lynn Guidry, is a modern counterpoint to the traditional Catholic church, and can be seen at the southern turn of Church street east of U.S. 182.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.1 square miles (15.7 km²), all of it land.
There were 2,237 households out of which 39.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.4% were married couples living together, 21.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.4% were non-families. 25.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.66 and the average family size was 3.19.
In the city the population was spread out with 30.2% under the age of 18, 9.2% from 18 to 24, 28.5% from 25 to 44, 19.8% from 45 to 64, and 12.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females, there were 88.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 80.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $22,716, and the median income for a family was $27,539. Males had a median income of $27,879 versus $21,496 for females. The per capita income for the city was $11,491. About 24.1% of families and 29.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 42.6% of those under age 18 and 27.1% of those age 65 or over.