A Brief History of Morgan City

Morgan City’s rich history centers around the Atchafalaya, the Attakapas Indian word for “long river.” The 135-mile river made this geographic region a desirable place to live. Today, Morgan City encompasses more than 12,000 residents but retains a quaint feel rooted in family, faith, and tradition. 

The 1800s: a strategic riverside stronghold

Early surveyors appointed by U.S. Secretary of War John Calhoun called the region “Tiger Island” after spotting an unknown cat here. The attention attracted Kentucky planter and surgeon Walter Brashear who was renowned for performing the first successful hip-joint amputation. He subdivided a sugar cane plantation and started the town of Brashear, which formally incorporated in 1860.

The strategic location next to a major waterway put the town of Brashear on the map during the Civil War (1861-1865). Federal troops occupied the land for three years, plotting the destruction of the Avery Island salt mines, cutting off rebel supply roads from Texas, and annihilating the Confederate resistance in southwest Louisiana. You can still see the remains of the Union-held Fort Star– where they captured 700 enemy combatants, with a meager three casualties and 18 injuries.

After the war, steamship and railroad baron Charles Morgan dredged the Atchafalaya Bay to create a port and transformed the town of Brashear into an epicenter of trade for animal fur, cypress timber boats, and seafood. The town was renamed Morgan City in his honor. With business booming, iconic structures like Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the Norman-Schreier House, and Turn-of-the-Century House were built around this time.

The 1900s: a hotbed of industry and seafood

By 1910, Morgan City boasted several movie theaters. The filming of the first Tarzan movie, Tarzan of the Apes starring Elmo Lincoln in 1917, showcased the Atchafalaya Basin’s jungle-like landscape with mossy trees and untamed riverbanks. The 800,000 acres of the basin covers one-third of Louisiana and represents the largest overflow swamp in America. Part of the sequel, The Romance of Tarzan was filmed here that same year.

During the First World War, the city earned a government contract to build warships, supplying the area with hundreds of jobs and significant prosperity. The population reached 6,000 in 1925.

The demand for cypress plummeted along with the Stock Market crash, and the area’s oyster beds had dried up, but all was not lost. By 1937, Morgan City developed a leading reputation as the “jumbo shrimp capital of the world.” The petroleum industry again put the city in the national spotlight when Kerr-McGee produced the first offshore oil rig off the coast. These two industries led to explosions in profit and population.

The region experienced significant flooding during Hurricane Juan in 1985 and more widespread damage when Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992. Since then, the “Great Wall” flood barrier has been constructed to protect the land from intrusions by sea, and the community has played an instrumental role in preserving historic sites. Morgan City’s “Main Street Program” to create a nine-block historic district in 1997 has since expanded to include 19 blocks.

The 2000s: a quaint town for families

Today, the quaint town just south of I-10 represents a “gumbo” of French, German, Italian, Spanish, Native, and African American cultures. Catholicism is strongly rooted in the local churches here. It’s a quiet place to own a home, with a handful of family-friendly activities– from bowling and moviegoing to mini-golfing and dining out– and the schools are above-average and the crime rate is relatively low.

Hollywood had taken little interest in Morgan City since the filming of Thunder Bay in the 1950s, but a motion picture renaissance in the 2000s brought film crews for All the King’s Men, Deja-Vu, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Tourist draws include the International Petroleum Museum and the Swamp Gardens & Wildlife Zoo. Every Labor Day weekend, downtown is home to the Shrimp & Petroleum Festival, a five-day celebration, which includes a traditional “blessing of the fleet” and mass in the park, children’s activities, a street parade, 5K run/walks, concerts, a food court, drilling rig tours, balls, carnival rides, and fireworks. 

We hope you enjoyed this brief history. While it is undoubtedly a wonderful and safe place to live, accidents do sometimes happen. Feel free to call Bart Bernard Injury Lawyers. We are proud to serve more than 12,000 residents in Morgan City, Louisiana, out of nearby Lafayette– an hour northwest via Highway 90. We help residents and tourists injured in auto accidents, slip or trip and falls, dog bites, medical mishaps, and product liability cases. If you were hurt through little to no fault of your own, Click Bart First, Call Bart First™. `   

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