Terrebonne Parish (French: Paroisse Terrebonne) is a parish located in the U.S. state of Louisiana. The parish seat is Houma. Its population was 111,860 (as of 2010). It is the second largest parish in Louisiana in terms of land area.
Terrebonne is represented in the Louisiana House of Representatives by the Republican businessman Gordon Dove of Houma. Dove's seat was previously held by Hunt Downer, a former Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives.
One of the most southern of all Louisiana parishes, Terrebonne Parish was established on March 22, 1822, from the southern part of Lafourche Interior, bordering on the Gulf of Mexico. Covering an area of 2100 square miles, it is the second-largest parish in the state. The early French settlers named the parish for the fertility of its soils: 'terre bonne means "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. Government officials believed that the site of Houma, at the convergence of six bayous, would provide better access for commerce and development in Terrebonne Parish. It was near a former settlement of the Houma Tribe. Williamsburg was at the junction of two: Bayou Cane and Bayou Terrebonne.
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 Houma people. The native word houma means red, and the tribe's war emblem was the crawfish. Historians say the Houma were related to the Muskogean-speaking Choctaw, and migrated into the area from Mississippi and Alabama. They first settled near Baton Rouge. After many conflicts with other Indian tribes, losing a war to the Tunica in 1706, and to escape the encroachment of the white man, the Houma 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 1700s and 1800s. Evidence of the Houma Tribe can still be found in this area today.
Most of the settlers 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 settlers into the area in 1760 were the exiled French colonists from Acadia (modern Nova Scotia). They became known as "Cajuns" (Acadians) after being expelled by the English in 1755 during the Seven Years' War. Many 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 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 plantations for sugar cane, the harvesting of 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 was sold in 1979, dismantled and shipped to Guatemala where it was reassembled. It is still in use today.
Settlers had canals 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. The construction of the Intracoastal Waterway in 1923 led to the abandonment of the canals. The Intracoastal was later extended to Lafourche Parish and to Bayou Lafourche, increasing Houma's importance as a portal city.
During World War II, Houma's location caused it to be selected for the establishment of a Lighter Than Air Blimp Naval Station, which operated from May 1943 to September 1944. The Navy base, which used blimp squadrons to scan the coastline for enemy vessels, was one of only two blimp stations operating on the Gulf Coast.
Terrebonne has depended on natural resources: 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 1970s, 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 1980s 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%.
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. Terrebonne parish still accounts for over 20% of Louisiana's seafood production. In addition, the medical industry is growing in the area. Tourism, too, is a popular source of commerce for, in, and around Houma. The addition of Houma's new Civic Center promises to attract more entertainment and convention revenue to the city.
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.
The parish has been run by the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government since it absorbed the powers of the City of Houma. The parish is led by President Michel Claudet, elected in 2007.