January, 2012. Crowley, Louisiana – Rice Capital of America

Posted on January 13, 2012

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Crowley claims to be the Rice Capital of America, and about this there can be little doubt.

Miles and miles and acres and acres of rice fields spread out as far as the eye can see, here in the heart of the Cajun Prairie in Acadia Parish.  Once harvested, all this rice has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is Crowley.

A parade of towering rice mills stand shoulder to shoulder for at least one-half mile along Mill Street, adjacent to the railroad tracks.  According to a promotional brochure, more rice is milled in Crowley than in any other state in America.

The importance of rice in Crowley shows up everywhere.  There’s rice farm tours, the Rice Interpretive Center, the LSU Rice Research Station and Rice Paradise Casino.

There are beautiful, elegant homes; an opera house, a ballroom and the Rice Theatre, all funded in one way or another with rice.

Or, in some cases, funded with music, as you’ll learn in a minute.

One non-rice related spot of interest was the Crowley Motor Car Company building, known locally as the Ford Building. It was designed by a Ford Motor Company architect and built in 1920 as a Model T dealership.

As Michiganders, we thought we knew pretty much all there was to know about Henry Ford and Ford’s automotive history, but we learned something from taking a tour of the building.

Crowley Motor Car Company

To save on the considerable cost of shipping his automobiles by rail from Michigan to southern Louisiana, Henry Ford had the fenders and tires removed from all cars headed for Crowley.  By doing this, he could up-end the cars on their bumpers, allowing more of them to be packed into each box car.

Therefore, the Crowley Motor Car Company building was designed with a large freight elevator in the center.  Newly-arrived automobiles were loaded on the elevator and hoisted to the second floor, where their fenders and tires were re-attached, then lowered back to ground level, ready for sale.

Sometimes parts and pieces would inevitably have to be returned to Detroit from Crowley. Always looking to save a dime, Henry Ford demanded such returns be handled in a particular way.  All shipping crates had to be built from Cyprus wood measuring a specific length, width and thickness.  All padding of parts had to be done with clean moss.

Once a Crowley shipping container reached Detroit, the crate was carefully disassembled, the wood milled and turned into steering wheels or floorboards.  The moss?  It was re-cycled as stuffing for seat cushions.

Talk about “green” manufacturing.

Now, Crowley is located in Cajun country, so obviously has a musical connection.

Sometime in the 1950’s, the Crowley Motor Car Company building was purchased by J. D. Miller for use as a recording studio.

Miller was a Cajun song writer and musician. After his marriage in the mid-1940’s, he gave up playing in bands and started a career recording Cajun musicians, swamp pop artists and swamp blues artists.

During the 1950’s, he also gave numerous Black musicians their only recording opportunities – remember, this was the 50’s in the South.

After his death in 1996, Miller’s son took over the recording business, relocating it to another building in town, and making the studio the longest continuously operating recording studio in the state.

The Miller family sold the Crowley Motor Car Company to the city in 2000, and partially funded its restoration.  The building today contains City Hall, a rice and local history museum, and a museum honoring J. D. Miller’s musical and recording career.

Though the years, the Millers have left their mark on Crowley, supporting many civic improvements and programs.   It is thanks to the mills and the Millers that Crowley is one of those under-the-radar little gems that make traveling so much fun.

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