MAMOU — Va lerie Cahill hails from Old Jefferson in suburban New Orleans, so buying a hotel in Mamou might seem like a strange purchase for a girl from the big city.
Cahill is a part of the group Stella Lea LLC, which purchased Hotel Cazan in the heart of Mamou and opened the circa-1911 establishment in February. It’s attracting tourists and ghost hunters, and Cahill hopes it also will draw businesses for meetings and people looking for a unique place to hold weddings or other special events.
Even though she’s a newcomer to the sleepy town, her New Orleans accent noticeable in the heart of Cajun country, Cahill is as passionate about the community as she is her new venture.
She notes that people from all over the world come to Mamou for a taste of Cajun culture, and 40 percent of the parish self-identifies themselves as French speakers.
“There’s never been a town — at least that I’ve seen — where half the town has been in a documentary,” Cahill said.
Hotel Cazan was originally a bank, and its massive brick walls remain from its original construction. In the 1950s, Frank Cazan Fontenot turned the building into a hotel and expanded the property.
The hotel contains a 1950s-era cafe with red vinyl chairs and a soda fountain counter, a mahogany bar handcrafted by locals and terrazzo floors sporting a dramatic C for Cazan in its center.
“(Cazan Fontenot) was a colorful politician who had a team of politicians with him,” said Camille Fontenot, executive director of Evangeline Parish tourism. “I think that hotel heard and saw a lot of interesting people.”
The building at Sixth and Main streets was renovated by the previous owners and designated a historic building in 2012.
Cahill claims to have only tweaked the three–story hotel, which offers 17 guest rooms and a penthouse. It also rents out the bar and cafe for special events.
“What we did was come in and refresh,” she said.
Even though Cahill has been accommodating visitors since Mardi Gras, their opening has been quiet as they sort through issues that come with trying to bringing a few modern amenities to a historic old structure.
There’s no television or phones in the rooms, for instance, and water takes a few minutes to warm up.
But that hasn’t kept Cahill from becoming immersed in the community.
She’s organized a “Mamou Pyrate Week,” shuttled visitors to Chico State Park to witness Grammy Award-winning Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys at “Le Grand Hoorah” and invited Martha Madden, former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, to speak about Mamou’s poor water quality.
She’s hoping to start a p é tanque team, a game of boule popular in France, and bring in a theatrical group from New Orleans to perform.
In early April, the Paranormal Society of Hammond visited in the hopes of catching visitors who, they believe, may have refused to check out when they were supposed to.
The team returned home with 72 hours of film to review, and one member reported seeing a person in the hallway that disappeared into a wall while another reported hearing a child’s voice.
“(The child) was so clear that I yelled out,” said paranormal investigator Dylan Esteve.
There’s also the ethereal man at the top of the stairs who stands with his arms crossed, wearing a thick belt. It’s an apparition many locals believe to be Cazan Fontenot, Cahill said.
“The conception is that he’s still here,” she said. “People were telling me separate stuff but all had the same story.”
Outside of tourists and ghost hunters, Cahill hopes to attract businesses wanting to hold meetings in the historic bar or locals filling up the hotel for weddings. There’s green space out back for special-event tents.
“You can have the most elegant wedding you can dream of in that bar,” said General Manager Dianne Perrillioux. “The hotel’s the perfect size for a destination wedding. You can basically take over the hotel and feel at home. Since you know everyone, you can run around in your jammies.”
Cahill considers the little Cajun town to be the “belt buckle of Louisiana,” a quick drive from Houston, New Orleans and Shreveport, and sees potential even if it is a bit off the beaten path.
“There is a misconception that we’re in the middle of nowhere,” Cahill said. “If you had an office in New Orleans and an office in Houston, why not meet in the middle?”