At the end of the Natchitoches-Cane River Plantation Tour route is the historic home of Kate Chopin, a favorite American novelist and short story writer among English teachers. She was a feminist before the word was even coined, having been raised in New Orleans, she remained in norther Louisiana after her husband had dies. Her home includes a enthnographic folk museum, and so when it's open it's well worth the visit. Unfortunately, it was closed just after New Years when we stopped by. The old home is worth a view though. See web link for more details.
Update note provided by caneriverdude on Thu Jul 9, 2009:
Tragically the Kate Chopin House burned recently with almost all of the historical artifacts lost.
Outside of Natchitoches you see the very rural side of the Parish.
Natchitoches, the oldest enduring community in the Louisiana Purchase Territory and has the largest collection of Creole architecture in the Mississippi Valley.
I'm familiar with English walnuts from my own childhood in California, so I know a little about Pecans. These are large beautiful trees that drop their leaves in winter, but they are in fact a native American nut contribution and a step up on the nut I know better. In fall, the pecans are shaken off the tree by mechanically and captured in a canvas blanket that surrounds the tree. So, hand picking isn't needed so much although sorting is probably done at local drying facilities. Local poor farm workers that once worked in the cotton fields now pick up a few hours in the pecan orchards. Think about these things the next time you bite into a wonderful piece of pecan pie in a Louisiana restaurant. In our trip, we stop by the roadside and stepped into the pecan orchard to give the dog a walk. These are large and beautiful nut trees that have their origins in this area from the trade between the Spanish and French during at first settlement of Natchitoches. The orchards are planted in broad areas near the bayous as the trees appear to like lots of water. See the website given for more history about the great pecan.
Off the main Cane River road, just south of the Melrose Plantation, is a gravel road that leads eventually to St. Augustine Baptist Church. The church is still active but is part of the historical tour in this area. Outside the church is an old cemetary that includes tombstones dating into the 19th century. Across from the church is a bayou with wildlife. We weren't able to fully research the background of this church, which is apparently Baptist but has a saint's name. See website below for more historical information regarding the African-American in the Catholic and Baptist Churches of the area.
We enjoyed visiting the National Park system plantation homes, but along the way I couldn't resist but stop and talk to an old sharecropper and take a closer look at his house. Sitting on his front porch, I asked a few questions about his house and life. I learned that several of these old guys had been born and raised on one or another plantation house now part of the National Park System, and that work these days comes during the pecan harvest. Cotton is now fully mechanized. These poor families now rent tiny old sharecropper homes that are themselves a gem in terms of a passed lifestyle many of us would just as soon forget. Outside his dogs ran free. There are in this area of the south very few living reminders of the old antebellum south. As I talked to one sixty-one year old fellow, a retired white rancher came on his Honda off-road vehicle and offered the old guy a couple hours of work in the mud. As far as I could tell, the old African-America was alone in life and make a hard living off any spare work he could find. Take the roads through the plantations south of Natchitoches and pull over for a chat. If you have a printer to produce a picture, give a copy. Fortunately, their homes survived Hurricane Katrina rather easily, since wind gusts here only climbed to about 60 mph.
We were able to watch the 78th Annual Christmas Festival this past year, which truly is a sight to see!
I would highly recommend wearing some warm clothes, and heading down to the shore of the river and watch this great light show.
Fill up on a Lasyone's Meat Pie before heading down there!
Plantation Country is south of Natchitoches is an area known as Plantation Country which follows the 35 miles of the beautiful Cane River. In 1994 it was established as the Cane River National Heritage Area and there are numerous historically significant plantations. Many are fine examples of centuries old Creole architecture and a true reflection of a time and culture. See Natchez page.
Bayou Pierre Alligator Park is on Old Bayou Pierre Road off of Hwy 1 North about 5 miles north of Natchitoches. Just turn at the Alligator Park Bus Sign, which is pretty cool. It is one of the best Natchitoches attractions for children. The Alligator Farm has real live alligators that you can see and offers shows several times a day, of feeding alligators. You can view alligators swimming in the ponds, and feeding in their natural habitat.