Natchitoches has a fairly stable population of about 18,000 located near Interstate 49 in West Central Louisiana. Both the city and the parish are named after the Natchitoches Indian Tribe. Coincidentally, the town of Nacogdoches, Texas is named after the same Indian tribe; the difference is Natchitoches shows the French influence and Nacogdoches reflects the Spanish influence. French settlers came to the area around 1699 and the town was established in 1714. It is considered the oldest settlement in the entire Louisiana Purchase area.
Tourists spend more time in the southern destinations, like New Orleans, Lafayette, and Baton Rouge (which I like too) but Natchitoches is a great place to go too and is less crowded.
This is a reconstructed stockade style fort, built in the methods believed to have been used in the original, but the Northwestern State University college students that roleplay the original barefooted soldiers do a good job of informing visitors about life at the original French settlement. The French fort was established in 1714 to check the expansion of the Spanish territorial claims from the west, but as a matter of practice, in this then remote region of the world, the two empires traded here more than they fought. The solitary and tiiny four pound canon on display on the northwest corner would have provided little defense even in those times. The Indians were mostly only a potential threat to the thirty soldiers that stationed the stockade as they gave their name to the city of Natchitoches. Missionary activity was a prime concern for the French, but willing priests were hard to find, and in any case conversion was much less effective than were Spanish efforts farther west in Texas and elsewhere. Life was very hard for the soldiers, and only the commander's quarters looked comfortable enough to camp for the night. There's a small musem and plenty of park like wetland areas around the restored fort.
Give yourself a short walk in the heat and find out what a working farm looks like today from the old days 100 years ago. It is fairly well maintained by the State which owns and controls the tours. Inside the home is rudimentary, and the outhouses are like they were long time ago.
It was started in late 1700's by land grant to son of Marie Terese, the mother of 14 children and slave to St. Denis, a land barron in his time. They were sold to a guy named Metoyer and he may be the father of all? He freed them and as a result the blacks got land.
In 1898, Miss Cammie Henry-a bit wacky-bought the plantation and eventually converted it into an artist hippy type house of its time. Her art work is famous, but to me needs a lot more work and generally cannot put together smooth strokes.
It is now privately owned and used for tours only.
Named for the huge Magnolias on the main house property, the large main house is still the residence of an elderly descendent of the original family. Tours a done on a personal basis, but the rest of the property has been given over to the National Park, and the out buildings are of some interest. I like the landscape setting of the red brick buildings. At this plantation, the overseer and slave hospital were in the same building. The brick buildings are quite substantial for the slave workers relative to the other plantations. See website for additional historical details. The hotel or tourist office map also provide more details for taking this tour.
The Oakland Plantation is part of the new National Park system of historical plantations in the Natchitoches area. The old house was still under restoration at the time we visited, but we still had a chance to peer inside. The Prudhomme family lives in the area, and a family member lived in the mansion until recently. The main house has been altered considerably since the old plantation days, but still has the authentic character. Presummably future restoration will remove the 1950's era kitchen and the extra walls installed to make more rooms. The outer buildings are more authentic. Several buildings are devoted to livestock and farming activities, and other buildings include the overseer's house, the slave hospital, and various slave homes. See website for more information.
The Cherokee Plantation is still occupied and not yet part of the new plantation national park, but a stop by is worth the photo through the gates. The name is relatively new and refers to the Cherokee roses on the property. Occasionally it's open for tours apparently. It's one of the first plantations found along the Cane River scene route south of Natchitoches.
Along the Cane River scenic route are several plantations, a few of which are open for public tour. Melrose is one of the better ones in asmuch as it has a variety of original architecture found in the area. A large pecan orchard is next to the plantation grounds. More complete description of the plantation is available at the website link below. There is an entrance charge for this plantation. A couple of old African-American share cropper workers I had found along the way claimed to have moved away Melrose when it was turned into a preserve.
We stopped at a grocery and heard the thick Creole accents of the Natchitoches area. I could hardly understand what was said. Then, I noticed the interesting combination of things advertised for sale on the old store front.
The movie set for Steel Magnolias was a historic home that is now a bed & breakfast on Jefferson Street. Besides the chance to see the home as a guest of the inn, it's also possible to visit the house.
Explore this enchanting 33-square block downtown district featuring more than fifty historic homes and buildings, outstanding Louisiana dining, and great shopping.
Check out my TRAVELOGUE for more pictures.
Plantation culture in the Cane River region is reflected in the historic plantation landscapes, structures, and artifacts, as well as the traditional agricultural land use of the region. Initially, tobacco and indigo were important crops in the area; later, they gave way to a cotton economy that dominated much of the region’s history. Today, corn and soybeans are the area’s most common crops. Oaklawn Plantation was built between 1830 and 1840 by Achille Prudhomme, and was restored in the 1990s by Bobby Harling, playwright of “Steel Magnolias” fame.
Check out my TRAVELOGUE for more pictures.
The Louisiana State Museum’s Old Courthouse Museum in Natchitoches has pulled together a comprehensive look at the Louisiana Purchase that showcases not only the rich diversity of our state but of all the unique characteristics of the states within the territory,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, who oversees the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. Of special interest are a number of rare and important Native American artifacts which include Choctaw baskets and ball sticks from Oklahoma, beaded Lakota moccasins from South Dakota, horn spoon and quirt from Nebraska, a Crow cradle board from Montana, and a Meskawki tomahawk and charm bag from Iowa.
Natchitoches Tourist Information Office located in the old town, a lovely house with cast iron grill work galleries overlooking Cane River Lake, reminiscent of the days of the Cotton Kingdom and Natchitoches' role as an early river port. Simply beautiful and romantic!!!
Natchitoches is the original French colony in Louisiana. The thirty-three block historic district in Natchitoches includes more than fifty centuries-old buildings and has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.