Natchitoches, Louisiana: Where Learning History is Fun
Natchitoches, Louisiana (pronounced “Nac-Au-Tish”) is the oldest town in the state, celebrating its 300th birthday in 2014. This community offers not only fascinating historical sites, but also a variety of shopping and dining in the charming downtown – all of which make for a perfect holiday.
Fort St. Jean Baptiste was originally built in 1716 by French Canadian Louis Juchereau de St. Denis. At this site today, right on the riverfront, you’ll find a great museum and a replica of the original fort. The interpretive rangers dressed in period clothing offer so much information and insight about life back in the 18th century, and how the French, Spanish and Native American cultures intermingled.
In the commandant’s house, one of the gentlemen dressed as a soldier showed us how they would make lead bullets and load cartridges. It was fascinating! Up the path at the main museum house, we watched an interesting video about St. Denis and his respectful relationship with the Caddo Indians, the significance of the location of the fort, and how the different, often warring cultures would come together and all use the fort as a trading post.
From the fort, we jumped forward a bit in time by visiting some of the cotton plantations of the area. I just adored Melrose Plantation. The story of plantation owner Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer’s long-standing relationship with slave woman Marie Therese Coincoin is truly fascinating, complex and inspiring. This plantation also houses an exhibit of plantation worker Clementine Hunter’s African-American folk art. These beautiful, bright murals allow you to see the realities of life as a slave through Clementine’s unique perspective.
We also visited Oakland Plantation, which is part of the Cane River Creole National Historical Park and on the Isle Brevelle Trail. Unlike many of the plantations that are restored to their original conditions back in the 1800s, the main house reflects almost 200 years of history with decorations, furniture and artifacts from various eras. The bedrooms showcase the stunning furniture of centuries ago, while the kitchen contains the most modern kitchen of the 1950s – a fun glimpse into how the times and the people changed.
Relax and Enjoy the Riverfront
After a day exploring historical sites, you can’t find a more charming spot to unwind than right on the riverfront in the Natchitoches' National Historic Landmark District. Gas lamps dot the brick-paved streets as you walk alongside the water. There are beautiful shops, delightful bed and breakfasts to stay in and lots of restaurants to explore. Be sure to stop by Lasyone's Meat Pie Kitchen for their famous meat pie, a Natchitoches institution.
Natchitoches has a long and fascinating history to explore, which makes for a unique present-day culture. With its beautiful riverfront as your backdrop, Natchitoches is bound to leave you feeling enriched and relaxed.