In north-central Louisiana, the historic city of Natchitoches
sits along the banks of the Cane River Lake.
The oldest city in Louisiana, its history includes more than 300 years as a crossroads and a respite, welcoming visitors to this region. Today, Interstate 49 connects with I-20 to the north in Shreveport and I-10 in Lafayette to the south. Natchez, Mississippi, to the east and Lufkin, Texas, to the west are both less than a three hour’s drive.
It’s been welcoming visitors for more than 300 years and today’s travelers learn of Natchitoches’ evolution through tremendous changes–from the course of a river to the traditions on Southern plantations and more. While paying homage to the past, the vibrancy of this city and region attracts many to explore both the stories of yesterday and the treasures of today.
The historic downtown district sits on the banks of the Cane River Lake. Founded by the French in 1714 as an outpost on the (then) Red River, a replica of the original fort offers an excellent overview of early life here. The grounds of Fort St. Jean Baptiste
(155 Rue Jefferson, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-357-3101) include a museum and replica fort and are brought to life by historians and period-dressed interpreters.
318-357-2492). While the facility’s collection of portraits and memorabilia celebrate the achievements of legendary Louisiana athletes and sports figures, the museum also explores the evolution of unique cultural traditions of the state, from early native-American civilizations to the present.
Natchitoches’ 33-block National Historic Landmark District, one of only three such districts in Louisiana, is anchored by Front Street, paved with weathered brick and lined with wrought iron-laced buildings, stately live oaks, magnolia trees, shops and restaurants. The downtown businesses are a testament to the local spirit, as they represent independent entrepreneurs who call this home. Outstanding among them is Kaffie-Fredericks General Mercantile
(758 Front Street, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-352-2525) the oldest general store in Louisiana, opened in 1863. It is a microcosm of past and present and a regional landmark.
The city itself is within the Cane River National Heritage Area, a region known for “historic landscapes, Creole architecture and multi-cultural legacy.” It remains home to a unique blend of cultures and includes the Cane River Creole National Historical Park
(4386 Highway 494, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71456; 318-352-0383, ext. 316). This national treasure is comprised of Oakland Plantation, considered the most complete Creole plantation in the United States, and the outbuildings at Magnolia Plantation. Magnolia's barn houses the oldest wood screw cotton press in its original location in the United States. Buildings, equipment and personal items on display reveal much about the lives of early planters and the slaves who worked the land and present a complete picture of the plantation economy.
Nearby, Melrose Plantation
(3499 LA-119, Melrose, Louisiana 71452; 318-379-0055) presents another amazing story, not only of plantation life, but of folk art, as well. It was built by the family of Marie Therese Coincoin, who was born to slaves and eventually attained her freedom. This Creole plantation was also home to renowned folk artist Clementine Hunter, who began life as a field hand and cook here. Her paintings can be seen in buildings throughout the site as well as in museums across the country and abroad.
Where to eat
Cane River Commissary
(4191 Highway 494, Natchez, Louisiana 71456; 318-238-6360) is a unique dining experience in the Cane River area south of Natchitoches. The restaurant, in an old commissary building, offers Creole favorites and is loved for its monthly first Saturday Zydeco Brunch.
Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen
(622 Second Street, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-352-3363) is located in the Landmark Historic District of downtown Natchitoches and is said to be “home” to the legendary Louisiana Meat Pie. The recipes have been handed down through generations and illustrate the family's deep Southern roots.
(5948 Hwy. 1 Bypass, Natchitoches, Louisiana 71457; 318-228-8056) Mariner’s restaurant sits on beautiful Sibley Lake and features one of the most breathtaking sunsets in Louisiana. The menu features seafood specialties along with casual favorites in an outstanding setting.