The Bishop Martin house, which sits across from the church and a block from the courthouse, was built in the 1850s.
A long, long time ago, when people in Louisiana still spoke French and "les américains " were safely occupied fighting the natives in the
foothills of the Appalachians, the city of Natchitoches was founded by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis.

St. Denis's  town, first platted in 1714, served as a trading post with Spanish Mexico and the native Caddoans along the Camino Real, the
original Spanish colonial road. With its location right on the Red River and at the base of the great Red River Raft (a log jam that effectively
dammed the river, which created a large basin suitable for river traffic), the town quickly developed into a thriving farming center.  

Along the Red River surrounding Natchitoches, French men and women traversed the swampy hinterlands of northern Louisiana to build
cotton and tobacco plantations, manned by slaves from the Caribbean. In this prosperous yet isolated environment, a unique blending of  
African-Caribbean, French, Native American, and Spanish cultures gave the area a distinctive flair - what we now simply call "Creole,"
meaning "created."

The term "creole"  came into widespread use after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The original settlers of the area wanted to distinguish
between themselves and the Americans who were coming to settle in their new territory and bringing their industrious and
business-oriented English habits with them.

Those habits almost became a death knell for Natchitoches. The Americans wanted to clear the Red River Raft to make the river navigable
all the way into Arkansas Territory. Captain Henry Shreve of the Army Corps of Engineers was given this task, and the first of many
clearings was completed by 1839. Gradually, the loss of this natural dam forced the river to shift its course, and in a matter of years,
Natchitoches found itself on the banks of an isolated oxbow lake. The river had moved to the east.

Ever resourceful, the citizens continued to use the Cane River as a waterway to the Red River. In the early 20th century, the corps and the
Parish built dams at both ends of the river, and the outlet to the Red River was gone. Today, the Cane River Lake, which follows the  
ancient path of the Red River, runs through Natchitoches's picturesque downtown and ferries boaters and fishermen, but no longer
plantation crops.

Natchitoches continued to thrive well past the Civil War. In 1884, the Northwestern State University was founded to train teachers. Today,
this university is a cultural resource center for the Creole heritage. The railroad entered town late, though. In 1881, the city turned down
the opportunity to station a line because it did well just by relying on river traffic. Finally, at  the turn of the century, the city received the
railroad after all - the Texas & Pacific line, which linked the city via land to New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Shreveport, and Dallas.

With all its history, Natchitoches has become a true  multi-cultural town. And a major tourist attraction, too. The
Cane River Creole National
Heritage Area is just south of the city, and the original town of Natchitoches itself is a national historic district. Spanish and early American
architectural influences are evident on Front Street, which faces Cane River, and houses from different periods and ethnicities - French
Creole, African - Creole,  antebellum American, Victorian, Arts and Crafts, Prairie style - give the town core an intimate feeling. Also, there's
good eating in Natchitoches - the meat pies at
Lasyone's are worth a trip to this town alone.

Natchitoches is worth an extended exploration!
Natchitoches: Pronounced Naka-dish
Whenever you visit a town, always try to get away from the Main Street - it pays off to wander. I found this brick building, with iron shutter doors
and French iron work along a side street off of Front Street. I don't know much about the building, but it  definitely stood out as vintage
Natchitoches architecture.
If Front Street looks familiar, that might be because you've seen the famous movie Steel Magnolias, which was filmed in Natchitoches. The
author of the play lives in a restored Creole plantation house along the Cane River Lake.
Natchitoches is about an hour south of Shreveport on Louisiana State Highway 1, or US Interstate 49.
It also sits directly on the Camino Real, the ancient Spanish Colonial Road, which parallels LA 6.
The American Cemetery is one of Louisiana's oldest graveyards. It sits on the original site of Fort St. Jean Baptiste, which burned in an Indian
raid. After the fort was rebuilt, the old site became the city's burial ground for non-Catholics, fallen Catholics, and Anglos. Soon, however, most
"movers and shakers" of Natchitoches were buried at the cemetery, including members of the prominent Prudhomme and Metoyer families, and
several men who fought on the American side in the revolutionary war.

The tombstone is above is of Dr. John Sibley, Caddo Indian Agent:
Dr. John Sibley
Born - May 19, 1757 Sutton, Mass.
Died - April 8, 1837 Natchitoches, LA.
Revolutionary war soldier; appointed by Thos. Jefferson 1805 Indian Agent Natchitoches; influential in U.S. Spanish boundary sipute settlement;
N.W. LA frontier development; first, senator, judge, militia colonel, historian, Natchitoches Parish owner plantations N.S.C. site; army post
physician; operated Drake salt mines.
Donated by Sibley descendants of Shreveport. April 24, 1954. Sponsored by the North LA. Historical Assn.

The American Cemetery is so old, trees tend to eat the tombstones. Can you spot this crepe myrtle's victim on the right?
The oldest grave in the American Cemetery is that of a French noble woman who, for reasons known only to her confessor, left her home
country to seek opportunity in the New World. French graves tend to sport iron crosses.
This now-defunct rooming house, remnant of segregated Natchitoches, exists just west of downtown on 5th Street.
This 1927 Texas & Pacific Depot is on the National Register of Historic Places. The local historical society is currently restoring it.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception was built in the 1850s, though the dome was completed in the 1890s.
I guess it doesn't matter if you're the founder of the oldest town in Louisiana or not - when development comes, it'll be built right on top of you.
Louis Jucherau de St. Denis, the intrepid French-Canadian explorer, trader, governor, and original French patent holder for Natchitoches, was
buried in a crypt inside the city's original Catholic church. When the church burnt, St. Denis remained buried, and the downtown area expanded
on top of him. According to lore, St. Denis' new eternal home lies beneath this pub (circled) at the corner of Church and Front Streets.*

* Not sure if this information is accurate, though, as St. Denis died in 1744 and the basilica at Church & Front Street was built during the 1780s.
But it's a good story!
Natchitoches is the "jewel" of the Cane River Creole National Historic Area, as the city served as the center of the French and Spanish
Louisiana life for almost a century. After the Americans purchased
Louisiana in 1803, cotton became the region's staple crop, and the American
plantation system merged with the Creole culture to form unique homes and lifestyles. Oakland (pictured here), Melrose, and Magnolia
plantations have been preserved through the efforts of families, historical societies, parish officials, and the National Park System.
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com
Front Street and Cane River in the 1940s. Library of Congress.
Store along the Cane River in 1940, Library of Congress.
How to Get
There