Natchitoches, Louisiana: Cane River National Heritage Area
One of the biggest surprises of my recent trip to Louisiana was discovering the lovely town of Natchitoches. Established some 300 years ago in 1714 and named after an Indian tribe, Natchitoches lies in the heart of the Cane River National Heritage Area and is a wonderful place to experience the cultural history of Louisiana.
The Architecture of a Diverse Cultural History
To get a feel for the area, I started my visit with a stroll through Natchitoches’ National Historic Landmark District, one of only three such districts in Louisiana. Comprising 33 blocks, it features beautiful examples of Queen Anne and Victorian architecture along with Creole townhouses and other centuries-old buildings. Natchitoches’ architecture beautifully reflects its colourful history with French, Spanish, African, American Indian and Creole influences.
Musing at the unique convergence of cultures here, I ended my walk on historic Front Street, the scenic highlight paved with cobblestones, wrought-iron buildings and magnificent magnolia trees right along the banks of beautiful Cane River Lake. And I should mention it is on Front Street where you will also find Natchitoches’ colourful shops and restaurants.
Shopping in Louisiana’s Oldest Store
The moment I stepped into Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile Store on Front Street, I felt as if I walked into a different era. This large warehouse-like store features everything one remembers from the good old days from hardware, cookware, toys, supplies and gifts. Some items I recognized from old movies! I spent hours at this marvelous store – think of it as a fun museum where you can actually buy things! Kaffie-Frederick is simply a must-visit and in itself worth a trip to Natchitoches.
While they take credit cards, I highly recommend bringing some cash so you can enjoy being rung up at the magnificent 1910 cash register – at least for part of your purchase.
Dazzling Inside and Out: Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame
Just as I was immersed in the quaintness of Natchitoches’ historic district with its lovely little shops and restaurants, I turn left at the end of Front Street to stand in front of what looks like a spaceship that had just landed on Earth! The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame is a dazzling $23 million, state-of-the-art complex showcasing the achievements of more than 300 Louisiana sports legends in fascinating multi-media exhibitions. If sports are not your thing, the Northwest Louisiana History Museum with its exhibit of the area’s unique cultural traditions is in the same building.
Exploring Natchitoches’ Heritage and Culture
If you have some time left, make sure you head a few miles south to explore the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, which includes the Oakland and Magnolia plantations as well as other sites and reconstructions that give you a unique insight into what life was like in the Cane River area.
I ended my day meandering through the beautiful American Cemetery, considered the oldest in the Louisiana Purchase with graves dating back to colonial times. As I read some of the old tombstones and enjoyed the sunlight shining through the magnificent trees, I marvelled at the concentration of culture, history and beauty in Natchitoches and the Cane River National Heritage Area.