November 15-19, 2018
We had a very busy five days in Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-a-tish). We took a guided tour of the town and a fort, visited a museum, and spent a day at the Cane River Creole National Historic Park. We also attended their “Turn on the Holidays” festival where they decorate the streets and line both banks of the Cane River with Christmas lights and launch a very impressive fireworks display. They’ll be launching fireworks every Saturday and December 2nd is their BIG Holiday event with parade, Santa… and more fireworks. The 92nd Natchitoches Christmas celebration runs November 17, 2018-January 6, 2018.
We also got to taste the local cuisine… several times… and were happy every time. We hit Lasyone’s first (meat pies, yellow grits, hot spiced Louisiana tea), Maglieaux’s Riverfront (burgers, sweet potato fries, adult beverages), Cane Brake Cafe (beignets), and El Patio Mexican back near our campsite (combo fajitas, Pina Colada). We DID NOT try the alligator on a stick or crawfish pie that was served at the festival. We looked, we thought about it, but we wimped.
There’s free on street parking in old town Natchitoches but finding a spot can be tricky on some days like the “Turn on the Holidays” festival. However there’s a free parking lot near the Sheriff station a few blocks from the river. We readily found street parking on our first visit but used the parking lot on our next one.
Our first stop was Lasyone’s (pronounced Lah-zee-owns) where we tried their slightly spicy meat pies. They serve them all day and they make a great addition to your breakfast plate. They looked a little like Upper Michigan’s pasties but smaller and tasted just as awesome. I also had their stone ground yellow grits which, to my surprise, Holly liked too. Army food had killed her taste for grits and she had refused all past offers of a taste. Until now. Mix in some butter and sugar and their grits taste like squishy sweet corn bread. Yum! Holly read about them in her Road Foods book so we had a plan before ever hitting town.
We walked off breakfast by wandering the historic part of town and stopping in at the visitor center where the staff were very helpful. That was where we started our free guided walking tour of the old town. We learned from our guide that Natchitoches, founded in 1714, is the oldest permanent settlement in what was then the Louisiana Territory. (The ranger at Arkansas Post National Historic Site thought it should be the oldest because it was founded in 1686. But it “moved” at least seven times and eventually disappeared – literally.) So I vote for Natchitoches as the oldest.
Townhouse row on Front Street is restored townhouses with stores on the first floor and living areas on the second. At least one of these townhouses was built by a local plantation owner. He saw the value of cotton after the cotton gin made it a profitable crop so he stopped growing tobacco, switched to cotton and got rich. His fellow plantation owners followed his success and Natchitoches is now a big cotton town. Some of the townhouses still had the original hand forged ironwork. Others had been renovated and had newer cast ironwork. If our guide hadn’t pointed out the differences between them I would have never known.
They say that Natchitoches was a quiet little town until they filmed Steel Magnolias there. That (and Lasyone’s Meat Pies) put them on the map making them a popular tourist destination. They jumped on board and did not look back. Their town guide lists one or more festivals each month for all but three months out of the year. With the beautiful riverfront, quaint and walkable downtown with shops and restaurants and several nearby historic sites, pretty much everyone can find something to interest them in Natchitoches. We are not “city” or “town” people. We frequently do a drive through then run away. We kept going back into historic Natchitoches and walking around. It was just a cool place.
Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame & Northwest Louisiana Regional History Museum
I should have suspected this museum was more for sports than history. The history part was about 1/3 the size of the sports part.
Still the history part briefly presented the history of the area from about the time Natchitoches was settled by Europeans in the early 1700s until the mid-1950s. The area was inhabited by the Caddo tribe when the French and Spanish turned up. They all managed to live in relatively peaceful harmony for a while. Over time the Creole culture took hold. By the 19th century, Creole culture related to the customs, beliefs, and traditions that originated in other parts of the world, particularly French, Spanish, Anglo, African American and Indian cultures.
By the mid-1700s Natchitoches’s economy shifted from trade to agriculture. Farmers grew indigo, then tobacco, and finally cotton which led to the creation of large plantations. As the region developed the demand for slaves increased. Slaves became a larger and larger proportion of the population. While under Spanish rule freed slaves could obtain land grants and a few became owners of large plantations and many slaves.
The museum glossed over most anything related to the issues of slavery, Jim Crow, or civil rights. One claim was that violence toward blacks in the 1870s was motivated by plantation owners’ fears that black workers would leave their plantations.
Nakitosh RV Park
We stayed at the Nakitosh RV Park just off Hwy 49 while we were touring the area and it worked fine for us. It is a basic campground, with highway and truck stop noise but it was a short walk over to El Patio Mexican and several fast food restaurants and had easy access to the town of Natchitoches and the highway.
We really liked Natchitoches and will definitely stop again any time we are in that part of the country.