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Natchitoches History

Natchitoches is the original French colony in Louisiana.  The thirty-three block historic district in Natchitoches includes more than fifty centuries-old buildings and has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The mercantile buildings and houses with cast iron grill work galleries overlooking Cane River Lake are reminiscent of the days of the Cotton Kingdom and Natchitoches' role as an early river port.

The town of Natchitoches (Nack-a-tish, a Natchitoches Indian word meaning Place of the Paw-Paw, or Chinquapin) is the oldest permanent settlement in Louisiana.  Founded in 1714 to promote trade with the local Indians and the Spanish in Mexico, Natchitoches played a major role in the history of both Texas and Louisiana.  The French first made contact with the Indians in the Natchitoches area in 1700.  A friendly trade developed which led Governor Cadillac to extend that trade to the Spanish colonies in Mexico. 


In 1714, Cadillac sent his lieutenant Juchereau de St. Denis to establish a trading post at the head of navigation on the Red River.  That post grew into the town of Natchitoches. St. Denis founded Fort St. Jean Baptiste near the mouth of Bayou Amulet where the foot of the Red River raft, a giant 100-mile logjam, stopped further boat traffic upriver.   The town developed along crooked streets that followed the natural levees and river channels of Les Isles de Natchitoches.  River traffic had to be shifted to land transportation at Natchitoches due to the raft, so the town became an important transport city. 


Several overland highways met at Natchitoches, including the Natchez Trace from the east and the El Camino Real from Mexico.  These river and highway connections made Natchitoches a primary transfer point for trade and a gateway for settlers going to Texas.  Trade goods, livestock, deer hides, salt, indigo and tobacco were loaded onto boats at Natchitoches for shipment to New Orleans.    


After the Louisiana Purchase, Americans rushed into the area.  From a population of only 457 in 1766, the parish grew to over 2,870 by the census of 1810.  The introduction of cotton agriculture produced the great plantations along Cane River.   However, in the 1830's, the River jumped its main channel and shifted its course about five miles east of town.  Although that action left Natchitoches without a direct outlet to the sea except at times of high water, what remains today is picturesque Cane River Lake

Interesting Facts

  • National Historic Landmark District…one of two in Louisiana the other historic district is the Vieux Carre (French Quarter) in New Orleans.

  • Filming site for Steel Magnolias a true story filmed entirely in Natchitoches.    Other movies filmed in Natchitoches include the Horse Soldiers and Man in the Moon.

  • The National Trust named our town one of the 2005 “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” for Historic Preservation.

National Trust for Historic Preservation logo

Cane River Lake 

Today, Cane River Lake is a beautiful, meandering body of water flowing through downtown Natchitoches and on to the Plantation Country. 


There are remembrances of the past on this long and narrow lake, about 32 miles in length, providing enough cultural diversity to interest history buffs, architecture students, film fans, and sports fanatics. 


It's a bustling tourist delight, full of Creole influences and friendly people. 


Come visit our history and discover why Natchitoches is one of the best-kept secrets in Louisiana! 

The thirty-three block Historic District of Natchitoches, which includes more than fifty centuries-old buildings, has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. 


The reconstructed Fort St. Jean Baptiste symbolizes colonial days in Natchitoches while the mercantile buildings and houses with the cast iron grillwork galleries overlooking Cane River Lake are reminiscent of the days of the Cotton Kingdom and Natchitoches' old river port. 


Townhouses along Front and Jefferson Streets served as second homes for the down-river planters who enjoyed "'the season" in town or as comfortable domiciles during inclement weather. 


These historic sites have also attracted the movie industry.  Natchitoches is proud to be the home for the filming of Steel Magnolias, The Horse Soldiers and Man in the Moon.

Originally called the La Rivierre du Cannes, this narrow valley, 35 miles long and six miles wide, running from Natchitoches to Cloutierville supported one of the most sophisticated societies in the French colonies.  The "American" influence little affected their customs and mores.  The only pure vestige of this unique society left today is the French Creole style of architecture found in the region's plantation houses and their out buildings.


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