Natchitoches, Louisiana

Pronounced "nak'-a-toosh" or "nak'-a-tish" (or somewhere in between).

Natchitoches's main claim to fame is being the oldest permanent settlement in the area of the United States acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. Well, no, that is not true: that is only its historic significance. Its actual "claim to fame" would probably be as the setting of the movie "Steel Magnolias" (1989). John Wayne's "The Horse Soldiers" (1959) was also filmed in the area, and the Natchitoches Meat Pie, if not world famous (as its purveyors may claim), has at least regional fame.

Natchitoches was settled as a French trading post in 1714 by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, whose bust now proudly sits near the offices of the Natchitoches Tourist Commision. Natchitoches's importance at the time lie in the fact that it was located on the Red River (the Cane River Lake since the Red's main channel shifted course in 1830) just south of an immense natural logjam. This meant that Natchitoches was as far north as goods could travel on the river, and several Spanish overland highways met there. After the Louisiana Territory was purchased from Napoleon Bonaparte by Thomas Jefferson's government in 1803, the population of Natchitoches grew from less than 500 to almost 3000.

Today, Natchitoches is home to Northwestern State University, as well as a 33-block historic district that has been designated a National Historic Landmark. There are numerous bed & breakfasts and many old plantation homes along the Cane River.

Natchitoches, like pretty much any other town in Louisiana, celebrates Mardi Gras, but the big deal in Natchitoches is its Christmas Festival, which turned 75-years-old in 2002. In its current incarnation the entire riverfront area is lit with colored lights the entire month of December; bands play in the park on weekends; vendors sell meat pies, crawfish pies, and funnel cakes; and every Saturday evening there is a wondeful fireworks display over the river. Since it is Louisiana, there is no worry about snow and a light jacket is usually sufficient. Also because it is Louisiana, summer is long and miserably hot and humid, so the most comfortable times to visit are from late fall to early spring.


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