Give your kids a quiet history lesson by exploring the cultural heritage of settlers and slaves in Natchitoches, Alexandria and the surrounding areas of Louisiana.
Steeped in history and surrounded by natural beauty, central Louisiana offers accommodations that are just as historically valuable as its attractions. The cities of Natchitoches and Alexandria are especially interesting hubs for curious travelers and a delight for an adult weekend getaway.
Central Louisiana’s historic past is as colorful as its people. In 1700, the French colonized this area near the Spanish-controlled boundary. These French newcomers were later known as Creole. Over the years, some of the French and Spanish men had children with their slaves, creating a new population called Creole of Color. The White Creole, not wanting to be associated with their “mixed” half-siblings and cousins who carried the same sir names, stopped referring to themselves as Creole. In 1803, the United States bought the land in what is known as The Louisiana Purchase. And Creole became the term for the state of Louisiana’s rich culinary and cultural heritage, the prime attraction for today’s visitor.
Natchitoches’ Historic B&B’s
The city of Natchitoches was immortalised by playwright and hometown boy Robert Harling in “Steel Magnolias,” which was later turned into a movie. It’s also known for its whopping 31 bed and breakfast properties. Some of Natchitoches’ most beautiful B&B’s were once homes of prominent Jewish families. These are the kinds of accommodations perfect for a mother – daughter visit and for exposure to some of the local lore. The Iglehart family built Chez des Amis (318/354-2647) in 1923, and Mrs. Iglehart eventually died in the house. The current owners, innkeepers Jim Metcalf and Scott Lumry, swear that the ghost of Mrs. Iglehar still resides in the dwelling. Apparently, during renovations she slammed doors and fiddled with the electricity when decorating decisions were made not to her liking.
According to local folklore, there are a number of other wonderful historic B&B’s in Natchitoches, some with spirits and some without. These accommodations include the Tante HuppÃ© Bed & Breakfast Inn (800/482-4276), Maison Louisiane (800/264-8991), the Levy-East House (800/840-0662) and Judge Porter House (800/441/8343), to name just a few.
Sights to See Around Natchitoches
Southern literature fans will appreciate the Kate Chopin House (318/379-2233) in nearby Cloutierville (pronounced Clucherville). Chopin’s most well known work was the controversial novel “The Awakening,” originally published in 1899.
Other historic places in and around Natchitoches include Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site (888/677-7853), a full replica of the 1734 French fort, the Old Courthouse State Museum (318/357-2270), the old American Cemetery, and the 33-square-block National Historic Landmark District. Catch a streetcar tour to see the district, or rent a paddleboat for fun on the river.
Exploring Plantation History
Plantations are strewn throughout Central Louisiana. In 1994, the Cane River Creole National Historical Park (318/356-0383) acquired the Oakland and Magnolia Plantations. While both are still under restoration for visitors in the future, current visitors can take formal or self-guided tours of Oakland Plantation. Tours of Magnolia Plantation may also be arranged with prior notice, and the “Plantation Life” interpretative program is open to all.
(318-379-0055) dates back to 1796, when former slave Marie Therese Coincoin and her Creole children were given a piece of land by her French lover Louis Metoyer. Coincoin was quite the businesswoman and built a very successful exporting business. In 1898, a Caucasian woman named Cammie Garrett Henry established an artist residence there that gave birth to internationally known primitive artist Clementine Hunter – the former plantation cook. Today, descendants of Coincoin and Metoyer operate tours of the plantation in period dress. To learn more about the Metoyer and other Creole families of the Cane River, visit the St. Augustine Catholic Church and Cemetery and the Creole Heritage Center (318/357-6685).
On to Alexandria
From Natchitoches, the scenic route to the Alexandria/Pineville Parish runs through the beautiful Kisatchie National Forest. Kisatchie is famous for the Lake Wild Azalea Trail and a great place for outdoor recreation.
(318/487-5998), Central Louisiana’s oldest standing structure, graces the Alexandra area. Built prior to even the Louisiana Purchase, the house now opens its door to all ages for tours of the building and grounds.
If you want to find a plantation where you can spend the night, Loyd Hall Plantation (888/602-LOYD) is a picturesque B&B, but it’s a bit crowed with many cats roaming and four ghosts lurking. As an alternative, nearby Avoyelles Parish offers The Bailey Hotel (866/346-7111).
More to Do Around Alexandria
Things to do in the vicinity include Southern Forest Heritage Museum in Long Leaf, Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum, located on Camp Beauregard, River Oaks Square Arts Center, Alexandria Zoological Park, the “A Shoppes” (10 unique boutiques), and The Nest, a hiking area with its own spa.
For more information, contact the Natchitoches Convention & Visitors Bureau (800-259-1714), the Alexandria Pineville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (800-551-9546), and the Avoyelles Commission of Tourism (800-833-4195).
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