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More Natchitoches

What a beautiful day although the cold front did move in so it was a bit chilly today. The wind probably dropped the temperature about 15 degrees. I didn’t wear a coat, just a vest because I had no idea we would be outside as much.

Our first stop was the Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site. We’re going to see a fort – why did I think I wouldn’t be outside? Duh – anyway, back to basics. Natchitoches became the first permanent European settlement in the territory later known as the Louisiana Purchase in 1714. In 1716 Claude-Charles Dutisne was sent to Natchitoches to build and garrison an outpost to prevent Spanish force from crossing into French Louisiana. The outpost was named Fort St. Jean Baptiste. Although in name it was a fort it was mainly used as a trading post.
Upon our arrival our interpreter immediately took us outside on a tour on the fort. The first building we entered was at the guardhouse. Eight men were on duty at all times and if perchance there was trouble there was a jail immediately next to it.
We also saw a recreation of the original chapel which is now The Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception located in Natchitoches. Other buildings included the commandant’s house and the room that housed eight soldiers. There was a slanted wooden structure on each side of the room and that were the eight men slept!

The main building has several different scenes depicting life during that time. They also had a map on the wall that showed the vastness of the Louisiana Purchase. I had no idea that it encompassed such a large area reaching all the way to Canada.

When we left the fort we went in search of the American Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the Louisiana Purchase. Though not a large area it is still in use. We saw markers as late as 2014 and obviously much earlier.

Since it was about noon we decided to have our picnic lunch on the Cane River Lake riverfront. Although it is 36 miles in length and I had assumed it was a river it is actually a lake formed when the Red River jumped its banks. As I said in an earlier blog it is a lovely place and just perfect for a picnic.

Just down from where we had our in the car picnic was the beautiful Beau Jardin which features a garden area with a lovely waterfall and bridge. It must be a favorite place to take pictures because not only were we taking pictures but there were others there as well trying to capture the beauty.

Jerry at the top of the stairs
Jerry at the top of the stairs
Our next stop was the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. The bottom floor is dedicated to the inductees into the Hall of Fame and included such renowned people as Archie Manning, Terry Bradshaw, Pete Maravich and of course Shack. The second floor covered the history of Louisiana as well as all of the sports played in Louisiana including pro, college, high schools as well as other teams. I was amazed at the number of sports included. Of course one always thinks of football, basketball and baseball but they included horse racing, bowling, hunting, tennis, golf, car racing, and boxing – if a sport was played in Louisiana it was covered in this display!

Next we just wandered around the town going in and out of shops visiting with the various shop owners. One lady we talked to use to be a full-timer until her father got sick and she went to Natchitoches to care for him.

After a trip to the grocery store we headed back to the coach. We’ve been in the area long enough that we no longer have to use the GPS (fortunately because Gypsy gets turned around a lot) but today as we were leaving the city we ran into a detour. I have no idea what was going on but police were blocking our route so we did rely on Gypsy once again.

This has been a lovely, quiet visit to a beautiful town. It reminds me so much of Niagara on the Lake with its quaint shops, hanging baskets and lanterns. As we rode around I continued to be amazed at the number of B&B’s located in the town. I realize that it is a college town so that could account for some of them.

On our rides from the campground in Colfax to Natchitoches we have seen many cows, many pecan trees along with dead animals on the side of the road. Today we saw a skunk (have never seen one of those on the side of the road in NC) and a coyote.

A quiet night getting things ready to pull out in the morning and head to Vidalia for the last leg of our journey into Louisiana.

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Cane River National Heritage Trail

Believe it or not we got an earlier start today! Jerry said to wake him up by 7:00 so I did and we actually got on the road around 9:00. We had not quite decided what we were going to do as it everything was so weather dependent. The forecast was for rain most of the day so we felt that perhaps we should do the inside things today. It was not raining when we left though so we decided to try out luck on the Cane River National Heritage Trail. There were several sites along the way that we wanted to see so we thought we’d start out and if the rains came we go to Plan B.

Cane River National Heritage Trail takes you through the scenic byways of northwestern Louisiana. A largely rural area you can see beautiful agricultural landscapes full of pecan trees, cattle and horses. The area is known for its historic plantations and its distinctive Creole architecture. A winding road takes you by each of the thirty-two stops which include plantations, churches, homes and other historic sites.

We made a brief stop at the St. Charles Borromeo Chapel which represents the only known instance in the United States of a white mission congregation sponsored by a church whose members were primarily people of color. It is now privately owned so we couldn’t go in. I think it’s primarily used for special occasions now. I peeped in the window and it looked like it was being used for storage.

Our next stop was the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Oakland Plantation. Although Oakland Plantation is the most complete Creole plantation in the South the house was not opened because they were repairing the roof. At the rate they’re going it won’t be opened for a long while! No one was working! We talked briefly with the volunteer guide who is also an RVer. She has a fifth wheel which she will be keeping on the property for about three months. It is full hook up and no charge.

The pigionnier - see the doors where the pigeons entered
The pigionnier – see the doors where the pigeons entered

After a visit with her we wandered through the mule barn, by the pigionnier, went in the overseer’s house and then a slave cabin. The building that is now used as the administrative building was formerly a doctor’s house. It was the slave owner’s responsibility to keep the slaves healthy so this particular owner had a doctor on the grounds although sometimes the doctor would travel to other plantations. Interestingly enough, there is no guide per say but there is a phone number that can be called and when a visitor enters the number of the building being viewed a brief explanation is given. I called several time and put the phone on speaker so Jerry could hear it too.

The Weaver's Building
The Weaver’s Building
Not far from Oakland is Melrose Plantation which was established by free people of color (gens de couleur libres) around the time of the Louisiana Purchase. It eventually became an artist’s retreat encouraging artists of all types to come to paint, write, etc. The rule was that they must spend no more than three days doing nothing. If three days had passed and they had nothing to show for it their bags were packed and they were sent on their way. Too bad if they had writer’s block!

It was hard to remember that it is January because the gardens are so pretty!
It was hard to remember that it is January because the gardens are so pretty!
Melrose was also the home of the legendary Clementine Hunter, a nationally renowned folk artist. When she painted her first picture she used oil paints that another painter had left behind and when she presented the picture to the owner he didn’t believe that she had painted it because she kept saying she had “marked” it. That was her way of saying that she had painted it. Her original paintings that are usually at the plantation are presently in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame right now as there is restoration going on in the plantation building where they are usually housed. They will be returned in April.

The African House
The African House
An interesting house that we saw was the African House. The roof overhangs a great deal to keep the sun from shining on the walls of the house, thus keeping it cool during the day. When someone remarked that there was a door on the second floor with no outside access the guide told us that it was a form of security.

The inside of the Big House as it was referred to was interesting. The upstairs was added later after the Red River which was across the road rose over the banks. There are several bedrooms, two for the six boys (three each), one for the older son and one for the daughter. One of the bedrooms is now used to house some of Clementine Hunter’s pictures. When she first began to paint she didn’t sign her pieces because she couldn’t write. She was finally taught to write a “C” and an “H” and initially signed her pieces “CH” but she didn’t like that because she said the “C” was turned away from the picture. She eventually reversed the “C”. In later years the “C” began to supplant the “H” and that is how her paintings are now dated. The pictures are of events that occurred in her life. I saw one of a Baptism and others of scenes around the plantation.

By this time we were getting hungry so we decided to ride on down to Magnolia Plantation and have our picnic lunch. We realized when we got there that Magnolia Plantation is privately owned and only the slave cabins are opened for visitors. We’ve already seen a lot of slave cabins so we passed on visiting those. We sat in the car and had our lunch.

On the way back to Natchitoches we rode by St. Augustine Catholic Church and Cemetery. It was the first Catholic Church established by and for people of color in the United States. It is a large church that is now on the National Register of Historic Places in Louisiana.

Our next planned stop was the Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site. Imagine our surprise when we found it closed only opening Wednesday through Sunday. Someone told us yesterday that many businesses worked all week and then closed on Sundays and Mondays to recuperate. Guess in this case it is Monday and Tuesday.

It was just as well as we were getting a bit tired and tomorrow is another day. Along with Fort St Jean we plan to visit the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Although it’s supposed to be sunny it’ll be cooler so a good inside tour is what we need.

The sky said it was going to rain soon so we headed on back to the campground. Jerry decided to “rest his eyes” for a bit while I caught up on the blog. May well join him soon!

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Natchitoches and Meat Pies

Another late start so we headed out to Natchitoches to just ride around and visit the town and we had meat pies on the brain. Natchitoches is about 35 miles from where we are staying but it is not a bad ride at all and we got to see some of the countryside. Boy, there surely are a lot of cows around here! We also saw some more rice fields with crawfish traps in them.

Natchitoches is a quaint town right on the banks of the Cane River. IMG_0929There is a nice Riverwalk with benches or a nice area to spread a blanket and enjoy the sun or have a nice picnic. There are also lovely hanging baskets and one block has old lanterns hanging at various places. There are assorted shops along the way from souvenirs to antiques to clothes.

We parked right in front of the famous Kaffie Frederick General Mercantile which is the oldest general store in Louisiana and an important landmark for the community. It has the original freight elevator and a 1910 cash register and both work and are used. After walking around the store I decided that if they don’t have it you don’t need it! Jerry wanted to have a duplicate key made and of course they could do it. I bought a small Yeti cup for coffee and a salad sac. The sac is supposed to keep salad fresh for days – we’ll see. A lady who worked in there told me she bought one and it really worked. She said she didn’t throw away nearly as many spoiled vegetables now.

IMG_1036 Our next stop was the Visitor’s Center right there on the main street. She told us a great deal about the town and showed us some interesting sites to see. I had wondered about the pronunciation of Natchitoches so of course I googled it. “Toche” is pronounced “tish” and is added to a word for that sound – I think, so Natchitoches is pronounced nack-a-tish. It was voted by USA Today as the 2015 Best Southern Small Town.

Since it was nearing lunch time we asked about the famous meat pies and she suggested Lasyone’s so off we went in search of it. We didn’t quite know what to order so we asked the waitress for help. I ended up with a crawfish pie and onion rings and Jerry got a meat pie (pork and beef) with red beans and rice plus some carrots. After we had a few bites we decided to exchange pies so I ended up with the meat pie and he got the crawfish. We weren’t too crazy about either of the pies and Jerry didn’t love the red beans and rice but the carrot soufflé was to die for. It tasted a lot like sweet potatoes. Other than boiled crawfish which I understand are a pain to eat I think we have tasted every local delicacy that Louisiana has to offer. We are ready for some regular old food cooked at home. I never thought I’d say I was tired of eating out but I am!

We walked around the town a bit going in and out of the shops. It really was too late to do much touring so we rode around the town a bit more and saw some of the beautiful historic homes. Some are privately owned and several are B&B’s. We rode by the home that was used in Steel Magnolias and is now a B&B.Steel Magnolias

Our next stop – you guessed it – Walmart for some hamburgers for dinner!

After getting back to the coach I took a little nap and Jerry read. Then he went for a walk and ended up meeting the folks at one of the two other RV’s here. I walked down a little later and we had a nice visit with a couple from Texas.

Jerry grilled burgers and it looks like it’s an NC State basketball evening.