The French were the first Europeans to reach the Natchitoches region at the turn of the 17th century and made friendly contact with the surrounding Caddo Indian tribes. In 1714, the site for Fort St. Jean Baptiste was chosen in what was to become the city of Natchitoches — making Natchitoches the oldest permanent settlement in the entire Louisiana Purchase.
For years, Fort St. Jean Baptiste stood as a strategic trade center along the Red River. The colony, with its location near Spanish Texas and the Indian nations, began to grow around the Indian trade. France’s expulsion from North America resulted in the cession of all land on the west bank of the Mississippi, including Natchitoches, to Spain. The economy turned to tobacco and indigo production and the sale of animal products.
Louisiana was ceded back to France just before U.S. President Thomas Jefferson negotiated with French Emperor Napolean Bonaparte for the purchase of land stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian Border. The $15 million deal, known as the Louisiana Purchase, doubled the size of the U.S. and resulted in the creation of 13 states, including Louisiana.
Through all of this, the Spanish and French have left strong influences in Natchitoches. The unique and complex Creole culture is still felt today in the area’s rich history and cuisine.
Many of Natchitoches’ historic landmarks continue to stand through restorative projects and maintenance. The downtown National Landmark Historic District is home to dozens of historic buildings and points of interest from the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. Guests can explore historic plantation homes, a replica of Fort St. Jean Baptiste and Louisiana’s oldest general store, among many other notable destinations in the area.
For information on the area’s one-of-a-kind historic attractions, visit www.natchitocheschamber.com.