In the 1920′s New Orleans author, William Spratling, wrote the following description of the Roque House and its owner, Philamene Roque: “Madame Aubert (Roque) lived rather humbly in a small house of mud and half-timber which was built in the 18th century by some of her French forebears. All her life she had lived here on the Isle Brevelle. In front a bit of provincial France, an old fashioned garden, variously colorful, lay within the confines of a lichen-covered and battered fence of split palings. Madam Aubert, throwing open the blue-green shutter of the front of the house, hastened down to meet us.” (Source: http://www.natchitoches.net/attractions/historic-district/roque-house/)
The Roque House
Gardens in front of the Roque House
Looking toward Cane River from the Roque House
“River Through Stone”
Brick pathway approaching the Roque House
The Roque House
Front Porch – The Roque House
Brick pathway along the side of The Roque House
Looking toward Front Street
The view from Front Street
Tree branches bowing to the ground
Spring flowers abound in the gardens
Gardens – The Roque House
Moved twenty-two miles north to its present location on the banks of Cane River Lake in 1967, the Roque House has been fully restored by the Natchitoches Historic Foundation. Built as a personal residence around 1803 by a freed slave named Yves (called Pacale), it has served as a museum, a store, and the Headquarters for the Cane River National Heritage Area Commission. It is an exceptionally fine example of French Creole architecture with its post in the ground design, hipped roof, encircling gallery, and central chimney. Constructed of cypress timbers and bousillage (a mixture of mud, Spanish moss, and deer hair), the house is jointed (built without nails) and has a cedar shingle roof. The left-side bedroom and double fireplace were damaged in transit during the move, but some of the original bricks remain in the fireplace.
The Roque House holds court on the riverbank at the end of Front Street below the Visitor Information Center. When you visit downtown Natchitoches, make plans to relax on a wrought iron bench in the shade of the grand oak trees. Allow enough time to properly bask in the beauty of the gardens and enjoy the gentle lapping of the river against the shoreline. It is a little piece of heaven…
It’s true what they say—you can never go back. You can visit, however, and that is exactly what I did over the weekend. I made a quick trip to my hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana and spent several hours luxuriating in nostalgia. I took a leisurely stroll through its iconic historic district…passing over the same bricks that have paved Front Street since the early 20th century; ambling along the banks of the beautiful Cane River (which is actually a lake, not a river); gazing into shop windows, temptingly bedecked, within the revitalized shopping corridor. I reveled in the opportunity to savor sights and sounds that were familiar, yet somehow new and different.
It has been more than twenty years since I moved away and many things have changed. Happily, the changes appear to be favorable ones–improvements that have breathed fresh life into a city that just as easily could have gone the way of so many of its contemporaries–crumbling into insignificant oblivion. You may recognize Natchitoches as the setting for Steel Magnolias–the cinematic remake of Robert Harling’s off-Broadway play by the same name. (Incidentally, Harling is himself a Natchitoches native.) This quintessential Southern town has enough charm to win over the dourest of visitors, and offers plenty to do—both in the downtown area and beyond. 2014 is the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of Natchitoches and many special Tri-Centennial activities have been planned. (Visit http://www.natchitoches.com/tricentennial for more information about the celebration.) I have decided to focus on Natchitoches for the rest of the week, and will do my best to provide appealing imagery, cogent tourist information, and useful links and resources. Welcome to your virtual tour of Natchitoches…Day One, Front Street!