This post will conclude our virtual visit to Historic Natchitoches, Louisiana…for now. Hopefully you have found yourself captivated by the charm and beauty of this unique Southern gem and will add it to your travel agenda—or at least to your bucket list! These photos were taken on a warm, summer evening several years ago, but little has changed and the same scene would greet you if you were to arrive in Natchitoches tonight!
Sign by the Visitor Information Center on Front Street
Wrought iron fence leading into Beau Jardin from the Roque House and Garden
Brick Terrace area inside Beau Jardin
The relaxing sound of the waterfall adds to the appeal of the garden
Water flowing under the footbridge
Wrought iron footbridge, Cane River Lake, and the Roque House
Small stream that flows from the waterfall to the river
Looking from Beau Jardin toward the Roque House and the Church Street Bridge
Water cascading down from the highest point in the garden
Gracefully curving brick staircase leading from the riverbank up to the Front Street garden entance
Beau Jardin is an enchanting oasis right in the heart of downtown
It had been several years since I visited the riverbank area behind the Roque House. What I remembered as a grassy hill that housed a gargantuan metal swing set and not much else has been absolutely transformed into a breathtaking garden area stretching from the banks of Cane River right up to Front Street! It is difficult to say which was more delightful—the spring flowers blooming in profusion on every side, a small stream gurgling its way under a wrought iron footbridge, the waterfall cascading over mammoth rock formations, or the brick staircase that gracefully winds its way upward. Apparently Beau Jardin was constructed as a wedding venue, but I found it to be a perfect “get-away” spot for reading, contemplating, strolling along the riverbank, or capturing the perfect photographic moment! Definitely worth checking out…
This fountain is situated in the middle of beautiful Cane River Lake where it flows through Historic downtown Natchitoches.
Having grown up mere steps from the banks of scenic Cane River Lake, I feel a kinship with the 35-mile long oxbow-shaped waterway. It meanders past the downtown historic district, creating a unique focal point that sets the city apart from all others in charm and appeal. At the founding of Natchitoches in 1714, Cane River Lake was indeed a river–part of the Red River to be specific. Sometime during the early 1800s, the temperamental Red forged a new channel across a bend about four miles upstream at Grand Ecore. Suddenly, Natchitoches found itself cut off from the main river channel; steamboat access became sporadic at first and then an impossibility. Within the last century or so, dams were built at either end of what is now Cane River Lake, separating it completely from Red River. Though no longer technically a river, the lake possesses characteristics of a stream and “flows” through Natchitoches, effectively slicing the town in half. Residents and visitors alike appreciate the river’s recreational possibilities…boats and barges can be seen along its length most any day as folks enjoy fishing, skiing, or just tooling along taking in the scenery. The river is regulated and maintained by the Cane River Waterway Commission. For more information, visit its web site at http://www.caneriverwaterway.com/default.aspx.
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!