Annual meetings provide the primary opportunity for Alliance members to gather and exchange information and views with professional colleagues and friends in a casual atmosphere. The annual meetings are informal, with a themed program that spotlights the host community’s environment through tours and presentations by participants and invited speakers. The Alliance holds its meetings in diverse historic places to explore and understand topical issues. The Alliance continues to seek out places that will offer a stimulating experience for participants.
Natchitoches in the Red River Valley: Confluence of Cultures
42nd Annual Meeting of the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation:
Conserving Cultural Landscapes
April 1-4, 2020
Front Street, Natchitoches (natchitoches.com).
Come discover Natchitoches (Nac-a-tish), Louisiana, known for its Creole heritage and made famous by the movie Steel Magnolias.
Natchitoches is the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Established in 1714 by French explore Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, the settlement was the northernmost point navigable on the Red River and the easternmost point of the colonial Spanish El Camino Real de los Tejas. For over 300 years, French, Caddo Indian, Spanish, African, and American cultures have blended and shaped the Red River Valley landscape.
The area remained under French rule until 1763 when Spain acquired the region west of the Mississippi valley. The arrival of thousands of enslaved Africans and Spain’s liberal manumission policies contributed to the number of free people of color throughout Louisiana, descendants of which form todays Creoles of color in Natchitoches. France briefly regained the area in 1801 and held it until transferred to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Our adventure begins Wednesday night, April 1 at the opening reception held at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwestern Louisiana History Museum. Come meet old and new friends in a surprisingly modern building in downtown Natchitoches.
Interior of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwestern Louisiana History Museum.
Our three-day conference will start with an introduction to the El Camino Real de los Tejas and site of Los Adaes, the former capitol of Spanish Texas. We will learn about past and current explorations of the historic fort and see a demonstration of drone use in archeological investigations.
We will spend a day downriver visiting Creole plantations and St. Augustine Church, the cultural center of the Natchitoches Creoles Color community. Two of the plantations are included within the Cane River Creole National Historical Park and are among the most intact Creole cotton plantations in the United States.
At Magnolia Plantation, we will see brick slave/tenant farmer homes and one of only two known examples of an enclosed, wood-screw cotton press. We will also have a chance to get our hands muddy during a bousillage demonstration.
Double row of former slave/tenant farmer houses with remnant gardens at Magnolia Plantation, Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Derry, Louisiana.
Our next stop will be Melrose Plantation, founded by a free person of color and later established as an artist colony. There we will view large murals painted by Clementine Hunter, a celebrated self-taught artist who worked at Melrose, and learn how she depicted life downriver in her paintings. While at Melrose, we will enjoy a Creole lunch buffet.
Baptism mural by Clementine Hunter, Melrose Plantation, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.
Next, we will travel to Saint Augustine Catholic Church, and learn about Natchitoches Creoles of Color community. For Steel Magnolia fans, the church is also the site of Shelby’s wedding.
Saint Augustine Church and cemetery, Natchez, Louisiana.
The tour will continue at Oakland Plantation where we will discuss the site’s preservation challenges with NPS staff, see the bottle garden in front of the big house, and visit with a former plantation resident who recalls his days growing up as a sharecropper’s son.
Outbuildings and live oak tree at Oakland Plantation, Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Natchez, Louisiana.
We will end our day downriver at Cherokee Plantation, where we will enjoy southern hospitality at this privately owned house.
Cherokee Plantation, Natchez, Louisiana.
On day three, we will visit downtown Natchitoches. Among the things to see in the national historic landmark district are the Kaffee-Frederick General Mercantile, the oldest general store in Natchitoches and the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1857. For Steel Magnolia fans, be sure to check out the Lemee House, the Steel Magnolia House, the Episcopal Church, the Blanchard Building, and the riverfront, all sites featured in the film. We will end the afternoon at American Cemetery, believed to be the oldest cemetery in the Louisiana Purchase, where we will see a hands-on demonstration of monuments care. True Steel Magnolia fans will also know which scene took place in the cemetery!
Downtown Natchitoches along the Cane River (Lake), Louisiana. Natchitoches (natchitoches.com).
Our adventures in Natchitoches will end at the closing banquet hosted at the Cane River Brewery, located within a refurbished cotton gin building. Bring your dancing shoes!
Cane River Brewery, Natchitoches, Louisiana (blendradioandtv.com).
Debbie Smith has arranged with a number of B&Bs in Natchitoches to honor/honour the government rate of $96USD per night (plus tax). Please find the list here. There are also a number of other lodging options in town and at the interstate including hotels and motels. Debbie encourages one and all to book early!
It is also helpful to know that there are no shuttles to Natchitoches nor is there public transportation in the town. With the exception of Violet Hill (about a mile away), all of the B & B’s are within walking distance from NCPTT, the meeting venue.
There are two airports about an hour from Natchitoches:
Alexandria International Airport (AEX) approx. 53 miles from Natchitoches, and Shreveport Regional Airport (SHV) about 77 miles. Please check flights to/from both airports that best suits your travel needs. Rental cars are located onsite at both airports.