Historic Front Street
Downtown Natchitoches in the early 20th century
The original French Colony in Louisiana, Natchitoches has evolved from an important 18th-century trading post into a vibrant cultural and historical center, reflecting a unique blend of French, Spanish, American Indian, Creole, and American traditions. The 33-block Natchitoches National Landmark District encompasses many of the places that played a central role in the formation of this distinctive cultural character for which Cane River National Heritage Area is known.
At the heart of the Natchitoches National Historic Landmark District lies Front Street. This street, composed of bricks and lined with historic buildings, delightful shops and restaurants, offers visitors and residents a chance to relax and enjoy the beauty of Cane River Lake.
A Humble Beginning
Natchitoches’ story is rooted in colonial exploration and settlement, with the territory being alternately controlled by the French, then the Spanish during the 18th-century. The town was formally established as an Indian trading post in the winter of 1713-1714 by Frenchman Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, and by 1716, a fort had been built to protect French Louisiana from encroachment by the Spanish.
By the early 1800’s, the trade post had transformed into a bustling river port with large tobacco and cotton plantations dominating the landscape. The area’s incorporation into the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 further spurred development of the downtown district with the addition of new government, commercial, and residential buildings. Natchitoches quickly became a thriving commercial center for the region.
Growth & Development
Growth of the downtown district steadily continued throughout the 19th-century. New hotels, bars, lumberyards, and general stores began to spring up, with the area assuming its unique appearance and status as a commercial center by the Civil War. In the early 20th-century, the district gained a modern feel with the addition of brick roadways, street lights, a landscaped river bank, modernized storefronts, and gas stations. Development and growth driven by increased tourism in the 21st-century has transformed Front Street into the colorful blend of new and old traditions that visitors and residents enjoy today.
Laying of the original bricks on Front Street in the early 20th-century.
Archaeologists sifting through artifacts discovered underneath Front Street’s old brick roadway surface during a renovation project in 2008. Each brick was cleaned and reinserted to form a smoother surface that local residents and visitors will enjoy for years to come.
Images courtesy of: Northwestern State University of Louisiana, Watson Memorial Library, Cammie G. Henry Research Center, Luke Frederick, and the City of Natchitoches
Presidential Preserve America Award–In 2007, Natchitoches Main Street and the Cane River National Heritage Area received the country’s highest historic preservation award from President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush for their unique partnership in developing and sustaining heritage tourism within the Natchitoches region.
Great American Main Street Award–Natchitoches Main Street was honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Main Street Center in 2006 as one of the top Main Street communities in the United States. The award recognizes achievement in revitalizing America’s historic and traditional commercial districts.
Dozen Distinctive Destination–The Natchitoches region was named as one of the United States’ Dozen Distinctive Destinations in 2005. This was the first time a Louisiana city had ever received this designation.
Preserve America Community–First Lady Laura Bush bestowed this designation on the Natchitoches region in 2004.
The Natchitoches Main Street community has received several awards from the Louisiana Main Street Program in recognition of outstanding historic preservation projects, downtown programming and retail promotions.