Friday, June 24, 2011

Take a Trip to Natchitoches and to Melrose Plantation

We have returned from our latest trek to Nachitoches.  Each time we go we try to do something we haven't done before and this time was no exception.  Of course, there are the things that we must always do every time we go, but we try to add something new now and then.

Last summer we went to Oakland plantation which we loved.  We learned a lot about history and plantation life on that tour.  Lots of folks suggested we go to Melrose this time, so we did.

The Historic District is beautiful and I've posted lots and lots of pictures in the past.  I'll try to avoid the repeats.

We arrived on Thursday and parked at The Church Street Inn where we always stay.  The price is right and we don't have to get back in the car if we don't want to because most everything is within walking distance.

We started out at Lasyone's for lunch where I had my usual meat pie platter.  It came with salad, dirty rice and okra and tomatoes.  After lunch we decided to walk around for a bit.

Here is the rectory across from The Church Street Inn:

I like it because it's sort of unusual; that's the Bishop's House to the left going back.  All manicured and immaculate all the time.  Directly across the street is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception:

We usually go inside but skipped it this time; they were cleaning when we walked by.

We did, however, go inside the Trinity Episcopal Church this time.  We've never done that before.  It's not nearly as ornate as the Basilica, of course, but I loved the wood floors and the simplicity of it.  The stained glass windows were gorgeous and then, of course, I loved the bell tower:

This is not my picture; it came from the Trinity link above:

That round window in the front is gorgeous.  I took a picture from the inside but it came out blurry.  The church was the first non-Catholic church in Natchitoches and building began in 1857.  Read this link for the history.  Fascinating.  The church was also shown in the movie Steel Magnolias - it was Truvy's church.

From there we went to The Information Center to replenish our tourism brochures and see what was new:

And from there on to Kaffie-Frederick General Store so Steve could restock his Nakatosh coffee.  The store is the oldest general store in Louisiana and has everything under the sun.  Steve got a key made and bought coffee while I looked over the classic toys:

We went to The American Cemetery after a bit.  It is considered by many to be the oldest cemetery in the Louisiana Purchase and it's quite beautiful.  Last time we went there Steve discovered this grave of Dr. John Sibley who fought in the Revolutionary War, among other things.  Many of the old graves are crumbling and decaying, many lost to time, but the cemetery is fascinating.  There's lots of iron fences marking off plots, huge shady trees, some of which have roots that have disrupted grave sites, iron crosses and beautiful monuments throughout:

I guess we were on a Steel Magnolias theme this time because part of the movie was filmed in this cemetery, not far from this scene:

I thought this old tree was cool:

We left the cemetery, went back to Front Street and stopped in The Book Merchant.  I can never skip a stop at The Book Merchant; independent booksellers are becoming so scarce and J. Michael Kenny keeps a huge selection of local fiction, non-fiction and resources.  I always buy something from him and Steve always pets the shop cats.  This time I bought a mystery from a local writer, Michael Henry, called Three Bad Years.  I'm told it's like "early Grisham."  Here is shop cat Princess about to get some water:

Well by this time it must be time for The Pioneer Pub to open so we headed down to the other end of Front Street for some refreshment.  It was getting close to dinner time too, so I had a mushroom cheeseburger which was wonderful.   Steve had a burger with jalapenos or something - hot and spicy.  He loved it.  We sat there for a long time enjoying the atmosphere, visiting with some folks and buying t-shirts.

Thursday is live band night at The Pub and the band this night was local favorite Hardrick Rivers.  They started at 10.  Well, by this time the place was quite loud and lots of folks were having a really good time.  As it happens, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are taking place this weekend and a lot of people involved in those festivities wandered into The Pub.  Both Morten Anderson and Todd Walker were in there and their large group was celebrating someone's birthday right behind us.

We stayed until around 11 or so and then we headed out for a walk along the river before going back to the hotel.  Once there we sat on the balcony, watched traffic on Church street for a bit and let the noise clear out of our heads.

Before I go on, let me just say, this new Sports Hall of Fame building that is going up on Front Street has apparently been the cause of some controversy in Natchitoches.  It's right in the Historic District yet they've made no attempt to stay with the architecture and style of the rest of the district.  The ultra-modern design of the building has ruffled feathers of many locals:

You see that little shadow of a building on the right?  That's The Pub.  The building is under construction right now:

This morning we got up with no real plan except we knew we wanted to drive down the river road.  I think it's actually highway 494, but everyone just calls it the river road.  It winds along Cane River (which used to be the main channel of the Red River way back in the day.)  Check out this National Geographic link on the whole trek.  It's a beautiful drive.

Well, we'd done Oakland before, as I said, and we loved it.  Melrose is a bit further down and we decided to go ahead and do that.  I mean, everyone around here has heard of Clementine Hunter.  Now, I'll be honest.  I'm not a fan.  Full disclosure:  to me, it looks like something a five year old could paint.  I've had lots of art history classes and the whole nine yards and I get what she was doing.  She was painting plantation life as she saw it, which is great - it's history.  I love that aspect of it.  But do I want it on my wall?  Nope.  Lots of people love her work; it's not my bag.   That said, I did want to see Melrose and learn more about Miss Hunter and I hoped to gain a better appreciation of her work.

So on down the river road we go.  I stopped to take a picture of Cherokee Plantation - it's not open to the public except by appointment and usually during the Heritage tours.  It's believed the house was built in 1839:

Love this church we passed along the way, just past Cherokee but before Oakland:

It's nestled right next to a cornfield.  As we set back out, this is our view:

We longingly passed Oakland and kept on going.  Melrose didn't open until 12:00 so we stopped nearby to photograph the Badin-Roque House:

This is the kitchen:

and this is the house:

There's more info at the link above which you should check out, especially if you don't know what bousillage is.

As I was walking away from the house, Steve honked the horn and I turned in alarm thinking a snake or some other noxious creature was after me, but it turned out to be this adorable young dog!  He just wanted to say hello and make friends.  We pet him, played a few minutes, then he started chasing grasshoppers and headed on back to his house which was nearby:

The dog was well fed, had been neutered and we knew he had loving owners, so we waved goodbye and headed over to Melrose.

On the way we stopped to see the St. Augustine Catholic Church which is believed to be the first Catholic church established by and for people of color in the U.S.  Keeping with our inadvertent Steel Magnolia's theme, it was used as the setting for Shelby's wedding:

Behind the church is the cemetery where some of the older graves are in French:

Okay so as I now know, Melrose is more renown now as the home of Clementine Hunter and as an artists colony of sorts that plantation wife Cammie Henry established after the turn of the century.  Melrose was initially established between 1794 and 1803 by Marie Therese Coincoin, a free woman of color who obtained the land after being freed by her owner, Thomas Pierre Metoyer.  The whole story is at the link but this is Yucca House - the original main house:

There was some restoration going on there so we didn't go inside that one.  Yucca House was built around 1796 and shortly after that was African House:

It was built around 1800.  It's two stories; the ground floor is brick:

and upstairs are Clementine Hunter murals:

From there, our tour guide let folks ring the plantation bell:

and I took a picture of the old fireplace from the original kitchen:

I love the old iron pots sitting there.

Steve admired the ferns in the old live oaks:

Next we were led inside the "big house" which was built around 1833:

This was, obviously, a dining room:

And behind it (and sharing a fireplace) is a sitting room where "Miss Cammie" had her books and did her famous scrapbooking:

I thought this was pretty:

We went on upstairs through the bedrooms:

And saw more Clementine Hunter paintings.  Note the huge chicken:

This is a "rolling pin" bed; the rolling pin lifts off to be used to flatten and straighten the hay mattress in the morning:

A back upstairs porch with built in bookshelves:

And a view from the front of the house toward the road:

That oak tree is well over 300 years old.

Down these back stairs and our tour was over:

We wandered the grounds a bit, I took some more pictures, then we stopped in the gift shop:

...where I bought a book about Melrose and we wrapped it all up.

Since it's taken me almost as long to write this as it took to do it all, I'm wrapping this up.  On down the road from Melrose is yet another plantation, Magnolia.  Who knows - maybe we'll do that one next!  It's supposedly quite large and equally historic.

I enjoyed seeing Melrose but Oakland gives a better picture of what plantation life was actually like as far as a real "working plantation."  It has so many of the original buildings and you can see how it was all spread out and how it all worked.  Melrose, as I said, was once a plantation in that they grew tobacco and indigo there, as well as lots and lots of pecan orchards, but it is more known now for the contribution to the arts that occurred there.

Did I gain any greater appreciation for Clementine Hunter works?  Well, yes, I did.  Do I want one?  Nope.

RelatedThe "Take a Trip" Series


sheryl said...

love the pictures. hope you can take us there some day.

a person would wake up w/ a headache if the rolling pin fell off the headboard!!! look like it's pretty heavy.

Tina said...

Wow, you outdid yourself on this one! This is about 4 trips in one! I am enjoying exploring it, and have linked to it here: Take A Trip Outside Your Door: The Beauty of Local Day Trips

Natchitoches Tourism said...

You always do Natchitoches proud with your blogs. I'm glad you were able to see and do new things on this trip.
Iris Harper
Natchitoches Parish Tourist Commission
FYI: The office with all the brochures!!!

Pat Austin said...

@ Iris:
Thanks! You guys are so friendly down there! Steve and I always remark that we meet the nicest people in Natchitoches! Can't wait to return!