11 Years Later, How has Natchitoches Changed? Or has it?

It’s hard for me to believe, but quite soon it will be 11 years since Mary and I retired to Natchitoches from the New Orleans area.

We had escaped all but minor damage from Hurricane Katrina, with no flooding at all, but everyone at that time was saying how the fierce storms were going to be more frequent and more powerful. So, I didn’t want to be an old man worried every summer and early fall about having my house blown away by Hurricane Whoever. Thank God there have been no major storms in our area since then, but hey, it could happen again next year. Who knows?

So, having been acquainted with Natchitoches in previous visits, and having fallen in love with its charm and history, I posed the question to my spouse on one of our visits after Katrina, “Don’t you think this would be a good place to retire?”

And the rest is history. History from the last 11 years, at any rate.

In some ways the town has changed very little in the last decade, and in some ways that’s very good. It retains its unique beauty, its history going back to colonial days and some very cool museums as well as some good places to eat.

Some of the changes in the last 11 years are also for the better. We have a new form of parish government, having gone from the old Police Jury to a Parish Council and president, and I think that’s also very good. I think some old time residents need to understand that government under the new parish charter can be made to be much more efficient than the old Police Jury system and that different outlooks are sometimes needed.

For many years I covered the Jefferson Parish Council and president and believe me, the system can work and work well. Not that Jefferson didn’t have its share of problems, but a modern system of government is needed for these modern times. Jefferson is much larger and more urban than Natchitoches Parish, but the principle of efficient government still holds.

I think we have some good elected officials, who are dedicated to improvements, but they must be given time.

Commercial change is also inevitable and a couple of my favorite little neighborhood restaurants that flourished a decade ago are no longer around. But new eateries have opened up and Mary and I still enjoy going out to lunch and dinner a lot.
One of the most notable additions to our town is the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. I must admit, I’m still not quite used to its architecture, but it’s a great place to visit if you love sports and/or history. The staff is working hard to put on interesting programs and new foundation CEO Ronnie Rantz has some neat ideas he wants to run with.

Too many people around the state are not aware of this special attraction and Ronnie wants to change that.

What can I say about Fort St. Jean Baptiste, the exact replica of the early 18th century French fort here. I love that place and it’s a true time machine and a real asset to Natchitoches.

I do miss the Old Courthouse Museum, but the great old late Victorian structure is still open to members of the public who want to research their ancestry at the Natchitoches Genealogical and Historical Association library. Check them out, the very helpful volunteers are ready to assist you.

We still have our frequent festivals and, of course, Christmas. The Christmas Festival keeps the economic wheels of Natchitoches turning. Some business owners on Front Street are concerned about the flat economy and lagging sales, but a couple of projects to increase tourism are in the works and may be able to turn that around.

NSU, naturally, is the main year-round economic mainstay for Natchitoches. Even with all of the cutbacks in the state higher education budget, campus officials are doing their best to offer the best education that their money will allow.

So, we’re glad to be part of this very traditional yet still changing little city. I can’t say I don’t miss the New Orleans area, but Natchitoches, which outsiders will never learn to pronounce on the first try, is a pretty neat place to hang our hats.

7 thoughts on “11 Years Later, How has Natchitoches Changed? Or has it?

  1. I am not coming down on Natchitoches completely,merely saying some growth is a good thing and as far as being young or a younger person,there is nothing here to do .The movie theatre is dated,no malls,etc.And other then a select few decent restaraunts all we really have is chicken and burgers.
    It would be nice to see some sort of growth on 49 corridor,and I totally get Front street is the citys baby and money cow,but you can’t just forget about the rest of the city and these god awful streets.I have had more front end allignments done since moving back then ever have at any other time,we have the worst roads in the country.But I moved back for the good people and good friends.

  2. In my opinion, Natchitoches is doing a great job with what it has. Tourism has had a significant impact on the economy and NSU continues to play a leading role, despite higher ed’s current challenges. NSU enrollment peaked in ’04 but at least is on the rise again. I continue to be amazed at how much Front Street has changed since what I would consider a low point in the 1980’s. The Christmas season still packs in the visitors and there are now multiple festivals and events spread throughout the year. That’s been a great collaborative effort between citizens, the local government, the university and the National Park Service, among others. From the vantage point of someone who moved off but is still close-by, I’m amazed at how many times my kids are packed into school buses and sent on field trips to Ft. St. Jean Baptiste, the Alligator Farm, and elsewhere. I doubt city and parish leaders are trying to dissuade businesses from relocating to the city. Realistically, Natchitoches is a small town in a rural part of the state. Travel the country and you’ll find many similarly-sized towns that have withered up and died over the last 50 years. For a Louisiana city (especially North Louisiana) that is not in a major metro area or deeply involved with oil and gas, Natchitoches is holding its own.

  3. I appreciate you gentlemen’s comments and I can certainly understand your viewpoints. However, this is a tourist town and without them we would be in trouble. The tourist industry provides a good number of jobs and that incudes everyone from those who work in the shops on Front Street to the motel employees out on the interstate. Many of those jobs don’t pay, of course, like an industrial job would, but if we didn’t have the tourism, we still wouldn’t have the industries, so at least they provide work for some folks. . And though I’ve been here only 11 years, I understand that some time back, most of the storefronts on Front were closed and that makes for a very depressing situation, one that faces many small cities these days, but, fortunately not here. So, tourism and NSU provide a base and we need to grow from there. Again, gentlemen, thanks for the input. Joe.

  4. . . . Matt F. has made an excellent point. Growing up in Natch and loving what it use to be creates great memories. Picking up pecans at Melrose, sliding down Homes’ hill on 4th St. after a rare snowfall, hanging out at Bernard’s dairy as a teen, watching 409 Chevys drag race on Robeline Rd, watching the fireworks from the bridge, are memories which should never be replaced with paying to see the Christmas Festival. Natch has become what one prominent and well liked business man from the 50s once said. The hunger for tourism money will spoil the true love of Natch.

  5. i have moved back here after being gone 26 years and i was shocked that
    Natchitoches hasn’t grown much at all.I saw a Chilis and a new Wal-Mart,i was expecting more places to eat and shop.But in another sense i am not surprised the city hadn’t grown more,alot of old money and familys here who don’t want change and that is sad,change is good .
    I remember in high school never had to pay to get on river bank for Christmas festival or any festival,it seems now it is all about sticking it to tourists and focus on Front Street.This city needs more to do and has to change.

    • I have to agree with parts of Matts comments. Unfortunately, the urgency to maintain the historic values within the city has directly hampered commercial growth. Watching the economy from a distance has been less than encouraging to come back and do something for the city. Old money continues to play a contributing factor in keeping Natchitoches “in-check.” The increase in crimes and violence will continue as the citizens suffer from lack of creativity, cooperativeness, and entrepreneurial mindset from elected and community leaders. I imagine that once the individuals with the “old” mindset die out, those with the creativity and willingness to work together can step in and move the parish forward. Until then, let’s revisit this in 11 years.

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