Living Library focuses on ‘Women Preserving Natchitoches’

Northwestern State University hosted a panel of women devoted to preservation of historic Natchitoches and Cane River for the Fall 2023 Watson’s Living Library event, a series in which individuals share their first-hand account of what they saw or lived through.  The session, titled “Women Preserving Natchitoches,” scratched the surface of preservation initiatives in Natchitoches, not only pertaining to historic buildings, but to genealogy, cultural identify and heritage resources.

Panelists were Dr. Julie Kane, Gail Metoyer Jones, Dr. Kass Byrd and Dr. Vicki Parish, who each offered insight into aspects of preservation through the lenses of genealogy, faith, social/cultural disciplines and organized preservation groups. Moderator Donna Baker opened the discussion by saying that women are traditionally culture keepers, historically and globally.

Kane spoke as volunteer from the Natchitoches Genealogical and Historical Association and the Natchitoches Genealogy Library housed in the Old Courthouse. Materials in the library include collections from families in the area, documents that date to Louisiana’s colonial era, church and land records, tax rolls, news clippings and folders on businesses and organizations.  The library offers access to genealogy websites and research assistance. Membership in the NGHA costs $20 per year and includes a subscription to its biannual journal, The Natchitoches Genealogist.

“We are always finding something that we never knew was there,” Kane said. The group is also concerned about preserving the parish-owned Old Courthouse, an 1896 Richardson Romanesque building in need of attention.

Jones spoke about how St. Augustine Catholic Church near Melrose plays a role in preservation through the filter of religion.  The church has been the heart of the Cane River Creole community since it was established by Augustin Metoyer in 1803 and is home not only to a vibrant faith community, but also is important in preserving records of births, deaths and religious milestones.  Jones said the church is linked to Augustine Metoyer’s descendants, the land on which they live and their large extended family.

Byrd, an anthropologist and former state archaeologist, talked about how disciplines associated with preservation, cultural practices, history and genealogy interface with local resources such as the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Cane River National Heritage Area, the Ben D. Johnson Education Center, preservation groups and the Creole Heritage Center, the Folklife Center, Williamson Museum and the Cammie G. Henry Research Center at NSU. 

Parrish talked about the history of women’s clubs in Natchitoches, beginning with The Lesche Club and literary organizations and later with the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches and service groups that gave women an outlet to be impactful in their communities, including preserving historic structures.  Those initiatives are ongoing, Parrish said, providing an update on recent repairs at Melrose where hurricanes have caused recent damage and drainage is an issue.

Tuesday’s event was the seventh installment of Watson’s Living Library: Everyone Has a Story series.  The panels are recorded and become part of the collection at Watson Library that researchers can use to supplement books, journals and other traditional resources for research.

The next event will be in the Spring 2024 semester and focus on Unsung Heroes of NSU.