Cane River National Heritage Area is situated along the banks of Cane River Lake in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Here, you will find a place where several cultures – American Indian, French, Spanish, American, African and Creole – came together to create a way of life dependent on the land, the river and one another. This rural landscape is known for its historic plantations, distinctive Creole architecture and it was the intersection of the French and Spanish settlers in the New World. The heritage area begins just south of Natchitoches, the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, and extends along both sides of Cane River Lake for approximately 35 miles. The heritage area includes Cane River Creole National Historical Park, seven National Historic Landmarks, three State Historic Sites, and many other historic plantations, homes, and churches. View a map of the park.
Today, these colonial forts, Creole plantations, historic landmarks, churches and cemeteries provide a special view into the past. Several sites are open to the public within the Cane River National Historic Park, established in 1994. Spanning 63 acres, the park includes two French Creole cotton plantations, Oakland and Magnolia and the outbuildings of Melrose Plantation. Both Oakland and Magnolia plantations have been restored to reflect their appropriate historic settings, including landscaping, outbuildings, structures and artifacts. Both plantations are the most intact French Creole cotton plantations in the United States.
Plantations at Cane River National Heritage Area
Oakland Plantation has 17 of its original outbuildings still remaining. Outbuildings on the plantation offer a glimpse into how antebellum life worked with pigeonniers, a carriage house, the mule barn that was originally a smokehouse, carpenter’s shop and cabins. Tours of the main house are also available.
The Magnolia Plantation consists of 18 acres of outbuildings, including a blacksmith shop, plantation store, gin barn, eight cabins, and former slave hospital. The gin barn houses a wooden screw-type cotton press, the last such press remaining in its original site in the United States. Self-guided tours are available.
The Melrose Plantation plot was originally acquired in 1753 by Jean Baptiste LeComte and has stayed in the family for 250 years. The plantation outbuildings comprise the Magnolia Unit of Cane River Creole National Historical Park, while the main house is still owned by the family but can be toured. This planation offers an additional look into the lives of slaves and the operations of a working cotton plantation. One of Louisiana's famous African-American artists, Clementine Hunter, started crafting her art at Melrose and a collection of her art can be seen today in the African House outbuilding. Visit Melrose for a tour of the house or self-guided tour of the gardens.
State Historic Sites at Cane River National Heritage Area
The three state historic sites include Fort St. Jean Baptiste, Los Adaes and Fort Jesup. Each packed with history, they are the reminders of the sacrifices and labor requried to establish territory in the New World. Click on the links above to read about each of the historic sites.
At the northern gateway of the park, you’ll find yourself in the charming historic city of Natchitoches, the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. It is famous for its downtown historic district adorned with beautiful architecture housing restaurants, galleries, bed and breakfasts, and shopping. Get the guide to ten things to do in Natchitoches.
The people of Cane River continue the traditions handed down through generations that keep the unique cultures of this region alive. Special events are held throughout the year.