Reconstructing Fort St. Jean Baptiste de Natchitoches
The oldest settlement west of the Mississippi River.
One of the many historic and interesting sites in Natchitoches is Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site. The fort represents the extraordinary community established by our founding father, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, while en route to Mexico in 1714 on a trade mission.
When St. Denis reached the area on the Red River inhabited by the Natchitoches Indians, he had a few huts built and left a small number of French Canadians to begin the first permanent European settlement in Louisiana.
In 1716, the Sieur Claude-Charles Dutisné was sent to build and garrison the first Fort St. Jean Baptiste de Natchitoches, a strategic outpost to prevent the Spaniards in Mexico from advancing farther into French Louisiana.
The fort continued to serve this vital function until the entire French colony west of the Mississippi as well as New Orleans and the Isle of Orleans on the east bank were ceded to Spain in 1762, following France’s defeat by England in the French and Indian War. It continued to serve the Spaniards as a link in their lines of communication through their vast colonial empire, but the fort was abandoned soon after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when the U.S. built Fort Claiborne nearby.
The reconstruction of the fort is based upon a carefully drawn plan made in 1733 by the French architectural engineer Ignace François Broutin. He visited the area in August 1732 and constructed several new buildings within the fort, including a long barracks building, a small warehouse and a house for the warehouse keeper.
Although the exact location of the 1732 fort is unknown, in 1979, a site in the vicinity was obtained for reconstruction based on Broutin’s plans and extensive archival research.
All building materials used in the reconstruction were obtained locally, while 18th century technology was employed in the manufacturing process. Nearly 2,000 treated pine logs were used to form the palisade, and about 250,000 board-feet of treated lumber went into the construction of the buildings. All hinges and latches were handmade of wrought iron at a nearby foundry.
With the completion of Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site, the Office of State Parks has begun developing an interpretive program that will provide visitors a unique opportunity to experience the early colonial period of our history. Visiting Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site will leave you with a better understanding and appreciation of the customs and traditions that made up the daily lives of early French settlers in Louisiana.