The City of Natchitoches (population 18,337), the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, was established in 1714. Originally a French outpost for trade with the Spanish and Native Americans, the town grew to serve many agricultural plantations along what was then the Red River.
Natchitoches citizens have been involved in historic preservation for over 50 years, leading to the survival of many important sites that tell the story of the community. Natchitoches is home to a National Historic Landmark District, and is also part of the Cane River National Heritage Area, which links historic resources in both urban and rural parts of the area.
Five plantations are open daily for visitors, and there are guided tours of the National Landmark Historic District, historic fort sites, and museums. One area plantation preserves rare slave cabins as well as early cotton pressing and ginning equipment. In 2004, Natchitoches hosted national and statewide preservation conferences, showcasing an outstanding record in preservation and sustainable development through heritage tourism.
An unusually broad public-private partnership has been the preservation, documentation, and interpretation of Natchitoches' historic American Cemetery, on the site of the French colonial fort. In 2001, a local nonprofit obtained a matching grant from the Cane River National Heritage Area for restoration, lighting, and fencing.
The city provided additional funding, directed a clean-up, and guided landscaping efforts. Archeologists from Northwestern State University monitored the digging of 250 post holes for the fencing; the Cane River National Historical Park donated labor to help the archeologists; and a local contractor provided materials below cost.
The National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT), located in Natchitoches, began documenting the cemetery's 1,300 gravesites, assisted by student interns and community volunteers. Lessons learned on this project have been turned into an historic cemetery preservation workshop being offered across the United States.
Natchitoches has received Save America's Treasures grants to help restore two local National Historic Landmarks, is a Certified Local Government, and participates in the Main Street program.
Designated a Preserve America Community in September 2004.