Sunday, March 4, 2012

Natchitoches, LA and Melrose Plantation

The city of Natchitoches is known most for its Christmas Festival of Lights during the month of December each year, but it is a great place to go for shopping and lunch any day.  My friends and I make this trip often because we enjoy the atmosphere of the town and many of the shops on Front Street.   
Front Street


 








We like most of the shops on and adjacent to Front Street, but we do have some favorites.  The Merci Beaucoup Gift Shop on Church Street is my year round favorite for interesting home d├ęcor.  Cora’s Antiques and Gifts has unique and unusual items.  The Louisiana Purchase and The Plantation Treasures shops on Front Street have merchandise related to the Louisiana and Natchitoches area. 

There are lots of choices for a great lunch.  The Landing and the Merci Beaucoup Restaurant are our favorites.  Everything at The Landing is tasty especially their bread pudding and French silk pie.  The crawfish etouffee at Merci Beaucoup is excellent on their Cajun potatoes, crabcakes, or just rice.  We have been known to eat lunch at Merci Beaucoup and then later stop at The Landing for dessert!

After this trip to Natchitoches we took Highway 494 South along the Cane River National Heritage Trail.  We passed by Oaklawn Manor, Cherokee Plantation, and the Cane River Creole National Historical Park.  Riding by these places made us want to stop and visit but our destination was the Melrose Plantation, and we didn’t have time for a side trip. 


African House
Yucca House

The history of Melrose Plantation centers around the lives of three unique women—Marie Therese Coincoin, Cammie Henry, and Clementine Hunter.  The plantation was founded by Marie Therese Coincoin.  She and her children were slaves before being bought and freed by Thomas Pierre Metoyer, the childrens’ father, who bought the plantation for them.  They built the Yucca House and the African House between 1794 and 1803 while clearing the land, building roads, and raising indigo, tobacco, cotton and other crops.  The Big House was built at Melrose around 1833 by Coincoin’s son, Louis Metoyer.  It was added to later by the Henry family.


The Big House


In the early 1900s Melrose became the home of John and Cammie Henry.  Miss Cammie, as she was known, rescued the colonial buildings and plantation gardens, and accumulated a library of Louisiana books.  She began an Artist Colony by inviting artists and writers to stay as long as they wished.  Our tour guide informed us that they would all eat together daily and were expected to share what they had accomplished that day.  Several days with nothing to share meant it was time to leave.

Clementine Hunter's House











Clementine Hunter worked at Melrose during the 1940s, first in the fields and later as a cook.  She began painting in her fifties by using some paints and brushes that were left behind by another artist.  She became Louisiana’s most famous folk artist.  Some of her paintings can still be seen at Melrose in the Big House, and her murals on the walls in the upstairs of the African House are amazing.  When our tour guide took us to the second floor of the African House we had no idea of what was waiting for us.  All four walls were covered in murals of Clementine Hunter’s early paintings of plantation life.  We all just stood there with our mouths open.  It was amazing to think that this women who couldn’t even read or write could produce such wonderful works.



The tour of Melrose was well worth the $10.00 price of admission.  The Big House was well furnished with pieces from the early 1900s.  The tour guide was very informative of the history of the plantation and the people who had lived there.  We had a great afternoon and learned a lot!