Established in 1714, the City of Natchitoches has developed from the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase to a regional cultural hotspot. An important town for agriculture in its formative years, Natchitoches suffered a steady decline in growth and agricultural production through the 20th century.
Starting in the mid-1970s, a shift was made towards designing a historic district centered around the rich history of the town. Since then, Natchitoches has developed into a successful tourist attraction. Aside from starring in multiple feature films, it is home to the Louisiana Hall of Fame, a wide array of historic man-made and natural landmarks, and a myriad of festivals throughout the year.
On the surface, it isn’t hard to see how Natchitoches has been voted one of the best small towns in the Southern United States. However, underneath the glamour of history lies inequality stemming from Natchitoches’ long history. Within the span of four city blocks from Front Street to Fourth Street, the wealth gap in the city is displayed clearly for all to see.
“The Historic District is the oldest part of town, and crossing the river, you enter East Natchitoches. When I was growing up, East Natchitoches was more developed, with better roads and schools,” said Natchitoches Mayor Lee Posey. “There’s always been a bit of east versus west mentality here.”
It seems that as Natchitoches has developed, the wealthier elite settled in the Eastern part of the town, while the “working poor” developed in the Western side. Following desegregation in the 1960s, this racial and economic divide has been kicked to the backseat of the issues list, as the city focused on strengthening the town economy through tourism.
Now leading a city on the precipice of a new beginning, Mayor Lee Posey and his team have taken an aggressive approach to repair and unite the city.
“In the past, Natchitoches has not done a good job keeping up with the city’s infrastructure needs,” said Posey. “Over the last six years, we’ve spent around $40 million repairing and improving our town’s infrastructure.
“We try to be fair in dispersing the funds around the city so that all areas of the city can be improved, not just the most visited ones,” said Posey. “We’re really behind, and it’s time to catch up. Streets, sewage, drainage and electrical lines are the main focus.”
While slow-moving, the results have already begun to speak for themselves.
“These things take time,” said Posey. “However, we have people of all types in the community coming together and taking an interest in repairing the town we all call home. There are groups cleaning up places in the community they never would before, and it’s this community-driven initiative that will eventually bring us together.”