By Nancy Morgan
The Cane River National Heritage Area awarded $175,000 in 2001 to 12 programs and individuals for research, development and historic preservation projects. Among these, the American Cemetery Association was awarded a $35,000 grant to restore the American Cemetery located in the National Historic Landmark District of Natchitoches, Louisiana. The cemetery contains graves dating from the mid-18th century to the present and occupies the original site of Fort St. Jean Baptiste, a French fort constructed in 1720.
The American Cemetery Association will provide matching funds for the project, the total cost of which will exceed $70,000. The scope of the project entails restoring walls, headstones, and gravesites; renovating pathways; installing new signage and flagpoles; erecting a wrought iron fence around the cemetery’s perimeter; and installing lighting in the interior of the cemetery.
The project will be carried out in phases. Landscape Architect Jeff Carbo of Alexandria, Louisiana, is overseeing project planning and implementation; American Cemetery Association member Jim Pierson is coordinating the project. The staff at the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training is providing consultation throughout the American Cemetery restoration project.
The project began with two clean-up days at the American Cemetery during the summer. The City of Natchitoches, the American Cemetery Association, and local volunteers collaborated to begin clearing dead trees, overgrown brush, and litter from cemetery grounds. Their efforts have earned them praise from the community, as the cemetery now is more accessible to residents and tourists.
The next phase of the project is an investigation in which archeologists will survey the rear of the cemetery and excavate areas the fence will cross. Given the site’s 200-year history, the archeological investigation could reveal unmarked burials and yield artifacts from the early French fort. Once the archeological investigation is complete, the fence will be erected.
Although the entire restoration project will take several years to complete, the American Cemetery Association anticipates that the fencing and lighting will be complete in 2002.
Congress established the Cane River National Heritage Area in northwestern Louisiana in 1994 to preserve and promote the nationally significant cultural, historical, and natural resources of the Cane River region.
Nancy I. M. Morgan was executive director of the Cane River National Heritage Area Commission.