Sights in Baton Rouge
Sights in Baton Rouge
On my road trip East, I decided to take a half-day to explore the capital of Louisiana. Baton Rouge, also known as the City of Landmarks, has over 75 buildings and sites on the National Register of Historical Places and 8 historic districts, so I knew there would be plenty to see.
Since European settlement, Baton Rouge has been governed by France, Britain, Spain, Louisiana, the Florida Republic, the Confederate States, and the United States. Ten flags have flown over Baton Rouge throughout its history:
- Spanish Flag of Leone & Castile
- French Bourbon Fleur-de-Lis 
- British Union 
- Spain Bourbon 
- French Tri-Color 
- U.S. Flag of 15 Stars 
- Republic of West Florida Lone Star
- Louisiana Independent Republic (1861)
- Confederate Flag (1861)
- Louisiana Flag  and United State of America
The European-American history of Baton Rouge dates from 1699, when French explorer Sieur d’Iberville leading an exploration party up the Mississippi River saw a reddish cypress pole festooned with carcasses marking the boundary between the Houma and Bayou Goula tribal hunting grounds. They called the pole and its location le bâton rouge, or the red stick. I always laugh a little bit at the literalness of names in earlier settlements, but then if you are an explorer and naming 100’s of rocks, rivers, and sites – you get literal.
The settlement of Baton Rouge by Europeans began in 1719 when a military post was established by French colonists. In 1755, when French-speaking settlers of Acadia in Canada’s Maritime provinces were driven into exile by British forces, many took up residence in rural Louisiana. Popularly known as Cajuns, the descendants of the Acadians maintained a separate culture that immeasurably enriched the Baton Rouge area. During the first half of the 19th century, the city grew steadily as the result of steamboat trade and transportation.Incorporated in 1817, Baton Rouge became Louisiana’s state capital in 1849 as state officials wanted a separate political center from the economic center – New Orleans.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Baton Rouge experienced a boom in the petrochemical industry including Standard Oil. A building boom that began in the 1990s continues today, with multi-million dollar projects for quality of life improvements and new construction happening all over the city and is one of the fastest growing cities in the South. Baton Rouge’s population temporarily exploded after Hurricane Katrina, as it accepted as many as 200,000 displaced residents. Today Baton Rouge has ~230,000 residents and ~820,000 in the larger metropolitan area.
The city has a mix of the cultures found throughout Louisiana, from which it developed its motto:
“Authentic Louisiana at every turn”
Baton Rouge Sights to See
First stop is the Louisiana Old State Capitol, this building served as Baton Rouge’s state capitol building from 1852 until 1932 when the New Capitol Building was completed. The gothic architectural building sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi and fits its nickname “Castle of the River”. Inside you will be immediately struck by a beautiful spiral staircase leading up to brilliant stained glass windows. This part was reconstructed after it was burned by Union troops in 1862.
The building has further been restored and now serves as a political museum with exhibits on The Governors’ Portrait Gallery, Baton Rouge and the Civil War, and the Legacy of Huey Long – the legendary governor who still overshadows this city. Known as the Kingfish, Huey Long gave some of his infamous speeches here. Read More about Louisiana’s Old State Capitol->>>
Walking along the city park between the Old State Capital and the Old Governor’s Mansion with classical music playing from the mossy trees, you will see the impressive City Club. Built in 1894 as a US Post Office, the building was renovated in 19 35 for use as the Baton Rouge City Hall until 1955. The building was then converted into a men’s club and today it is a professional and social club. Entry is by membership, so I just simply enjoyed the buildings outside architecture. The building is an excellent example of Renaissance Eclecticism. President Taft gave an address from the balcony of this building.
Louisiana’s Old Governor’s Mansion was built by Huey Long in the 1930’s. Legend goes that Huey felt the existing structure, a large plantation home, was not habitable. So he marched over to the state prison, grabbed a crew and had the building disassembled in 48 hours. He then went back to the legislature and secured funds to build this mansion. The Georgian-style mansion was built to resemble the White House. Long, who had aspirations of being President of the United States, wanted to know where everything would be located when he moved to Pennsylvania Avenue. There is an Oval Room, East Ball Room, Rose Garden and a secret staircase. This was worth the $7 tour for all the stories told be a gracious docent about the legendary & colorful governor’s who lived there including Jimmie Davis, the author (or at least the one who bought the rights) to “You are My Sunshine”. Read More about the Old Governor’s Mansion ->>>
Built from 1853 to 1856, St. Joseph Cathedral is a Gothic revival church. This is the third church to stand on this location replacing previous smaller structures from 1789 and 1830. St. Joseph’s has been called the “mother of parishes” because all the other parishes in the metropolitan area were once part of St. Joseph. It has also been known as the “nursery of bishops” as nine of the priests assigned to it have been consecrated as bishops.
The exterior of the church is a mix of old and new. The steeple has a Greek and Latin decorative cross and holds the 100 year old clock. One of the three church bells was salvaged form the river steam Virginia, which was shipwrecked in the river during the Civil War. You will also find more modern statues, a 1960 marble statue of St. Joseph from Italy and the Prodigal Son statue by Croatian Ivan Metrovic.
Stepping inside, I felt like I was back in Europe with stained glass and mosaics created in the early 1900’s by Munich trained artists, beautiful beamed ceilings, the pipe orgran named “Providence”. Mixing old and new again, a modern piece hangs from the alter, Crucified Christ, by the Croatian sculpture Ivan Mestrovic.
Louisiana’s towering Capital building is one of America’s most impressive. Built in 1932, it is an Art Deco masterpiece with massive statues with patriotic themes (The Patriots and the Pioneers), intricate carvings in the limestone and and art deco interior that would make Mucha proud. This is yet another building built under the reign of Huey Long and nicknamed the “House that Huey Built”. The Louisiana State Capitol is the tallest state capitol building in the United States at 34-stories and a trip to the observation tour will give you a 360 degree view of Baton Rouge. Check out the senate and house chambers and walk down the hallway and even still feel the bullet holes in the marble where Huey Long was assassinated. The Capitol is surrounded by an extensive parks with other memorials and sites including Zachary Taylor Home Site, Pentagon Barracks, Huey Long’s Grave and the Old Arsenal.
The U.S.S. Kidd is a World War II Fletcher Class Destroyer. Launched in 1943, it was named after rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd Sr. who was killed aboard his flagship the U.S.S. Arizona during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The ship was nick-named the “Pirate of the Pacific” after it’s first voyage into New York Harbor for delivery to the Brooklyn Naval Shipyards. The crew had hoisted the Jolly Roger skull and crossbones flag from the foremast and TIME magazine ran the picture in their weekly magazine stating it had been over one hundred years since the Jolly Roger had flown in New York Harbor. The crew quickly adopted Captain Kidd as their mascot with the blessing of Mrs. Kidd, the widow of the Admiral Isaac Kidd who told them this was also her late husband’s nickname. The KIDD would become the only vessel in the history of the United States Navy to ever have such leave granted to fly the flag of piracy.
The KIDD crew went on with pirate enthusiasm for many successful missions in both World War II, Korea and other cruises during the Cold War. KIDD was decommissioned in 1964, after over twenty years of service but it was saved from the scrapyard as one of 3 destroyers form this area to be setup as memorial and has now been restored back to it’s 1945 configuration.
The USS Kidd and Veterans Memorial complex also consists of an observation tower and museum with many artifacts including dented helmets worn at Normandy, a model ship collection, and a miniature replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall found in Washington, D.C.
Capital City Trolley: Currently Closed
Parking: Free parking is available at the Capital Building. There are a also a few limited spots at the Old Governor’s Mansion. Ask the staff for a sign to put on your dashboard before taking the tour
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