Old Louisiana State Capitol
Louisiana's Old State Capitol
Louisiana's Old State Capitol, 2009
|Location||Baton Rouge, Louisiana|
|Architect||Dakin,James H.; Freret,William A.|
|Architectural style||Gothic Revival|
|NRHP Reference #||73000862|
|Added to NRHP||January 12, 1973|
|Designated NHL||May 30, 1974|
The Louisiana's Old State Capitol is a building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States that housed the Louisiana State Legislature from the mid-19th century until the current capitol tower building was constructed in 1929.
It is built both to look like and function like a castle and has led some locals to call it the Louisiana Castle, the Castle of Baton Rouge, the Castle on the River or the Museum of Political History, though most people just call it the old capitol building. The term "Old State Capitol" in Louisiana is used to refer to the building and not to the two towns that were formerly the capital city: New Orleans and Donaldsonville.
In 1846, the Louisiana Legislature in New Orleans decided to move the seat of government to Baton Rouge. As in many states, representatives from other parts of Louisiana feared a concentration of power in the state's largest city. In 1840, New Orleans' population was around 102,000, fourth largest in the U.S. The 1840 population of Baton Rouge, on the other hand, was only 2,269.
On September 21, 1847, the City of Baton Rouge donated to the state of Louisiana a $20,000 parcel of land for a state capitol building, taking the seat of the capitol away from the City of New Orleans. The land donated by the city for the capitol building stands high atop a Baton Rouge bluff facing the Mississippi River, a site that some believe was once marked by the red pole, or "le baton rouge," which French explorers claimed designated a Native American council meeting site. The state house itself is one of the most distinguished examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States.
New York architect James Dakin was hired to design the new Capitol building in Baton Rouge, and rather than mimic the federal Capitol Building in Washington, as so many other states had done, he conceived a Neo-Gothic medieval castle overlooking the Mississippi, complete with turrets and crenellations. Dakin referred to his design as "Castellated Gothic" due to its decoration with cast-iron, which was both cheaper and more durable than other building materials used at the time. In 1859, the Capitol was featured and favorably described in DeBow's Review, the most prestigious periodical in the antebellum South. Mark Twain, however, as a steamboat pilot in the 1850s, loathed the sight of it, "It is pathetic ... that a whitewashed castle, with turrets and things ... should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place."
In 1862, during the Civil War, Union Admiral David Farragut captured New Orleans and the seat of government retreated from Baton Rouge. The Union troops first used the "old gray castle," as it was once described, as a prison and then as a garrison for African-American troops under General Culver Grover. While used as a garrison the Old State Capitol caught fire twice. This, in turn, transformed the building into an empty, gutted shell abandoned by the Union troops. By 1882 the state house was totally reconstructed by architect and engineer William A. Freret, who is credited with the installation of the spiral staircase and stained glass dome, which are the focal points of the interior. The refurbished state house remained in use until 1932, when it was abandoned for the New Louisiana State Capitol building. The Old State Capitol has since been used to house federally chartered veteran's organizations, and the seat of the Works Progress Administration.
Museum of Political History
Restored in the 1990s, the Old State Capitol is now the Museum of Political History. Most recently, the exterior façade has been refurbished with shades of tan stucco, in noticeable contrast to its former stone coloring. Numerous events are held there including an annual ball wherein the participants re-enact dances and traditions of French culture while wearing traditional 18th and 19th century dress. It is located in downtown Baton Rouge within walking distance to the new state capital tower and all of the many culturally significant buildings there. Some of these include the Old Louisiana Governor's Mansion, The Louisiana Arts and Science Museum, St. Joseph Cathedral, Baton Rouge and the newly built and widely acclaimed Shaw Center.
In 2010, the visitor experience, designed by award winning experience designer Bob Rogers (designer) and the design team BRC Imagination Arts, reopened with many new immersive exhibits and attractions showcasing the unique Louisiana historic artifacts, history and the central artifact being the 150-year-old capitol building itself, a Gothic style architectural treasure. In addition to focusing on the political history of the state of Louisiana, the new interactive exhibits also include an interactive gallery featuring the past Governors of the state of Louisiana, including specific highlights on the accomplishments and controversies surrounding the infamous former Governor, Huey Long. The Huey Long exhibit is also the place where the gun that was used to kill Huey Long is stored on display.
A new key attraction, “The Ghost of the Castle,” is a one-of-a-kind 4D immersive theatrical presentation, where visitors come face to face with the ghost of Sarah Morgan, an authentic Civil War-era figure who loved the castle from the day it was built, and wrote passionately about it in her published book, Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman. In the roughly 12-minute experience, Sarah’s ghost conjures the building’s remarkable trials through history, showcasing the determination of everyday Louisianans who have saved the castle time and time again. With floating images from the past surrounding the audience, this unique theater will amaze and delight visitors, deepening their interest in Louisiana history and causing them to personally identify with this historic building.
Admission is free and the building is wheelchair accessible. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more information, call 800-488-2968 or 225-342-0500.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Louisiana's Old State Capitol". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2008-06-24.
- Life on the Mississippi, Chapter 40.
- "Louisiana’s Old State Capitol, The Ghost of the Castle"". BRC Imagination Arts.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Old Louisiana State Capitol.|
- Louisiana's Old State Capitol and Museum of Political History - official site
- Louisiana's Old State Capitol Foundation- official site
- Governor Henry Watkins Allen Memorial by La-Cemeteries
- Survey number HABS LA-1132 - Louisiana State Capitol, North Boulevard, Saint Philip, America & Front Streets, Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge Parish, LA
- Baton Rouge Guide has information and photos on the old state capitol
- The Baton Rouge Digital Archive from the East Baton Rouge Parish Library