Old Louisiana State Capitol
Louisiana's Old State Capitol
Louisiana's Old State Capitol, 2009
|Location||Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States|
|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, U.S.A. which housed the Louisiana State Legislature from the mid-19th century until the current capitol tower building was constructed in 1929-32.
It was built to both 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; although 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 state 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 about 102,000, fourth-largest city 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. The land donated by the city for the capitol stands high atop a 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 old statehouse itself is one of the most distinguished examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the nation.
New York architect James H. Dakin was hired to design the Baton Rouge capitol building; and rather than mimic the national Capitol Building in Washington, as so many other states had done, he conceived a Neo-Gothic medieval-style 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 statehouse 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's occupying troops first used the capitol building — or "old gray castle," as it was once described — as a prison, and then to garrison African-American troops under General Culver Grover. While used as a garrison the building caught fire twice. This sequence of events transformed Louisiana's capitol into an empty, gutted shell abandoned by the Union Army.
By 1882 the statehouse was totally rebuilt by architect and engineer William A. Freret, who is credited with the installation of the spiral staircase and the stained glass dome, which are the interior focal points. The refurbished statehouse 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 veterans organizations, and as an office of the Works Progress Administration, among other things.
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 gray stone coloring. Numerous events are held there including an annual ball wherein the participants re-enact dances and traditions of French culture while wearing 18th- and 19th-century dress.
The museum's location downtown in Baton Rouge is within walking distance of the current capitol tower and of many culturally significant buildings. These include the Old Louisiana Governor's Mansion, the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum, St. Joseph Cathedral, and the widely-acclaimed Shaw Center.
In 2010 the Museum of Political History's visitor experience, designed by award-winning "experience designer" Bob Rogers and the design team BRC Imagination Arts, opened with attractions and immersive exhibits showcasing the building as an architectural treasure and displaying unique historic artifacts. In addition to highlighting Louisiana's political history, the exhibits include an interactive gallery featuring past Governors, including the infamous Huey P. Long.
A key attraction, “The Ghost of the Castle,” is a one-of-a-kind four-dimensional theatrical production, during which visitors come face to face with the ghost of Sarah Morgan, a Civil War-era Baton Rouge resident who loved the castle from the day it was built and wrote 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 presentation entertains visitors, deepening their interest in the state's history and causing them to personally identify with the historic building.
Museum admission is free and the building is wheelchair-accessible.
- "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" (PDF). BRC Imagination Arts.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Old Louisiana State Capitol.|
- Louisiana's Old State Capitol and Museum of Political History - official website
- Louisiana's Old State Capitol Foundation
- Governor Henry Watkins Allen Memorial by La-Cemeteries
- Library of Congress, Survey number HABS LA-1132
- Baton Rouge Digital Archive from the East Baton Rouge Parish Library