The Old Louisiana State Capitol,
one of the most distinguished examples of Gothic architecture in
the United States- showing the exterior view and the sprial staircase
Courtesy of the Capital Resources Conservation and Development
Council, photographs by Marie Constantin
view of the Capitol buiding, October 1890
Courtesy of the Library of
Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company
Collection, det 4a32712
September 21, 1847, was the historic
day that 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. Designed
by architect James Harrison Dakin, its floorplan, towers, exterior stained
glass windows and gables give it the appearance of a 15th-century Gothic
Cathedral. 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. The building design was
so unusual and distinctive that its romantic, medieval appearance earned
the Old Statehouse ridicule from the timelessly famous author, Mark Twain.
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 Louisiana 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 State Capitol building.
The Old State Capitol Building has since been used to house federally
chartered veteran's organizations, and the seat of the Works Progress
Administration. Restored in the 1990s, the former Capitol Building is
now a museum.
The Old Louisiana State Capitol, a National Historic Landmark, is
located in downtown Baton Rouge, next to the Mississippi River at 100
North Blvd. and currently houses the Old State Capitol Center for Political
and Governmental History, which contains several state of the art exhibits.
The Center is open Monday-Saturday, 10:00am to 4:00pm, Sunday 12:00pm
to 4:00pm, but closed on Mondays from June until March. There is a fee
for admission. Call 225-342-0500 for further information.