The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips: Old State Capitol, Baton Rouge

Cajun history in the Old State Capitol

By Gerald E. McLeod, June 28, 2019, Columns

The Old Louisiana State Capitol in downtown Baton Rouge looks like a castle overlooking the Mississippi River. Since it first opened in 1850, the Greek Revival building has seen its fortunes rise and fall. It now houses the Museum of Political History.

After Louisiana became a state in 1812, the state capital bounced around until a law was passed to move its location from New Orleans. Seems legislators were having too much fun in the Big Easy rather than doing the state's business. 

During the Civil War, after the Union Army captured New Orleans and the state government retreated from Baton Rouge, the building was used as a prison and barracks. By the end of the war, it was a burned-out shell. 

The statehouse was reconstructed in 1882 with a new spiral staircase and a colorful stained-glass dome. It served until 1932, when Huey Long built a tower across town to house the government.

By 1990, the brick building with a stucco exterior was again an abandoned shell, used as a "party house" by LSU students. A major restoration turned it into a showcase of Louisiana history.

The exhibits cover Louisiana history from native tribes to slavery. In the former governor's office, banners list the good and bad of Huey Long's single term as governor. A display in an alcove raises the question: Was he assassinated by Dr. Carl Weiss or killed by a stray shot fired by his bodyguards?

The Old State Capitol is at 100 North Boulevard in Baton Rouge, La., a short distance from the I-10 bridge. Self-guided tours of the museum are free. The building is closed on Sunday and Monday. 

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