The Roots of Baton Rouge

There are two states in the US that have become truly synonymous with the Mississippi River and Cajun culture, the first is obviously Mississippi and the second is Louisiana. Each of them lye either side of the river and owe much of their growth throughout history to it. The most famous city in Louisiana is likely New Orleans, it’s the biggest and has a truly iconic style, however it is not the capital of the state, that title goes instead to its second largest city, the city of Baton Rouge.

Habitation by humans has existed in the Baton Rouge area since prehistoric times, evidence of cultures thriving here has been found dating as far back as 12000 BCE. The city we now know however was first founded in 1699 when the French explorer named Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville led his exploration party up the Mississippi River. During this voyage they came across a red pole, this marked distinction and boundary between the two separate hunting grounds of the Bayoguola and Houma people, two Native American tribes that inhabited the area. It was this pole that gave the area Baton Rouge, which means ‘red stick’ in French.

Though founded in 1699 Baton Rouge did not become a European Settlement until the year 1721. It was then that French settlers established a military post here. Since then it has been passed between many other peoples. After France the area has been governed governed by the Spanish, the British, the Republic of West Florida and the Confederate States as well as of course the United States.

Baton Rouge became the capital of Louisiana in the year 1846, it was then that New Orleans was deemed to have become too ‘sinful’ a place to be the states capital, therefore Baton Rouge was chosen to take up the mantel in its stead. A new State House was to be constructed here and the architect James Dakin was chosen to design the building. Most capitol buildings at the time were made to match the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. however Dakin chose instead to use a neo-gothic style, making the building look more like a castle with turrets and towers along with stained glass windows. Construction began in 1847, the Louisiana Old State Capitol has since been listed as a National Historic Landmark and has noted as one of the most distinguished examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the Country.

The economy began to grow however progress was halted by the arrival of the American Civil War in 1861. By the time the war had ended in 1865 a Reconstruction Era government state government ruled the state from New Orleans. Later Bourbon Democrats regained power and returned the state Government to Baton Rouge in 1882 where it has remained ever since.

Later in the 1950s and 60s the city began to expand thanks to a boom in its petrochemical industry. This provided more jobs in the area and saw the population rise too. This provided the foundations to major expansion and during the 1990s Baton Rouge became one of the fastest growing cities in the South and is now a centre for business, technology, medical research and industry.