In 1699 French explorers some 230 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River spotted a cypress pole colored red from the smeared blood of dead animals that marked the hunting grounds between the Houma and Bayougoula tribes. They called the landmark on the 50-foot Istrouma Bluff on the east side of the river “le Baton Rouge.” And except for a brief time when the British called the place New Richmond it has been named for that red stick ever since.
Before the Americans got their hands on Baton Rouge the French, Spanish and British all had their cracks at it, mostly maintaining the bluff as a strategic defensive position. In 1810 Baton Rouge was the only Spanish possession on the Mississippi River and far from the seat of colonial power in Florida. The citizens, mostly French and Americans, rose up and overpowered the small Spanish garrison. They declared a new country called the Republic of West Florida and even had a flag prepared for the occasion - the Bonnie Blue Flag. It boasted a single white star on a blue background that would become the inspiration for the Lone Star of the Republic of Texas. After ninety days the new country was folded into America’s Territory of Orleans just before Louisiana joined the Union in 1812.
By the 1840s the Louisiana legislature was dominated by rural planters who distrusted giving the capital of New Orleans more power than it already had so they engineered a move of the government to the country. Baton Rouge, a hamlet of about 2,000 people at the time, got the nod in 1849 and has remained the capital ever since. Even after Louisiana State University showed up in late 1869 the town remained mostly a sleepy government refuge through the rest of the 19th century.
The discovery of unprecedented oil reserves in the salt domes around the Gulf Coast in the early 1900s began to change all that. The Standard Oil Company of John D. Rockefeller constructed a refinery in Baton Rouge in 1912 and others followed. Louisiana State built a new campus in 1926 and Huey Long transformed the face of BatonRouge when he reached the governor’s chair in 1928.
Today the Port of Baton Rouge is the nation’s ninth busiest port with a 45-foot channel dredged in the Mississippi River to give ocean-going vessels the furthest access north they can reach on the river. The population has climbed over 225,000 and yet the town has been able to retain treasures from its nearly two centuries of history since its incorporation in 1817. Our walking tour will seek them out and we will begin at the legacy of a politician who entwined himself with his state and its people like few others in America ever have...
Louisiana State Capitol
bounded by State Capitol Drive, Capitol Access Road, 3rd Street and 5th Street
America’s tallest state capitol building was the brainchild of Huey P. Long who made its construction part of his campaign platform when running for governor in 1928. He selected the site, the former campus of Louisiana State University, and the architect, Leon Charles Weiss of New Orleans, and directed that the capitol be a tower and not a “rotunda-dome-and-wing” composition. He ramrodded funding through the legislature after starting construction with monies he controlled to insure his bills passed. A spur from the nearby Yazoo and Mississippi Railroad was constructed to haul 2,500 carloads of material to the building site. Construction was accelerated so Long, who was on his way to the United States Senate in 1932, could inhabit the new Capitol but the deadline was missed by five months. The 450-foot tower fashioned from Alabama limestone is decorated with sculpted reminders of key events and personages from Louisiana history. The entrance is reached with a climb up 49 steps crafted from Minnesota granite representing the 48 existing states at the time and a last one added for Alaska and Hawaii. The 23-foot tall lantern crowning the Capitol symbolizes “the higher aspirations of Louisiana.” Ironically although Huey Long never served in the Capitol building he created he was assassinated on its steps on September 8, 1935, dying two days later.
Louisiana Capitol Garden
south side of Capitol grounds
Architect Leon Weiss also planned the boxwood-lined English garden that graces the Capitol grounds. Scattered around the 30 acres are live oaks, some imported and some natives over 200 years old. The flowers are a smorgasbord of Louisiana natives including azaleas and camellias and there are magnificent specimens of the state flower, the magnolia. In the center of the gardens is the grave of Huey P. Long. American architectural sculptor Charles Keck depicts Long with a model of his state capitol on the 30-foot monument.
FACING THE CAPITOL, TURN LEFT AND EXIT THE GROUNDS ON THE WEST SIDE TOWARDS THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER. ACROSS 3RD STREET IS...
North 3rd Street at southwest corner of State Capitol Drive
The flags of six different nations have flown over this defensive position on the banks of the Mississippi River. France claimed the land in the early 1700s before the British took control of the territory in 1763. The British army built the first fort here, a dirt bastion in 1779 during the American Revolution. The Spanish pushed the British out and they were similarly ousted in 1810 by an uprising of settlers who declared control of the fort in the name of their newly formed Republic of West Florida. The short-lived Republic turned over Baton Rouge after three months to the United States. The present set of two-story brick barracks were erected in 1825 to provide housing for the Baton Rouge Arsenal and Ordnance Depot. During the Civil War the arsenal became part of the Confederate States of America (flag number six) until the Union reclaimed the fort in 1862 during the Battle of New Orleans. The Civil War ended the fort’s military life. Louisiana State University used the barracks for classes and remained until 1926. Since then the historic barracks have been used as offices and residential rooms for state legislators.
TURN LEFT ON 3RD STREET, HEADING SOUTH AWAY FROM THE CAPITOL.
southwest corner of North 3rd and Main streets
Cast iron enjoyed a brief flurry of popularity as a building material after the Civil War. It could be formed into decorative shapes, assembled easily and was inexpensive. The builders here made extensive use of cast iron on this three-story commercial building in the 1880s. This was the site for Samuel I. Reymond’s modern shopping emporium and, after 1915, Welsh and Levy Men’s Clothing. After many years of vacancy thE first three buildings on the west side of North 3rd Street resisted plans to turn them into parking lots and have re-emerged as rejuvenated mixed-use space.
447 North Third Street
This building stands as a rare Italianate souvenir from the Baton Rouge streetscape of the 1880s. The Italianate style, marked by slender windows with decorative hoods and ornate cornices, dominated American downtowns in the middle of the 19th century. Look up on this two-story masonry building to see window hoods and an elaborate cornice, all cast of metal. This was a commercial property owned by William J. Knox, founder of the Bank of Baton Rouge.
445 North Third Street
Samuel Henry Kress looked on his stores as public works of art and he retained a staff of architects to achieve that end. He took as much pride in the appearance of those stores as the nickels and dimes that piled up in his coffers. There would eventually be 264 Kress five-and-dime stores throughout the United States and many of them adopted the Art Deco style in the 1920s and 1930s, such as for the Baton Rouge store in 1935. Like many Kress emporiums the store was fashioned in an “L” shape with a secondary entrance on Main Street. On March 28, 1960 seven students from Southern University staged Baton Rouge’s first sit-in of the Civil Rights Movement in the “whites-only” cafeteriaof the Kress store. The students were jailed and banned from attending public college in Louisiana. Their appeals went all the way to the United States Supreme Court where Thurgood Marshall, later to become the first black Supreme Court Justice, successfully argued their case. None of the students returned to Southern University but all received degrees in other states.
Fuqua Hardware Company
358 North 3rd Street at southeast corner of Laurel Street
Henry Luse Fuqua was born, raised and educated in Baton Rouge and died here as well, in the governor’s office in 1926 at the age of 60. During Reconstruction after the Civil War the state had no money to fund Louisiana State University so the school was opened to prep schoolers and Fuqua enrolled in 1875 at the age of 10, the youngest student ever to enter LSU. His working life began by helping engineers build the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad. Fuqua entered the hardware business, serving as a clerk and traveling salesman until launching his own hardware concern in 1892. He constructed this store in 1905 and managed day-to-day matters until 1916. He then brought his managerial skills into politics first as general manager of the Louisiana State Prison at Angola and then as the 38th Governor of Louisiana in 1924. Fuqua campaigned against the Ku Klux Klan and in office sought funds to expand both his alma mater and Baton Rouge’s black college, Southern University. Fuqua died only 18 months into his term, having spent just two days away from his desk while in office.
350 North 3rd Street
It was not an unusual configuration in downtown America at the turn of the 20th century for a building to house both a proprietor’s shop and residence. This one, created in 1912 for Charles A. Belisle, was fancier than most. He used half the ground floor for his dry cleaning business and rented the rest for a music store. Clothiers Bates & Thigpen, that was founded in 1924 and still operates on 3rd Street, sold its wares here from 1933 until 1965.
345 North 3rd Street
This six-story building is considered the first skyscraper in Baton Rouge. Prolific New Orleans architects Charles Allen Favrot and Louis A. Livaudais provided the Beaux Arts design and dressed the 1913 structure in decorative glazed terra cotta (the lower floors have been modernized). It carries the name of jeweler Joseph K. Roumain who founded the first wholesale jewelry business in Louisiana in 1888.
TURN LEFT ON FLORIDA STREET.
Capital City Press Building
334 Florida Street
“It is our intention to print a newspaper whose editorials are not for sale, and whose news items cannot be suppressed, a newspaper commensurate with the hopes and plans of Baton Rouge,” promised Charles P. Manship in the first issue of his newly acquired The State-Times in 1909. The paper could trace its roots back to the Democratic Advocate from 1842. Manship bought out his partner in 1912 and today’s Capital City Press is still family owned a century later. This handsome newspaper plant was constructed in 1922 on Spanish Renaissance-derived plans drawn by Shreveport architect Edward F. Neild of Shreveport in 1922. Three years later the morning Advocate began publication and it remains the town’s daily paper of record ninety years later. Operations shifted into the Deco-styled building next door in 1938 and this terra cotta-clad structure began a new life as Mickey’s Varsity Shop and then law offices.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO 3RD STREET AND TURN LEFT, CONTINUING SOUTH.
215 3rd Street at southwest corner of Florida Street
Samuel I. Reymond was a Baton Rouge native born in 1861 into a family of French descent. By the age of 12 he was out of school and selling on the floor of the town’s largest dry goods house. At age 21 he was engaged in his own commission house and in 1902 incorporated S.I. Reymond Co. Ltd. He eventually settled into his own seven-story emporium here during World War I. The Italian Renaissance-influenced building has since been converted to office use.
Louisiana National Bank
236 Third Street
The Louisiana National Bank was established in 1910 and began taking deposits in this Neoclassical vault. After its mid-block location was exposed in the 1960s the building was given Corinthian pilasters and a new facade. Restoration in the 1980s provided new fluted cast stone columns for the front but the massive Corinthian capitals seem intended for columns another half-story higher.
WALK THE FEW STEPS BACK TO FLORIDA STREET AND TURN LEFT. AT LAFAYETTE STREET TURN RIGHT.
342-348 Lafayette Street
While hiding in plain sight the Tessier Buildings have managed to survive almost two hundred years. The oldest of Baton Rouge’s commercial buildings were constructed around 1820 by Charles R. Tessier who served as a major under Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 and was the town’s first probate judge. Tessier owned the property until he died in 1854. Since then the buildings have passed through many uses but the exterior remains virtually intact, providing a glimpse of what the Baton Rouge streets looked like two centuries ago.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS, CROSSING FLORIDA STREET AND CONTINUE TO CONVENTION STREET.
Heidelberg Hotel/Hilton Capital Center Hotel
201 Lafayette Street at northeast corner of Convention Street
The story goes that architect Edward F. Neild sketched out the plans for the town’s most glamorous hotel on a napkin in 1927. The money man for the project was Mississippi hotel operator Roy Heidelberg. The 11-story Renaissance Revival guest house immediately became the favorite haunt for legendary power broker Huey P. Long. It even took a turn as Louisiana state capitol building in 1931 after Long was elected as a United States Senator but refused to relinquish his duties as the state’s chief executive and Lieutenant Governor Paul Cyr had to set up shop here. One of the Heidelberg’s more notorious features was an underground tunnel to the King Hotel across the street that enabled Long to shuffle undetected over to the quarters of his mistress. Under the auspices of the Hilton Corporation more than $70 million was spent to overhaul both the Heidelberg and King hotels. The tunnel now does duty as a dining room.
Baton Rouge Water Works Company Standpipe
131 Lafayette Street
Baton Rouge water flows from 66 deep wells sunk as deep as half-a-mile to bring perfectly soft water into the city, one of the few in America to enjoy such a luxury. The first well was sunk in 1889 by E. Smedley and John H. Wood of Dubuque, Iowa, on orders to “construct, build, maintain, operate and own a system of water in the city of Baton Rouge and to supply the said city and its inhabitants with water.” The contract also required the construction of an external freestanding pipe able to hold 100,000 gallons to provide running water. This 100-foot standpipe, created with wrought iron plates and ornamental cresting in 1888, fulfilled that requirement; its actual original capacity was 132,500 gallons. The Baton Rouge Water Works Company assumed control of the water business in 1910 and moved to this location in 1920. It added another ten feet to the standpipe in the 1930s. The Water Works Company moved on in 1961 but its landmark standpipe remains.
Old Louisiana State Capitol
100 North Boulevard between River Road and St. Louis Street
This was the building that greeted the Louisiana government when it arrived from New Orleans in the 1840s. Architect James Harrison Dakin won a competition to design the Capitol with an eye-catching Gothic Revival scheme that was a daring departure from the classically-flavored buildings of the time. Dakin was a New Yorker who came to New Orleans in 1835 where he designed several landmark buildings before moving to Baton Rouge to supervise construction of his masterpiece. The medieval castle on a hill above the Mississippi River was treated harshly during the Civil War and it was completely refurbished in 1882, losing its turrets in the process. It served as state capitol for another half-century before turning governing duties over to the current tower. After hosting occasional government duties afterwards the Louisiana Castle was re-born as a museum in the 1990s.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH BOULEVARD. TURN LEFT ON RIVER ROAD.
Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Company Depot
100 South River Road
The Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (Y&MV) was incorporated in 1882 and was part of the Illinois Central Railroad system that was chartered in 1851. This block-swallowing, classically-inspired brick depot arrived in 1925. It greeted its last passengers in 1971. The historic station was acquired by the City of Baton Rouge and converted into the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum.
WALK UP THE STEPS AND OVER TO THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER.
Mississippi River at 305 South River Road
The U.S.S. KIDD was a Fletcher class destroyer during World War II, an agile and quick warship that escorted convoys and launched shore attacks. In service in the Pacific Theater the U.S.S. Kidd earned 12 battle stars and survived a direct hit from a Japanese kamikaze attack that claimed the lives of 38 sailors. After the war every one of the 245 surviving Fletcher and Sumner class destroyers was modernized except for the U.S.S. Kidd. But rather than scuttling the ship it was towed from the Philadelphia Navy Yard to in 1982 and restored to her World War II appearance.
WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED EXPLORING THE MISSISSIPPI RIVERWALK TAKE THE CROSSWALK BACK OVER RIVER STREET INTO THE PLAZA. WALK THROUGH TO ST. LOUIS STREET. IN FRONT OF YOU IS...
East Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse
233 St. Louis Street
This is another creation of Shreveport architect Edward F. Neild who tapped the Neoclassical style in 1922 for the parish’s second courthouse. The symmetrical composition features rectangular wings around a central core fronted by an Ionic colonnade. Neild’s work in Louisiana caught the eye of a visiting judge from Missouri named Harry Truman which resulted in a lasting professional and personal relationship with the future President. This building served the parish for over eighty years before a new high-rise house of justice was constructed.
TURN LEFT ON ST. LOUIS STREET.
222 St. Louis Street
This government home, an example of the Brutalist architectural style, came online in 1978. Raymond Post was the lead architect on the revitalization project.
CROSS NORTH BOULEVARD AND BEAR LEFT ONTO 3RD STREET.
Louisiana National Bank
150 3rd Street at southeast corner of Convention Street
By the 1920s the Louisiana National Bank was doing well enough to move half-a-block south on 3rd Street and erect the tallest building in town. The Neoclassical 12-story tower was executed in buff brick. It was crafted in the manner of the earliest skyscrapers to resemble a three-part classical column with a base (the oversized ground floors), a shaft (the unadorned central stories) and a capital (the ornate upper floors). America would seldom see such high-rises after 1927 when this bank tower was completed. Today it houses offices for the State of Louisiana.
TURN RIGHT ON CONVENTION STREET.
St. James Episcopal Church
208 North 4th Street at northeast corner of Convention Street
The first St. James parishioners worshipped here in 1845 inside a small wooden frame Gothic meetinghouse. The growing congregation replaced that building with this soaring Gothic Revival church in 1895, on plans drawn by New Orleans architect W.L. Stephens. Builder W.H. Miller used locally fired soft pink brick and brownstone trimmed in terra cotta to execute the design. Inside, three stained glass windows circling the altar are creations of Tiffany Studios of New York City.
TURN RIGHT ON 4TH STREET AND WALK TO NORTH BOULEVARD.
Old Post Office/City Club
355 North Boulevard at northwest corner of 4th Street
Although it is one of the gems of Baton Rouge architecture, the designer of this federal building is unknown. Construction on the Italian Renaissance structure began in 1894 and was completed early in 1897; the building is faced in pressed yellow brick and adorned with finely detailed classical ornamentation. The first floor functioned as a post office and courtrooms were arranged upstairs. In 1935 when the federal government needed more room it swapped the building to the City for land on Florida Street. A complete makeover turned the space into City Hall. Since 1957 the building has been leased to the City Club. Baton Rouge had been the only major city in Louisiana prior to the creation of the club two years earlier.
TURN LEFT ON NORTH BOULEVARD.
Old Louisiana Governor’s Mansion
502 North Boulevard between St. Charles and Royal streets
Governor Huey P. Long kickstarted the construction of this executive mansion and he directed the New Orleans architectural firm of Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth to model its appearance after James Hoban’s original plans for the White House. Wags suggested that Long wanted to be familiar with the Washington digs so he would feel comfortable when he became President. The grand Georgian mansion is the second governor’s residence to stand here; its predecessor had served since 1887. The quartet of three-story high Corinthian columns support a pediment with a pelican group reminiscent of the Louisiana state seal. After a relatively short run of 32 years the executive mansion was moved in 1961 to the opposite side of the current Capitol. The Old Louisiana Governor’s Mansion has spent most of its years since as a museum.
First Presbyterian Church
763 North Boulevard at northeast corner of North 7th Street
The first Presbyterian services were held in Baton Rouge in 1827. The congregation moved into its current meetinghouse a century later and church members steadily acquired all the properties in the block over the next two decades so support buildings and a garden could be installed.
TURN LEFT ON 7TH STREET.
Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse
northeast corner of Florida and North 7th streets
To help stimulate the Depression-era economy of the 1930s the federal government went on a building spree. Most of the new structures adopted the stripped down classicism of the Art Deco style, which is what local architect Moise Goldstein delivered here in 1933. The three-story structure is faced in limestone and rises from a granite base. In 1966 a new post office was raised across Florida Street and a new federal building came along in 1990 to create a three-building “Federal Complex.”
East Baton Rouge Parish Library
700 Laurel Street at southeast corner of North 7th Street
The city’s first public library opened here in 1939, courtesy of Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. The splash of Art Deco style was created by local architect Lewis A. Grosz. As the library’s collection grew to some two million items it moved to more commodious space and has since spawned a dozen branches.
703 Laurel Street at northeast corner of 7th Street
These grounds were the state penitentiary complex from 1834 to 1917; this Federal-style brick structure is the only building remaining from the institution. The two-story, five-bay building was constructed in 1839 to serve as the prison store and residence for the clerk. Later it did duty as the warden’s house. The soft mud bricks are extremely well-preserved. Next door is a French-influenced kitchen wing.
Fonville Winans Studio Building
409 North 7th Street at northwest corner of Laurel Street
Theodore Fonville Winans was a self-taught photographer who won $15 in a photography contest as a teenager which led him into a lifelong career. He scoured the swamps and grassy wetlands recording images of southern Louisiana and the Cajun lifestyle. He set up a studio around the age of 30 in Baton Rouge in the early 1940s. Winans carved an esteemed reputation as a portrait and wedding photographer while capturing black and white images of the bayous and their people. Much of his work is archived at his alma mater, Louisiana State University, and his studio was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
TURN LEFT ON LAUREL STREET.
Bogan Fire Station
427 Laurel Street
This ornate Beaux Arts fire house dressed in glazed terra cotta tiles was erected as the Central Fire Station in 1924. It now does duty as a museum with three vintage fire trucks among the exhibits. It carries the name of Robert A. Bogan who was the first fire chief in Baton Rouge to draw a pay check. The year was 1918. Bogan served as fire chief for 42 years; no one else has ever filled the post for even a decade.
TURN RIGHT ON 4TH STREET.
The Washington Fire House No.1
406 North 4th Street
The first fires in Baton Rouge were battled by the Bucket Company, a volunteer brigade organized in 1825. The responsibility shifted to the Washington Fire Company No. 1 in the 1840s, which had responsibility for protecting the entire town until other volunteer companies sprouted. The companies not only cared for the streets lined with wooden structures but provided social centers for the people. Beginning in 1873 and continuing until World War I all the Baton Rouge fire companies staged a parade on George Washington’s birthday on February 22. In 1918 the city’s fire-fighting force went professional. This structure was raised for Washington Fire Company No. 1 in 1850 and also housed City Hall.
Cathedral of St. Joseph’s
northeast corner of Main Street at North Fourth streets
The first mass was staged in Baton Rouge on New Year’s Day, 1722. After that the town’s Catholics made due with intermittent visits by missionary priests until the parish of St. Joseph was established in 1792. This is the third church to stand here, on property donated by landowner Don Antonio Gras in 1809. The cornerstone was laid in 1853 and its present appearance dates mostly to a 1960s remodeling. St. Joseph’s was consecrated as a cathedral in 1970.
CONTINUE ON 4TH STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT ON THE CAPITOL GROUNDS.