Friday, November 20, 2015

Baton Rouge- Part Two

There are many historical places of note on the capitol grounds.  An Indian mound is located there dating back 3,500 years.  The grounds were once the site of the British Fort San Carlos.  Spanish forces in 1779 retook the fort and ended British control of the Mississippi River.  The Pentagon Barracks were built in this area in 1819 and survived Civil War bombardment.  The weather was too unpredictable with strong winds and a bit of moisture in the air so we were unable to explore many of the historic sites on the capitol grounds.  We did, however, tour the old arsenal museum.

Zachary Taylor, our 12th president, lived on the grounds of the capitol.  He was in command of the 1st US Infantry Regiment that built the arsenal in 1819.  Part of the armory, the powder magazine building,  is pictured above.  In 1865 that structure was part of the Union line of defense, it occupied Baton Rouge for most of the Civil War.  In 1862 the Union Army burned the capitol building and the capitol was moved to Opelousas, Louisiana temporarily.  A new capitol building was built in 1880 in Baton Rouge.
Our first impression was that the old capitol building looks a bit like a castle.  We came to find out later that the original building looked quite definitely like a castle complete with cast iron turrets and towers.  Mark Twain called it a "sham castle".  The turrets and towers were removed in 1907. 
A beautiful gilded staircase caught our eyes the second we stepped into the rotunda of the capitol.  The massive cast-iron staircase has 32 steps which fan out from the center column and led us to the second floor gallery.  The canopy of stained glass over the old state capitol is a beautiful kaleidoscope of color.  Wood frames hold in place the more than 2,000 panes of glass that make up the dome.
On the second floor are rooms with displays relating to the history of Louisiana, especially the governors.  As I wrote in the previous posting, most notorious of them was Huey Long.  One room is devoted to Long's good and bad virtues, letting the visitor to decide for himself/herself how they wish to remember the man.  True, he got a lot accomplished for the state, as 13,000 mile of roads, funding for Louisiana State University and the Port of New Orleans, books for school children- in a sense he was a bit like Robin Hood in that regard.  However, as the museum also indicates, he was a ruthless dictator in his political wheeling and dealing.  Many years ago I read All The Kings Men by Robert P. Warren, and one of the characters, Willie Stark, is believed to be inspired by the life of Huey Long. 
We had to walk a few blocks from the new capitol to the older one.  Baton Rouge is a mixture of older buildings, as well as newer ones.  One of the older buildings has a balcony with the cast-iron architecture which we saw in New Orleans.  That said, as we neared our destination, we passed the beautiful Manship Theater as well as the town square- all very modernistic in appearance.  As you can see in the picture below, rain storms were heading into Baton Rouge.  It was time for us to leave Baton Rouge, a city which surprised us more than we expected with its most fascinating history.

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