High on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, Louisiana's Old State Capitol is a Gothic Revival architectural treasure. This majestic building has survived war, fire, scandal and neglect.
The Old State Capitol was designed in 1847 by James Dakin and was completed and occupied by the state government in 1850. It was gutted by fire when occupied by the Union forces during the Civil War in 1862 and waited for twenty years for its rebirth as the Capitol of Louisiana. In 1880, following designs by William Freret, it became the beautiful building seen today with a new north entrance and new interior with its spectacular iron spiral staircase and enlarged stained glass skylight. It was designated a National Historic landmark in 1975, and placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1977.
As you enter through the cast-iron fence you will notice the unique design that was originally cast and erected in 1855 by the John Hill Foundry and subsequent posts by the Pierce Foundry. The fence is constructed entirely of interlocking parts; the only bolts that are used secure the posts to the iron base plates.
The historic fence reflects the architectural theme of the State House incorporating symbols that honor Louisiana's political and cultural heritage. Adorning the entire length of the fence are quatrefoils and fleur de lis with stylized pineapples, atop each main stanchion. Pineapples are the classical symbol of hospitality that reflect the original intention of the Old State Capitol to be the center of social life in Baton Rouge. A pair of massive eagles guard each primary entrance where double gates display sets of fasces, a Roman symbol that represents the power of civil law.
Some of the most important moments in Louisiana's history, the act of secession from the Union and the attempted impeachment of Huey Long, took place in this building. If you look around, you will find many reminders of what happened in Baton Rouge during the Civil War.
In 1862, Union forces advanced up the Mississippi River and seized the capital city and the capitol. During this occupation, all the beautiful stained glass was destroyed. Union soldiers often built cooking fires in the building and were responsible for a fire that gutted the building.
In 1990, custody of the building was granted to the Office of the Secretary of State. The most extensive restoration and renovation in the history of the Old State Capitol began in 1991 and was completed in 1994. The Old State Capitol was reborn as Louisiana’s Center for Political and Governmental History and truly blends the grandeur of the past with the promise of the future.
This is a Department of State Museum and a part of the Heroes and Heritage Trail Passport to Adventure.