Louisiana’s Old State Capitol

The History

The legislature of Louisiana adopted a new state constitution in 1845, which mandated that they choose a place for a new state capital that was “not less than sixty miles from the city of New Orleans.” The new state capital will be established in Baton Rouge, situated about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of New Orleans. 

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The city authorities of Baton Rouge have started looking for potential sites for the future capital. They wanted to be near to the city’s center, but they also wanted to be secure from the floods that the Mississippi River is known to produce at certain times of the year. Judge Thomas Gibbs Morgan made the generous gift of his property, which was located on a more elevated part of a natural levee. 

The owner of this piece of property received a state of Louisiana in 1847 by the city of Baton Rouge to contribute to the new state capital building. The public donations totaled $20,000 at the time.

The Legislature immediately decided to go with the designs submitted by Architect James Dakin for the new statehouse. Dakin envisioned constructing a one-of-a-kind and awe-inspiring structure that prominently included gothic-style architecture. 

In his plan description, Dakin stated, “I have tried to use taste and design in a building that would immediately give the structure a decidedly distinctive, classic, and dominating character.” “In creating this design, I have made an effort to embrace an architectural aesthetic that would immediately give the tower a decided distinctive In July of 1847, workers started clearing the site, and the formal groundbreaking was performed in October of the same year. In January of 1850, Governor Isaac Johnson presided over the first session of the legislature to take place in the brand-built statehouse.

Secession and Relocation

In the 1860s, when there was a good chance that the Civil War would break out, the state legislature convened in the House Chamber to examine Gov. Thomas Overton Moore’s stance on the state’s participation in the secession movement. The vote to break away from the United States of America was held in the state legislature on January 26, 1861. The Weekly Gazette & Comet reported the sight as “a yell as never before went up from the ancient Gothic Building.” This was the perspective of someone who was inside the statehouse. Before it entered the Confederate States of America, the state of Louisiana existed, assuring two months, the Sovereign and Independent Commonwealth of Louisiana. In 1862, the state administration evacuated the capitol building and retreated to Baton Rouge in the face of an impending invasion by Union soldiers. The state capital was once located in Shreveport but later relocated to Opelousas. 

The capital structure was immediately overrun by Union forces, who afterward used it as a command center, a jail, and a garrison. The Union forces holding the design allowed a fire raging in the northwest turret to continue burning, which eventually caused a catastrophic catastrophe that destroyed the tower. The only objects that were left standing were the building’s outside walls.

A New Castle

After the end of the Civil War in 1866, the state capital was relocated to New Orleans, although this tower continued to be used for other purposes. During the state constitutional convention in 1879, it was decided that Baton Rouge would again take its place as the capital city of Louisiana. 

The legislature chose to restore the statehouse and hired William A. Freret as the architect for the project. The budget for the project was $153,000. Reconstruction of the structure started as soon as Freret’s design, which included an outside tower, a stained-glass dome, and a spiral staircase with a fourth floor, was approved. In 1884, the newly restored building that housed the capital was finally finished. In the following years, heated arguments and fist fights broke out throughout the facility concerning the first lottery held in Louisiana.

 A fire broke out in the Senate chamber in 1906, causing significant damage to the east side of the structure as well as water damage throughout the rest of the building. The legislature allocated the funding needed for repairs. As part of the renovations, the iron turrets perched on top of the main towers were taken down.

The Battle with Huey P. Long

Notorious In 1928, Huey P. Long won the Louisiana governor’s election. He would be the last governor to be inaugurated on the grounds until Mike Foster in 1996 when he would take the oath. During two months, the Sovereign and Independent Commonwealth of Louisiana. Decided to impeach Governor Long for various offenses, including the abuse of public finances. Other allegations included bribery. 

The so-called “round robin” agreement was presented and featured twelve senators’ signatures—just enough to prevent an impeachment vote that required two-thirds of the chamber’s members. As a result of this, Governor Long was successful in persuading the legislature to construct a whole new state capital. The new state capitol building was finished built in the year 1932.

The Louisiana Works Progress Administration moved into the old statehouse in 1936 when the legislature decided not to use it anymore. With a grant from the WPA, substantial restorations and repairs they’re completed on the structure during this time. In 1948, shortly after the conclusion of World War II, the structure was formally dedicated to the soldiers of Louisiana. Veteran groups moved into the building and continued to use it until it was shut down for renovation in 1991. 

In 1976, the structure was recognized as deserving of a National Historic Landmark status because it broke apart. In 1976, the structure was transferred into the care of the Louisiana State Museum system, and the state legislature allotted $2.5 million for a comprehensive renovation of the facility.

New Beginnings

After 58 years, the Louisiana State Legislature reconvened at the Old State Capitol in 1990, the first time since the building had been transferred to the Office of the Secretary of State. 1991 marked the beginning of the most significant and thorough repair to date. 

The Old State Capitol was transformed into Louisiana’s Center for Political and Governmental History and reopened to the public in 1994. Under Secretary of State W. Fox McKeithen, oversaw the transformation of the building into an educational history museum. The decade of the 2000s saw the completion of several external restoration projects, including installing historically accurate plaster and replacing the iron fence.

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