In 1847, Baton Rouge lured Louisiana's capital away from the city of New Orleans with the donation of a plot of land high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi. Architect Jame
s Harrison Dakin (1806-1852), a New York native with a thriving practice in New Orleans, was retained to design the new capitol building.
The Capitol around 1890
Dakin described the building as "Castellated Gothic" because of the cast-iron decoration of its crenellated battlements and turrets. The building's construction started in 1847 and ended in 1852, the same year as Dakin's death. The statehouse featured heavy masonry walls covered with lime mortar plaster scored to resemble stone blocks.
The statehouse served as the seat of Louisiana government until 1862 when Union troops captured Baton Rouge. Fleeing Union troops, Louisiana legislators abandoned the building in which they had voted to secede from the Union in 1861. The building was used as a Union prison and garrison until December 28, 1862 when the interior of the building was destroyed due to an accidental fire started by Union soldiers.
The ruined interior was completely reconstructed in 1882 by architect and engineer William A. Freret who installed the signature grand staircase. Since older legislators remembered the darkness from the 1850 period, Freret added the magnificent stained glass "lantern," or dome, in an effort to emit more light. A single ornate central pier was included to support the dome, the whole resembling a grand umbrella of painted glass.
On March 1, 1882, Governor McEnery and other state officials arrived in Baton Rouge to officially take possession of the newly restored statehouse and the new life of the capitol began.
The Capitol Advocate, March 3, 1882, reported: "For Baton Rouge, the restoration is the auspicious beginning of a new era. The new movement of prosperity felt here during the past year was impelled by the expectation of this event. Now, we will have the solid reality. Old citizens will tell you how the city sprung into new activity, when the Capitol was first established here in 1848."
In 1932, construction of the new State Capitol was completed and the Legislature officially transferred the seat of Louisiana government to the new building. The abandoned statehouse became the headquarters of the Works Progress Administration in 1936.
|View from the Grounds 1920|
In 1991, after decades of neglect, a group of dedicated, concerned citizens and politicians saved the Old State Capitol from demolition and began a massive reconstruction to restore the historic building.