Introduction to Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Sitting along the banks of the Mississippi River is the city of Baton Rouge, the capital of the state of Louisiana. One of the three southernmost capital cities (along with Tallahassee, FL and Austin, TX) in the continental U.S., Baton Rouge is home to both Louisiana State University (LSU) and to Southern University. The city's name is French for "Red Stick," and is most likely derived from the writings of early French explorers who witnessed large poles reddened with the blood of slaughtered animals. These poles were probably boundary designations erected by Indians to separate the hunting grounds of two different tribes. Baton Rouge is located about 80 miles northwest of the city of New Orleans, to which it is connected by Interstate-10. Other major highways serving Baton Rouge include Interstates I-12 and I-110; U.S. Routes 61 and 190; and Louisiana State Highways 1, 30, 37, 67 and 73.
The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 marked the beginnings of the town's growth. When the state of Louisiana was admitted into the Union in 1812, it would be only a matter of five more years until Baton Rouge would be incorporated as a city. When the Louisiana state legislature moved the seat of government away from New Orleans in 1849, Baton Rouge became the state capital. The latter part of the 19th century saw the establishment of Louisiana State University. The 20th century was marked by continued growth in Baton Rouge and also the tenure in the 1930s of controversial populist Louisiana Governor Huey Long. Baton Rouge today presents an interesting mix of tradition, history, and commerce, with chemical companies and oil refineries operating against a background of earthen beauty and vibrant cultural influences.
August 29, 2005, marked a turning point for southern Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina struck the area hard. Although Katrina's impact on Baton Rouge was much less severe than that of New Orleans, there were significant power outages and service disruptions, and the city played a large role in providing refuge for displaced New Orleans residents, serving as a headquarters for emergency coordination and disaster relief.
Things to do in Baton Rouge
The city of Baton Rouge is alive with a large variety of activities that make it an ideal place to visit. Riverfront casinos, Cajun-Creole restaurants, and lively nightclubs combine with old plantation homes, historic governmental buildings, museums, and performing arts centers to give a visitor a wide choice of attractions to relish. A sample of some of the city's offerings is as follows:
- Greater Baton Rouge Zoo: Features more than 1,800 animals from around the globe and includes animal shows and scenic rides on the Cypress Bayou Railroad or White Tiger Tram.
- Shaw Center for the Arts: Houses both the LSU Museum of Art and the Manship Theatre, a venue with 325 front row seats modeled after the style of classic European opera houses.
- Louisiana Arts & Science Museum: Features interactive art and science exhibits and the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium.
- U.S.S. Kidd and Nautical Center: Offers overnight camping and tours of the fully restored World War II Fletcher Class Destroyer.
- Old State Capitol Center for Political and Governmental History: Restored to its mid-19th century grandeur, the edifice houses both traditional and modern interactive exhibits and a multi-media film presentation.
- Old Governor's Mansion: Built in 1930 by Governor Huey P. Long and subsequently served as the home of nine Louisiana Governors.
- Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center: Located in the heart of Baton Rouge, this center features a large variety of wildlife.
- Argosy Casino/Belle of Baton Rouge: A three-deck riverboat casino located on the Mississippi River in the downtown historic district features over 29,000 square feet of gaming area, live entertainment, and dining.
- Dixie Landin' Amusement Park: Several games and rides, including a giant steel looping roller coaster, a log flume ride, and a 90-foot tall "Giant Wheel".
- Blue Bayou Water Park
Baton Rouge is bustling year-round with some kind of event going on no matter what the season. Annual festivals include Baton Rouge Blues Week, a late April celebration featuring a wide array of traditional blues, Creole, Zydeco, and Jazz among its musical offerings. "Fest for All," held the first weekend in May, is one of Louisiana’s premier arts events which features live music, performing arts, and samplings of distinctive Louisiana cuisine. The 4th of July brings the "Star Spangled Celebration" and "Fireworks on the Mississippi" to the city. The Greater Baton Rouge State Fair is held every October, and in December, Baton Rouge celebrates "Christmas on the River." Baton Rouge also celebrates Mardi Gras every spring, although the city's celebration is not nearly as well-known as that of nearby New Orleans, whose Mardi Gras Festival is legendary.
The sports scene in Baton Rouge is dominated by the Louisiana State University Tigers, who field a variety of teams in several varsity sports. A member of the Southeastern Conference, LSU plays its games at Tiger Stadium (football), Pete Maravich Assembly Center (basketball, volleyball, gymnastics), Alex Box Stadium (baseball), Tiger Park (softball), Carl Maddox Fieldhouse (indoor track), and Bernie Moore Stadium (outdoor track). For professional sports, Baton Rouge is home to the Baton Rouge River Bats, an independent minor league baseball team. Major league teams are located in nearby New Orleans, home to the National Football League's Saints and the National Basketball Association's Hornets. The Hornets played some of their 2005-2006 home games at Baton Rouge's Pete Maravich Center while Katrina recovery efforts were underway in New Orleans. The New Orleans Superdome, an attraction unto itself, has recovered from major damage and is now back in operation.