Louisiana’s capital city comes back from last year’s
The city that explorer Pierre LeMoyne d’Iberville named “red stick” will observe a bicentennial this year. Although LeMoyne first spotted Baton Rouge, La., in 1699, the city was incorporated on Jan. 16, 1817. And while Baton Rouge in 2017 will look to the future as it celebrates 200 years as a city, area residents remember the challenges they’ve had to overcome in recent history, including last year’s devastating flood.
Adversity is part of the timeline for Louisiana’s second-largest city. From the Civil War Battle of Baton Rouge (Aug. 5, 1862), to what’s believed to be America’s first bus boycott by African-Americans in 1953, to accepting as many as 200,000 displaced New Orleans citizens after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Baton Rouge area residents have had to face many challenges.
Then, in August 2016, Baton Rouge fell victim to heavy flooding; the Red Cross called it the worst disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast four years prior.
A navy of helpers
Volunteers sprang into action when the floodwaters began rising. Using personal water vessels, they conducted house-to-house searches in flooded neighborhoods to rescue neighbors and lost dogs. Those not directly impacted by the flood quickly assembled shelters at local churches for those who lost homes during the disaster. Neighbors also opened their doors to other neighbors.
Donations came in from all parts of the nation. Trucks filled with donated items, food, and water traveled to the various shelters. While the spirit of Baton Rouge is always strong, it is a force to be reckoned with during a disaster. And for some of its residents, the clean up and rebuilding continues.
Not surprisingly, plans for the bicentennial celebration were pushed to the back burner when the flood hit, but the city is planning to recognize this milestone with events and exhibits.
At a press conference last year, Mayor-President Melvin L. “Kip” Holden shared a few thoughts.
“We have seen and we have been through some tough times this year, and they are never far from our minds. But, it’s important to celebrate the resilience of our people and our city, pause to recognize great milestones and honor those who came before us,” he said.
Time to celebrate
Baton Rouge’s bicentennial kicked off on New Year’s Eve (2016) when the Red Stick dropped at midnight during the annual Red Stick Revelry in Galvez Plaza and the North Boulevard Town Square.
“We’re asking all of Baton Rouge’s great events … that take place throughout 2017 to adopt the Baton Rouge bicentennial logo and let everyone know it’s a great time to visit Baton Rouge. There won’t be one single party – there will be many,” Holden said.
Each month will welcome activities and fun festivals. Baton Rouge Blues Festival will be April 8 and 9. This festival has been a staple in the city’s music community for more than 30 years.
There also will be two free, yearlong exhibits worth viewing. The award-winning exhibit, “River Capital: A History of Baton Rouge,” will extend its run at the Old State Capitol through 2017, providing a comprehensive historical overview of the city’s rich past as it highlights the heroes and villains. The stories come to life through educational panels, images and artifacts, and videos.
The Old State Capitol also will host an exhibit featuring nine items from the Old Governor Mansion’s Preserve Louisiana collection. “Louisiana’s First Spouses” exhibit will include an inaugural gown and other personal artifacts from former first ladies of Louisiana.
The Old Governor’s Mansion was built in 1930 and was known as Lousiana’s White House. After a restoration in 1999, it opened to the public as a museum. And with a grand ballroom, a marble staircase, and crystal chandeliers, the mansion is a popular wedding venue.
Other popular attractions
In addition to the Old Governor’s Mansion, these museums also are worth a visit.
At the West Baton Rouge Museum, visitors can gain some insightful knowledge of the city’s history. Permanent exhibits range from Native Americans to European exploration to modern times.
The Capitol Park Museum, part of the Louisiana State Museum system, gives additional perspectives on local history. LSU Museum of Art features works from 17th-century masters to today’s artists, and the Southern University Museum of Art focuses on African-American artistic pioneers.
A vibrant Arts and Entertainment District is a jewel of downtown Baton Rouge. More than 3 million visitors a year enjoy its galleries, concert venues, restaurants, and bars.
Since 1970, the Baton Rouge Zoo has been a favorite for locals and visitors. The zoo welcomes more than a quarter-million visitors each year and is active in conservation programs.
Get close to nature and spend some peaceful time walking more than a mile of gravel paths and boardwalks at the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center. Pack a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon at Arsenal Park at the Old Arsenal Museum downtown.
And the Louisiana State Capitol, the nation’s tallest with 34 floors, offers beautiful vistas from the 27th floor.
Take a bite out of Baton Rouge
The culinary scene will satisfy any craving you may have. Cajun, Creole, Asian, or American – and everything in between – can be sampled here. Food festivals, such as Crawfête in April, when crawfish in season take center stage in dishes and culinary competitions, add to the fun. If you want to sample a variety of tastes, sign up for a food tour. Or concentrate on one area, such as downtown, where you’ll have to choose from more than 60 restaurants.
Luxurious AAA Four Diamond hotels – Renaissance Baton Rouge and L’Auberge Casino Hotel Baton Rouge – will welcome you in style. Of course, there are accommodations to fit every budget and taste among more than 70 hotels and 13,000 rooms.
If you visit Louisiana’s capital city this year, you may feel its history pulsating through its various attractions and events. Bouncing back from its various challenges over the last 200 years, Baton Rouge’s spirit has been made stronger, and that also is offered to its visitors.
Debra Pamplin is a contributor from Kingsland, Ga.
March/April 2017 Issue
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