“…I’m a thoroughbred racin’ at Louisiana Downs
Avery Island and a Catahoula Hound
I’m the Louisiana Hayride and the birth of the Blues
the Evangeline, Chickory Coffee and Baton Rouge…”
“I Am Louisiana” Written by Paul Ott
We left the East Coast on the night of January 30th.
A large winter storm was quickly making its way across the country and up the coast. As we packed up, and hit the road, we were focused on staying ahead of the storm. For the first couple of days, we drove as far as we could, pulling over only to rest for a couple of hours at a time.
We passed through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and into Louisiana. It was here, in the little town of Denham Springs, Louisiana that we finally felt like we had left the storm far enough behind us. We chose to stay a couple of days and visit Baton Rouge.
The Red Stick
The name Baton Rouge is French for Red stick. While exploring the Mississippi River back in 1699, French-Canadian explorer, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville came across a Cypress pole covered in blood (the red stick). This pole was used as a marker, by the two indigenous tribes that occupied the area. To settle a dispute between the two tribes, they erected a pole, made from a Cypress tree. This would mark the hunting boundaries for each tribe. On top of the pole, they would mount the heads of the game they had killed. The pole eventually became bloodstained and red. This was the pole that d’Iberville saw as he made his way up river. He named the area Baton Rouge – red stick.
The city of Baton Rouge is roughly about 80 square miles, situated along the banks of the Mississippi River. The city itself is divided into many sections and neighborhoods. The day we visited, we spent our time in the Downtown District, also known as the Riverfront District.
The Riverfront District is right on the water, letting you enjoy the scenery that the river has to offer. The whole district is filled with so much history.
Baton Rouge was a quick drive down I12/ I10 from where we stayed in Denham Springs (also a very cute town if you are ever in the area!). Once there, parking was pretty accessible and very affordable (about $7 for a full day). We parked in a lot that was centrally located to pretty much anything we wanted to see in the district within walking distance.
First up, was brunch – but we will get to the food part a little later in the post (the food is so good, it totally deserves its own section in this post!).
After brunch we just started walking. We were headed towards the town center, and decided we would just walk in one big loop around the district. The very first thing I noticed as we started walking around, was how empty the city was! There was literally no one as we walked down the sidewalks – no foot traffic, and barely any vehicle traffic.
A lot of businesses had signs in the windows and on the doors that read “closed permanently”, or “building for lease or sale”. This was extremely disappointing, as it really limited what we would be able to experience. I found it even more disappointing for the people who live and work in Baton Rouge, as I had assumed that Covid had really taken a toll on this city.
We made our way to the Town Square. For many years, Town Square was just an area of space that no one used, due to the fact that there was no tree coverage. During the summer especially, it was just too hot to gather in this area. The city eventually developed water stations that would cool the landscape.
They added cafe seating, high tech attractions, art attractions, nighttime lighting, and opened it up to local vendors and activities.
The Town Square is now one of the most active areas in downtown Baton Rouge. Today, it is considered a “Cultural Greenspace”.
On the edge of Town Square, and adjacent to the Old State Capitol Building, you will find a walkway, complete with seating and illuminated fountains. During the Spanish rule, a street ran through this area, from about 1779 until 1819. This was also a time, when the majority of the population in Baton Rouge was Catholic. The belief was that criminals should have to repent for their sins prior to sentencing. The walkway that is there today, marks that street that the criminals would have to walk on their way to receive their sentencing.
The Old State Capitol
The Old State Capitol building of Baton Rouge is one of the most interesting buildings in the city! It was built between 1847 and 1852, when the state capitol was moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. It is designed in the Gothic Revival style – one of only two capitol buildings in the country designed that way. It was built to house the legislature, but became occupied by Union Troops during the Civil War. It was during this occupation, that a cooking fire broke out, destroying everything except the outer walls of the building. For the next eighteen years, the building sat neglected in this condition. It wasn’t until 1880 that the building was finally remodeled. In 1932, the building was once again abandoned when they built a new capitol building. Once again, it became a victim of neglect. In 1991, it was in danger of becoming a demolition project. Instead of demolishing the building, the city chose to restore not only the building, but the beautiful iron gate fence that surrounds it.
Today, the Old State Capitol is home to a Political Museum.
River Center Sky Bridge
From the Old Capitol building, we crossed over the River Center Sky Bridge to the Riverwalk. From the bridge you can get a good view of the (very empty) street.
You can also see the Mississippi River bridge pretty good from here, as well as the USS Kidd.
The Sky Bridge brings you out near the Planetarium (which was closed when we were here).
The Planetarium has a 60 foot Dome Theater, which is said to be one of the best in the country.
One attraction that was open, was the USS Kidd. We walked over to the museum and got our tickets to board the ship. Once aboard, it is a self guided tour. It takes about 1 1/2- 2 hours to really walk through the whole ship and see everything.
The USS Kidd is a Destroyer built by the US Navy. The ship is named after Rear Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd, Sr. He was killed aboard the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The first voyage for the USS Kidd, was from New York Harbor to the Brooklyn Shipyard. During this voyage, they flew the Jolly Roger. It was remarked that this was the first time the Jolly Roger had been flown in over a hundred years in New York Harbor. The crew eventually adopted Captain Kidd as their Mascot, which is still painted on the smokestack to this day! The name was fitting, as the Admiral had gone by the nickname “Cap” his entire life. The Kidd was the only ship in the United States Navy that was ever given permission to fly the flag of piracy!
The New Capitol Building
After we left the USS Kidd, we walked further down the Riverwalk, toward the other end of the city. From here, we went back up onto the streets, and headed over towards the new Capitol Building. One interesting note about the streets in Baton Rouge – the crosswalks have been painted with unique designs.
The new Louisiana State Capitol Building is the tallest capitol in the United States! It is 450 feet tall with 34 floors. The people of Louisiana call it their “sky scraper”. On the 27th floor, there is an Observation Deck that looks out over all of Baton Rouge (what a great view that would have been if we could have gone up to see it!).
In 1928, Huey Long was elected Governor of Louisiana, and by 1930, he had arranged for a new Capitol Building to be erected. Long insisted on the building being completed during his term as Governor, and therefore, the construction was completed in just a little over a year (14 months, I think)! Once the building construction was complete, long compared its size and beauty to that of the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, Italy. Just a few years later, in 1935, Huey Long would be assassinated in the building he loved so much!
The Houses of Baton Rouge
There are several housing districts in and around Baton Rouge. I am including this in my post, because I absolutely love the houses and their style!
We happened to be there right around Mardi Gras timeframe, so people were decorating their porches and doorways. Everywhere you looked – there were beads!
Unfortunately, like everything else, we couldn’t walk through the houses either…not the inside anyway 🙂
Poor Boy Lloyd’s
Now, for my favorite part of visiting any new place….the FOOD!
There is no better way to experience an area, than through their local fare! My only disappointment here, was that most establishments were closed. We made the best with the time we had and with what was open.
Poor Boy Lloyd’s
Poor Boy Lloyd’s was an excellent choice, recommended by a couple of locals.
Inside, the overhead is nothing fancy (although I love the ceiling), but the feeling you get is just a “down home” feeling. The food is all cooked fresh and from scratch. Walk in, order, and go take a seat. They bring the food to you as soon as they make it up. The food was delicious!
We split a Shrimp Po’ Boy and a Sweet tea. I guess during non-covid times, they move the tables out of the way at night, have live music, and just enjoy a good ‘ol time.
The Vintage Baton Rouge
We stopped here during our walk, for a cup of traditional Baton Rouge Cafe Au Lait and a Beignet!
I had never had a Beignet before, and I am not sure now, how I ever lived without that little fried puff of pastry in my life! It was so good! And the Cafe Au Lait….the perfect little pick me up in the middle of a long day of walking! It was a fantastic choice!
Don’s was not actually in Baton Rouge. It was located in Denham Springs where we were staying. The food here was so good though, that I had to include it in my post! Here, we enjoyed a few favorites of the local foods offered. We had Alligator, Ettouffee’, Shrimp n Grits, and Bread Pudding.
All of it was so incredibly delicious. Fair to say, you won’t leave there hungry, and if you do…well, that’s your own fault. Also fair to say…..I was really looking forward to eating healthy again by the time we left Louisiana 🙂
One more thing I learned while we were in Louisiana….
There is such a thing called Burrowing Crawfish! These mounds (commonly called “chimneys”) were everywhere! Some of them were as tall as 8 inches high (maybe even higher). They typically come out at night, so I never did get to actually see one…not even in the Ettoufee’…they are not harvested the way farmed crawfish are apparently.
This about wraps up our day trip to Baton Rouge. Plenty more to see, I am sure, but the pandemic unfortunately, made seeing a lot of the attraction, difficult at best. It was a great day, and what we did see, was awesome! There is just so much history in this city. There is no way to see it all in one day. From the sky scraper capitol, to the sky scraper crawfish mound, it was all worth the visit!