Baton Rouge (population approximately 287,000) is in East Baton Rouge Parish on the east bank of the Mississippi River. It serves as both the state capital and the parish seat. The community name, French for red stick, was given when a 1699 French expedition encountered a cypress post stained with animal blood marking the boundary between the tribal hunting grounds of the Bayougoula and the Houmas Indians.
When Baton Rouge fell to the Union Army in 1862, the state government was relocated to New Orleans, but returned to Baton Rouge in 1882. The city has been the home of Louisiana State University since 1869, and Southern University, the nation’s largest predominately black university, since 1914. In 1947, the City of Baton Rouge and the Parish of East Baton Rouge were combined to form one of the first consolidated governments in the county.
Baton Rouge enjoys a colorful history interwoven with the roots of the English, French, Spanish, African, and Italian peoples who settled this region. This heritage has instilled deep pride in the local residents, and has been a rich influence on the city.
One of the most ambitious preservation project in downtown Baton Rouge’s history incorporates the historic 1930s Auto Hotel, the city’s first parking garage structure, into the Shaw Center for the Arts. The idea for this Center, which opened in 2005, grew out of creative thinking about how to preserve the Auto Hotel. Louisiana State University, city and state officials, and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation realized they could relocate the University Museum and School of Art, combining them with a performing arts center already in the planning and the adaptive reuse of the Auto Hotel as a community school for the arts managed by the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. All these elements now form a vibrant arts center on a city block overlooking the Mississippi River. It has emerged as an anchor for the continuing resurgence of the downtown.
L.S.U.’s Rural Life Museum offers a working plantation, hundreds of artifacts, and a focus on barns and folk architecture. Hands-on experiential programs for students, including exploring a slave cabin, cooking, and trying plantation crafts, are held at Magnolia Mound, which interprets French Creole lifestyle and culture and hosts workshops lectures, festivals and other events.
Restoration Renaissance is an annual four-day celebration of urban living, the central business district, and the historic neighborhoods flanking it. Residents and visitors take tours and participate in an architectural treasure hunt.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2006.