Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Flag of Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Seal of Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Location of Baton Rouge,  Louisiana
16 January 1817 
County East Baton Rouge Parish
Mayor Melvin "Kip" Holden
 - Total
 - Water

204.8 km² (79.1 mi²)
5.7 km² (2.2 mi²) 2.81% 
 - City (2000)
 - Density
 - Metropolitan

{{{metro pop}}} 
Time zone Central (UTC –6)
WGS-84 (GPS)
 30.4581° N 91.1402° W
Official Website

Baton Rouge, French: Bâton-Rouge (pronounced /ˈbætn ˈɹuːʒ/ in English, and Image:ltspkr.png/batɔ̃ ʀuʒ/ in French) is the capital of Louisiana, a state of the United States of America, and was the second largest city in Louisiana behind New Orleans (before Katrina). As of the 2000 census, its population is 227,818, and the metropolitan area of 602,894. It is the parish seat of East Baton Rouge Parish. Baton Rouge is home to the main campus of Louisiana State University and to Southern University.

Baton Rouge is served by the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport.




The name "Baton Rouge" means “red stick” in French. In 1699, the Sieur d’Iberville led an exploration party of about 200 French-Canadians up the Mississippi River, and on 17 March, on a bluff on the east (“left”) bank, they saw a cypress pole festooned with bloody animal and fish heads, which they learned was a boundary-marker between the hunting territories of two of the local Houma Indian groups. The bluff (by consensus among historians) is located on what is now the campus of Southern University, in the northern part of the city, and a commemorative sculpture by Frank Hayden has been erected nearby.

The first real settlement at the present site of Baton Rouge took place in 1718 when Bernard Diron Dartaguette received a grant from the colonial government at New Orleans. Records indicate two whites and 25 blacks (presumably slaves) resided on the concession. On New Year’s Day, 1722, the first mass at the settlement was celebrated in Dartaguette’s parlor by Father Pierre François-Xavier de Charlevoix, a Jesuit teacher and missionary who was on his way to New Orleans, having traveled from Quebec by way of the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi. By 1727, however, the Dartaguette settlement had vanished; the reason for its disappearance is not known, though it probably was a combination of crop failure and the concurrent success of the settlement at Pointe Coupee, across the river and a few miles north. As the location had no particular importance to the French, they ignored it thereafter; this period of less than a decade was the sum total of Baton Rouge under French rule.

The British period

The origins of Baton Rouge as a continuously settled community date from the establishment of a British military outpost there in 1763, following the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau in the fall of 1762 that included the cession of New Orleans and western Louisiana by France to Spain and the acquisition by Great Britain of eastern Louisiana. British territory on the east was separated from Spanish lands on the west by the Mississippi from its source down to Bayou Manchac, which flows into the Amite River and then into Lake Maurepas. Baton Rouge, just north of Bayou Manchac, and now part of the colony of West Florida, suddenly had strategic significance as the southwest-most corner of British North America.

One post, named Fort Bute, was constructed on the north bank of Bayou Manchac itself, facing a comparable Spanish installation directly opposite it. A second post, Fort New Richmond, was built on the river on the present site of downtown Baton Rouge. A royal proclamation of 7 October 1763 granted the West Florida colonists “the rights and benefits of English law” and established an assembly. The colony’s first governor was Capt. George Johnstone of the Royal Navy, who was authorized to make land grants to officers and soldiers who had served in the recent war, and many of the subsequent large landholdings in the Baton Rouge area can be traced to Johnstone’s grants. (One of the earliest and wealthiest landowners, Sir William Dunbar, was granted an extensive plantation near Fort New Richmond in the early 1770s.) Planters in the Baton Rouge area were unusually prosperous, thanks both to the fertile soil and to the brisk illegal trade with neighboring Spanish Louisiana, and the fort became the center of an expanding agricultural community, though the town had not yet evolved.

The American Revolution

When the older British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America rebelled in 1776, the newer colony of West Florida, lacking a history of local government and distrustful of the potentially hostile Spanish nearby, remained loyal to the British crown. (For this reason, old Baton Rouge families who can trace their ancestry to the British colonial period usually find they are descended from Tories, not American revolutionaries.)

Spain remained neutral for nearly three years, though Bernardo de Galvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, gave covert material aid to the few rebels in West Florida, assisted by Oliver Pollock, a wealthy American agent in New Orleans. In January 1778, however, the war finally came to the lower Mississippi when James Willing, a wealthy young Philadelphian who had moved to Natchez, led a raiding party on the plantations in the Baton Rouge district. They engaged in burning and looting, carrying off more than $1.5 million in personal property, before being driven off by the militia. This action convinced the British to reinforce the local garrisons from their main base at Pensacola. In February, France declared war on Great Britain, and eighteen months later, Spain followed suit out of colonial self-interest. Gov. Galvez then marched north from New Orleans on 27 August 1779 with some 1,400 French and Spanish militia (and seven known American volunteers). He took Fort Bute after a minor skirmish on 7 September and Fort New Richmond surrendered two weeks later after a three-hour artillery bombardment. Don Carlos Louis Boucher de Grand Pré became Commandant of the District of Baton Rouge while Don Pedro José Favrot became Commandant of the Post of Baton Rouge, which was renamed Fort San Carlos. Residents were given six days to declare their allegiance to Spain and most complied rather than lose their land and homes. Galvez subsequently took Mobile in 1780 and Pensacola in 1781, and that was the end of the British on the Gulf Coast.

The Spanish period

English continued to be one of the three official languages in Baton Rouge (with French and Spanish) and the Spanish administration was generally tolerant and diplomatic; Grand Pré became a highly respected figure, remaining as commandant until 1808. Favrot retired to his plantation after 42 years of service, coming out of retirement during the War of 1812, and is buried in Baton Rouge.

The Spanish administration ordered the building of roads, bridges, and levees, and by the late 1780s, Baton Rouge had began to transform into a flourishing town, with a population in 1788 of 682. Don Antonio de Gras, a businessman who had assisted the American rebels during the Revolution, donated the land on which St. Joseph’s Cathedral now stands; his marriage in January 1793 to Genevieve Dulat was the first recorded under the new Spanish government.

During the twenty years between the end of the American Revolution and the Louisiana Purchase, land-hungry American immigrants streamed into the South, including West Florida. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 did not include West Florida (or Baton Rouge), and by 1810 Spain’s position in West Florida had become completely untenable. On 22 September of that year, a rebel convention at St. Francisville deposed the Spanish governor, Carlos de Hault de Lassus, and ordered militia commander Philemon Thomas to seize Baton Rouge and Fort San Carlos. The following day, the fort was taken before daybreak, with two Spanish troops and no rebels killed. De Lassus and a number of other officials were taken prisoner and the Bonnie Blue Flag of the Republic of West Florida was raised over the town. One of the leaders of the rebellion was Baton Rougean Fulwar Skipwith, who would serve as president of the Republic. Also locally prominent was Col. Philip Hickey, captain of the militia under the Spanish and later colonel in the Louisiana militia in the War of 1812.

On 27 October 1810, President James Madison issued a proclamation authorizing Gov. William C. C. Claiborne of Orleans Territory to take possession of West Florida, and on 10 December the U.S. flag went up in Baton Rouge.

Since Louisiana statehood

On 16 January 1817, the state legislature incorporated the town of Baton Rouge and empowered it to elect a government. Instead of a mayor as chief executive, the town elected a “town magistrate” who also served as president of the board of selectmen; Town Magistrate John R. Dufroq became the first “mayor” of Baton Rouge in 1850. Unfortunately, records from the early period, before 1832, were destroyed in the Civil War and information about other early civic leaders is incomplete.

By 1805, two still-existing neighborhoods already had been laid out: “Spanishtown,” now in the area of Boyd Avenue near Capitol Lake, and “Beauregard Town,” bounded by North, East, and South Boulevards and the river. Spanishtown was the home of Spanish residents and those Canary Islanders who had moved into Baton Rouge from nearby Galveztown, though by 1819 many French families also had moved in. Beauregard Town was laid out by Capt. Elias Beauregard, great-uncle of Civil War General Pierre G. T. Beauregard, and was intended to include a fashionable central square, modeled on Jackson Square in New Orleans. As the city grew in the early 19th century, most Anglo families lived in the middle of town, along North, Main, and Laurel Streets, while the French built homes closer to the river.

A colony of Pennsylvania German farmers settled to the south of town, having moved north to high ground from their original settlement on Bayou Manchac after a series of floods in the 1780s. They were known locally as “Dutch Highlanders” (“Dutch” being an older word for “German”) and today’s Highland Road cuts through their original indigo and cotton plantations. The Kleinpeter and Staring families have been prominent in Baton Rouge affairs ever since.

The first steamboat, the New Orleans, landed at Baton Rouge in January 1812 and the town’s prosperous economy subsequently became highly identified with the river traffic. In 1822 alone, more than eight steamboats, 175 barges, and several hundred freight-carrying flatboats tied up at Baton Rouge’s wharves.

Baton Rouge’s location also continued to be a strategic consideration, and between 1819 and 1822 the War Department built the Pentagon Barracks near the site of old Fort San Carlos as quarters for an infantry regiment; much of the construction was supervised by Lt. Col. Zachary Taylor. (Taylor liked Baton Rouge so much he made the town his official residence and bought a cotton plantation nearby in West Feliciana Parish.) In the 1830s, a federal arsenal was built near the barracks, on the grounds of the present state capitol. After the Mexican War, with the westward movement of the frontier, the military presence in Baton Rouge dwindled in importance. The Pentagon Barracks was later acquired by the state of Louisiana and has served as dormitories for Louisiana State University, as state offices, and as apartments for high-ranking state officials and employees, including (at present) the lieutenant-governor.

In 1825, Baton Rouge was visited by the Marquis de Lafayette as part of his triumphal tour of the United States, and he was the guest of honor at a town ball and banquet. The official reason for his visit was to see his old friend and aide-de-camp, Joseph Armand Allard Duplantier, a long-time resident. (Duplantier died in 1827 and is buried in Highland Cemetery, near the LSU campus.) To celebrate the occasion, the town renamed Second Street “Lafayette Street.”

A yellow fever epidemic decimated the Spanish-speaking community of Baton Rouge in 1828 and the death toll in a cholera epidemic in 1832 is estimated at more than fifteen percent of the town’s population. The town’s population in 1830 was 1,467; by 1840, it was 2,269, and by 1860 it had risen to 5,429.

The old Louisiana State Capitol Castle
The old Louisiana State Capitol Castle

In 1846, the Louisiana state legislature decided to move the seat of government away from New Orleans -- largely because a growing majority of legislators and state officials were fundamentalist Protestants and regarded the hedonistic Crescent City with distaste. The constitutional convention the previous year, in fact, had ordained that the state capital should thenceforth be “no closer than sixty miles” to New Orleans; a compromise with legislators who were actually from New Orleans (about one-third of the legislature) resulted in the selection of Baton Rouge. Local citizens donated land and East Baton Rouge Parish appropriated $5,000 for site acquisition.

New York architect James Dakin was hired to design a new statehouse, and rather than mimic the federal Capitol Building in Washington, as so many other states had done, he conceived a Neo-Gothic medieval castle overlooking the Mississippi, complete with turrets and crenellations. The cornerstone was laid 3 November 1847 and dedication ceremonies were scheduled for 1 December 1849, but eight days before that a raging fire wiped out approximately one-fifth of the town. Firefighting facilities were upgraded as a result, and Baton Rouge evolved into a brick town instead of a wooden one. In 1859, the Capitol was featured and favorably described in DeBow’s Review, the most prestigious periodical in the antebellum South. Mark Twain, however, as a steamboat pilot in the 1850s, loathed the sight of it, considering it pretentious, undemocratic, and "famously ugly."

The Civil War

In the Election of 1860, Louisianians had a choice of three candidates (the name of Abraham Lincoln, candidate of the Republican Party did not appear on the ballot in the Deep South): John C. Breckinridge, who actively supported slavery, Stephen A. Douglas, who straddled the slavery issue, and John Bell, who ignored it and supported only “the Constitution and the Union.” Baton Rougeans generally were political moderates (and, above all, businessmen) who desired peace and national unity, and they cast 379 votes for Bell, 274 for Breckinridge, and 98 for Douglas.

In January 1861, Louisiana elected delegates to a state convention to decide the state’s course of action. Baton Rouge sent eight delegates, four of whom were “cooperationists” who opposed secession. On 26 January, however, the convention voted for secession 112 to 17, with most moderates voting with the majority to avoid discord.

Moderate or not, Baton Rouge raised a number of volunteer companies for Confederate service, including the Pelican Rifles, the Delta Rifles, the Creole Guards, and the Baton Rouge Fencibles. (About one-third of the town’s male population eventually volunteered.) Gov. Thomas O. Moore already had ordered the seizure of the federal barracks and arsenal, defended by only eighty men under the command of Maj. Joseph A. Haskin, a one-armed professional soldier in service since the Mexican War. Haskin was disdainful of the amateur militia but was so overwhelmingly outnumbered he finally surrendered his command without firing a shot. Baton Rouge would remain in Confederate hands for only sixteen months.

On 25 April 1862, the day before New Orleans fell to the U.S. Navy fleet under Admiral David Farragut, the Confederate state government decided to abandon Baton Rouge, moving first to Opelousas, and then to Shreveport. All cotton in the area was set afire to prevent it falling into enemy hands. On 9 May, Navy Commander James S. Palmer of the federal gunboat Iroquois landed at the town wharf and took possession, without resistance, of the Pentagon Barracks and the arsenal. He warned local officials that any attempt by the Rebels to reoccupy the town would be met with force. Two weeks later, a party of guerillas attacked a rowboat carrying a naval officer and a load of dirty laundry. In retaliation, Farragut’s flagship, the Hartford, bombarded the town, causing civilian casualties and damaging St. Joseph’s Church and other buildings. The next day, 29 May, U.S. Brig. Gen. Thomas Williams arrived with six regiments of infantry, two artillery batteries, and a troop of cavalry, and began the occupation of Baton Rouge.

Federal forces had attempted unsuccessfully to seize Vicksburg in the summer of 1862 and the Confederate high command decided that regaining access to the Red River and reopening the Mississippi required recapturing Baton Rouge. On 27 July, 4,000 Confederate troops left Vicksburg by train for Camp Moore in Tangipahoa Parish, about fifty miles from Baton Rouge, under the command of Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge. At the same time, the Confederate ram Arkansas moved downriver to neutralize U.S. ships near the town. Preparations were inadequate, supplies were already short, and the summer heat and rain brought disease, and Breckinridge reached Baton Rouge with only about half the men he had started with. Federal troops in the garrison, however, were equally hungry, sick, and exhausted. Even though the Arkansas had not yet arrived -- its presence was crucial to prevent the U.S. Navy from raking the Confederates with their deck guns -- Breckinridge attacked at dawn on 5 August. The Confederate line stretched in a semicircle from the present intersection of Plank Road and Scenic Highway in the north to the present-day Webb Park Golf Course in the south, all of which was then out in the country. Most of the fighting took place around what is now the National Cemetery (many Union dead being buried where they fell) and the later site of the Post Office on Florida Boulevard. The battle was a tactical Confederate success, the Union forces being pushed back to the river, but the Arkansas never made it; it had developed engine trouble a few miles upriver and been destroyed by its crew to prevent capture.

About 5,000 men had taken part in the battle, about half on each side. Union casualties totaled 383 (including Gen. Williams, who was killed); Confederate casualties were 456. The town suffered far more from the Union bombardment, the depredations of fleeing refugees, and the felling of most of the town’s trees to build barricades and clear lines of fire. Breckinridge was forced to withdraw to the Comite River, and later to Port Hudson, a few miles north of town, which held out until July 1863. [SEE Siege of Port Hudson].

Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, commanding in New Orleans, ordered the federal evacuation of Baton Rouge a week after the battle but Union troops returned in mid-December; they would stay until the end of Reconstruction in April 1877. Given that Baton Rouge was not a den of secession to begin with, most of its citizens accepted federal occupation willingly enough, though many others went to stay with rural relatives until the war ended. Nevertheless, local leaders in 1864 estimated the town’s losses since secession at more than $10 million in freed slaves, burned buildings, destroyed crops, looted property, and confiscated horses and mules. It took more than a decade for the town and its citizens to begin to recover, especially since New Orleans had again become the state capital.

The late 19th & early 20th centuries

Capitol Building
Capitol Building

The mass migration of ex-slaves into urban areas in the South also affected Baton Rouge. It has been estimated that in 1860, blacks made up just under one-third of the town’s population. By 1870, though, Baton Rouge was 52 percent black, partly the result of a decline in white population immediately after the war, but in the 1880 U.S. census, Baton Rouge was 60 percent black. Not until the 1920 census, in fact, would the white population of Baton Rouge again exceed 50 percent. But after Reconstruction ended, the white population controlled the state’s and the city’s institutions, and segregation and “Jim Crow” laws were enforced, though leavened with a dose of paternalism. (And Radical Republican control in Louisiana had never been strong outside of New Orleans in any case.)

By 1880, Baton Rouge was recovering economically and psychologically, though the population that year still was only 7,197 and its boundaries had remained the same. The carpetbaggers and scalawags of Reconstruction politics were replaced by middle-class white Democrats who loathed the Republicans, eulogized the Confederacy, and preached white supremacy. This “Bourbon” era was short-lived in Baton Rouge, however, replaced by a more management-oriented local style of conservatism in the 1890s and on into the early 20th century. Increased civic-mindedness and the arrival of the Louisville, New Orleans, and Texas Railroad led to the development of more forward-looking leadership, which included the construction of a new waterworks, widespread electrification of homes and businesses, and the passage of several large bond issues for the construction of public buildings, new schools, paving of streets, drainage and sewer improvements, and the establishment of a scientific municipal public health department.

At the same time, the state government was constructing in Baton Rouge a new Institute for the Blind and a School for the Deaf. Louisiana State University moved from New Orleans to temporary quarters at the old arsenal and barracks and Southern University relocated from New Orleans to Scotlandville (just north of Baton Rouge at the time but now within the city limits). Finally, legal challenges to the Standard Oil Company in Texas led its board of directors to move its refining operations in 1909 to the banks of the Mississippi just above town; Exxon is still the largest private employer in Baton Rouge.

In the 1930s a new skyscraper state capitol building was built under the direction of Huey P. Long. The old state capitol is now a museum.


Baton Rouge is located at 30°27'29" North, 91°8'25" West (30.458090, -91.140229)1.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 204.8 km² (79.1 mi²). 199.0 km² (76.8 mi²) of it is land and 5.7 km² (2.2 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 2.81% water.


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 227,818 people, 88,973 households, and 52,672 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,144.7/km² (2,964.7/mi²). There are 97,388 housing units at an average density of 489.4/km² (1,267.3/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 45.70% White, 50.02% African American, 0.18% Native American, 2.62% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.49% from other races, and 0.96% from two or more races. 1.72% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 88,973 households out of which 28.1% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.8% are married couples living together, 19.0% have a female householder with no husband present, and 40.8% are non-families. 31.7% of all households are made up of individuals and 8.6% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.42 and the average family size is 3.12.

In the city the population is spread out with 24.4% under the age of 18, 17.5% from 18 to 24, 27.2% from 25 to 44, 19.4% from 45 to 64, and 11.4% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 30 years. For every 100 females there are 90.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 86.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $30,368, and the median income for a family is $40,266. Males have a median income of $34,893 versus $23,115 for females. The per capita income for the city is $18,512. 24.0% of the population and 18.0% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 31.4% of those under the age of 18 and 13.6% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

These figures shifted dramatically in September 2005, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as reported in the Baton Rouge Advocate of October 5, 2005. The Mayor's office estimated that the population of the parish just before the hurricane was about 415,000. Two weeks later, it had reached between 800,000 and 1,000,000 based on careful estimates extrapolated from traffic counts. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce guessed, based on its own study, that the area had absorbed about 235,000 evacuees from the New Orleans area, of whom about 160,000 stayed in private homes with family and friends, 41,000 in leased apartments or houses, 32,000 in hotels and motels, 20,000 in shelters, and 10,000 in unsold new homes, college dormitories, and other facilities.

Both the Mayor's office and the Chamber are expecting permanent growth in the Baton Rouge area, after most New Orleanians return to their homes, to be between 25,000 and 50,000.

A related figure is the total enrollment in the parish's public schools, which was 46,580 on the day before the hurricane and 52,518 on October 1st. The sudden increase in enrollment has placed great strain on the public school system, with night classes being scheduled for many evacuee students. These figures also do not take into account those private (mostly Catholic) school students from New Orleans who enrolled in the Baton Rouge counterparts of their own schools -- often being taught by evacuated instructors, many of them members of Catholic teaching orders.

Points of interest


  • Carleton, Mark T. River Capital: An Illustrated History of Baton Rouge. (1996)
  • Meyers, Rose. A History of Baton Rouge, 1699-1812. (1976)
  • U.S. Works Progress Administration. Louisiana, a Guide to the State. New rev. ed. (1971; orig. publ. 1941)

Hurricane Katrina

On 2005 August 29, Baton Rouge was impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Although the damage was relatively minor compared to New Orleans (generally light to moderate except for fallen trees), Baton Rouge experienced power outages and service disruptions due to the hurricane. In addition, the city is providing refuge for residents from New Orleans. Baton Rouge will serve as a headquarters for emergency coordination and disaster relief in Louisiana.

The City of Baton Rouge executed massive rescue efforts for those who evacuated the New Orleans area. Schools and convention centers such as the Baton Rouge River Center opened their doors to evacuees, and churches around the city were sometimes serving two hot meals per day for whoever could come.

As a result, by Wednesday, August 31, news channel WAFB in Baton Rouge had reported that the city's population had more than doubled from about 228,000 to at least 450,000 since the mandatory evacuation had been issued. That day, Mayor-President Kip Holden was expected to host a conference to discuss how to effectively enroll evacuated children into the Baton Rouge public school system. Traffic in the city has been hectic since the evacuation of New Orleans. The most heavily traveled roads are I-10, I-12, Florida Boulevard, and Airline Highway, which have experienced traffic levels beyond any conceivable capacity.

As the city is more inland compared to New Orleans, many have speculated that the population of the Baton Rouge area will increase dramatically in the near future as many New Orleans residents and businesses will move inland in fear of more hurricanes and possible further consequences.

Recently two East Baton Rouge Parish public schools were reopened to full capacity within two weeks of the hurricane. McKinley High School (, the school for gifted and talented students, enrolled around 200 students from the New Orleans area.

All available housing and hotel rooms were occupied as of September 12. The real-estate market has experienced dramatic business; any property placed on the market can sell within hours due to extreme demand. [1]

Emergency resources for Baton Rouge

For a list (updated almost daily) of "Disaster Assistance Information & Contact Numbers," go to the East Baton Rouge Parish Library web site and click on "Disaster Assistance Information".

News sources for breaking stories

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