Baton Rouge, 56 feet above sea level, is the capital of Louisiana. It’s situated on the eastern bank of the Mississippi 81 miles upriver from New Orleans. We woke up to another gloomy day, but no rain, so try as it might, the weather did not dampen our spirits. We grabbed a quick breakfast and were ready to navigate the levee and board the bus for our morning excursion: Houmas House.
The Houmas Indians selected this particular high-ground location on a curve of the river. A trading post was established and then a small home was added and then many transformations later that small home and trading post were joined together, enlarged, remodeled, enlarged again and over time the spectacular mansion house we saw today evolved. In 2003 it was sold to a fellow from New Orleans who has not only restored it but lives there as folks have done for the last 240 years. The gardens are spectacular with 500 years old live oaks, ponds, gardens, and walking paths. We really enjoyed Oak Alley yesterday and found Houmas House to be just as interesting in different ways. Sugar and enslaved labor formed the foundation for the wealth that allowed for such opulent living. There are no signs of either now since it is a home that has been lived in and updated continuously over the centuries.
The mansion house is filled to the brim with fun stuff. Firsts for us included a voodoo mask, insect trap used on the dining table, lawn darts, a sugar mold, a vampire slayer kit, coffin-sized wicker baskets originally used to carry amputees from the Civil War, needlework known as turkey work, and wedding attire for the nuptials of the current owner’s dogs. There’s also some memorabilia from the filming of the movie Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.
We noticed an odd portrait of two children. Odd in that the heads did not seem to match the bodies. Our guide explained that painters back in the day used to paint headless bodies in a variety of clothes, age combinations, and backgrounds. When they had a sizable collection the painters traveled from home to home asking if parents would like a portrait of their children. Easy peasy since the children only had to sit long enough for the painter to add their heads to the bodies already on the canvas.
With heads spinning from all the beautiful sights and interesting information, we headed back to the river for a quick turnaround. Lunch was on our minds, so we focused on that and then freshened up before our city tour. The highlight was the Capital Park Museum which tells the story of Louisiana from a cultural as well as historical perspective. We saw stunning Mardi Gras costumes; Louis Armstrong’s bugle; the door to a slave pen; a bottle of Promin, invented to cure leprosy; a fist edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; a hurricane alter; displays highlighting the food and music of this diverse state; and so much more. We drove past the old and new governor’s mansions, the nation’s tallest state capitol building (450 feet/34 stories), a couple plantation homes, three huge cemeteries, and a few pretty neighborhoods before ending with a drive around the Louisiana State University (LSU) campus. Fun fact: LSU has kept a live tiger as its mascot since the 1930s. They have all been named Mike and have all been in need of a sanctuary home. Our last stop was at Mike’s 13,000 foot enclosure. Merry early Christmas to us because Mike was up and strolling along the perimeter of his enclosure the whole time we were there.
Both of our guides today were fun and informative and clearly proud of their state. We learned about sugar production (harvest, press, boil, strain, dry) and what a bonanza it was for the growers once it was figured out that the cane stocks that they formerly had to pay to have hauled off could be exported (primarily to Russia) to be made into pressed wood. Cha-ching! BTW dried, pressed cane stalks are called bagasse which we found amusing because of its similarity to bad ass.
Another fun tidbit was the history of the numerous ponds we saw. Years back the state needed dirt for the construction of raised roads, so they offered to buy dirt from locals with the agreement that if the farmers dug ponds the government would not only buy the dirt but provide fish to stock the ponds. Nature filled the ponds with free fresh water, the free fish were delivered, and then some smarty pants suggested the farmers plant rice in the ponds. Talk about a win-win.
Fun facts about Baton Rough…
This city has been ruled by six different governments: French, British, and
Spanish in the colonial era; the Republic of West Florida; the United States
(as a territory and as a state); and the Confederate.
Baton Rouge is French for red stick.
The Battle of Baton Rouge was the only American Revolution battle fought outside the 13 colonies.
LSU is home to two Indian mounds, both of which are older than the Egyptian pyramids.
To signify the start of Mardi Gras season, wooden pink flamingos show up in the LSU and city lakes.
LSU contributed more graduates to World War II than any university except the military academies.
One thought on “Baton Rouge, Louisiana (December 21, 2021)”
The fact about the ponds was really cool mom
Matt Mongeon, PMP, Technical Project Manager II
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