The Rural Life Museum at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge collects, preserves, and interprets artifacts, architecture, and landscapes that represent the history of Louisiana and the Lower Mississippi River Valley. The 40-year-old museum is home to a vast collection of indigenous Louisiana architecture and the largest collection of 18th and 19th century artifacts from rural Louisiana.
The museum is split into four main exhibit areas. The Exhibit Barn is home to a variety of artifacts from the 1700s through the 1900s. Artifacts include carriages, furnishings, tools, farming equipment, and utensils, and the highlights are a flat boat, last used in the floods of 1927, and a Merrick walking beam steam engine that was used to saw wood in 1861. The plantation quarters include nine buildings with period furnishings, which represent a working 19th century plantation. Exhibits focus on the experience of slaves in the 1800s, and the buildings include an authentic blacksmith shop, commissary, school house, sugar house, and grist mill as well as a kitchen, slave’s living quarters, and overseer’s house.
The Louisiana Folk Architecture area is split into two sections. Folk architecture from the Gulf Coast Region, or southern region of the state, includes two Acadian-style homes; one is an authentic home that was built between 1800 and 1815; the other is a replica. Acadians were descendants of the French who settled in what is now known as Quebec and the northeastern U.S. in the 1600s. The Upland South section, representative of northern Louisiana, includes a shotgun-style house, a narrow home with rooms arranged one behind the other, and doors on each end. The Neal home is a dogtrot house, two log cabins joined by a covered breezeway. Other structures include a Carolina cabin and a pioneer’s cabin. A church and graveyard are also located on the grounds. The wooden church is one of the few buildings that visitors may enter, other interiors may be viewed through open doors and windows. The wide variety of architecture is representative of the differing cultures that settled in Louisiana throughout the 1800s. The 32 museum buildings are situated over 25 developed acres.
Louisiana has a diverse cultural history and the museum seeks to represent the contributions made by each group of settlers, who came not only from the northern United States, but also from France, Spain, Germany, and Africa. The 40-acre agricultural research site includes the museum and botanic gardens and is managed by Louisiana State University. Additional funding for the museum is spearheaded by Friends of Rural Life Museum, a non-profit entity that supports the museum through memberships, donations, and volunteers. The museum recently completed a $5 million 20,000-square-foot visitor center using private donations, and a new masterplan is under way for the development of 16 additional acres of land. Today, close to 70,000 guests visit the museum annually. LSU Rural Life Museum has been voted one of the ‘Top Ten Outdoor Museums in the World’ by The British Museum.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Visits to the museum are generally self-guided, although guided tours are available for groups of 10 or more. The museum provides educational programming for grade school students, which adheres to the Louisiana Department of Education curriculum guides; school field trip groups for students in grade three and above are welcome. For collegiate students and scholars, the museum and artifacts are available for scholarly research by students and teachers at Louisiana State University and others, including Southern University. Special events take place at the museum all year round. Harvest Days are a living history demonstration of life on a Louisiana plantation in the 1800s. The public may participate in hands-on activities such as soap-making, woodworking, and open hearth cooking. Holiday events include a Halloween-themed country fair, which includes cake walks, story telling, and trick or treating. A Rural Life Christmas offers costumed re-enactors, musical performances, story telling, and a visit from Papa Noel.
The botanic gardens, also under the management of the Louisiana State University School of Agriculture, are located adjacent to the Rural Life Museum. Over ten gardens, forested areas, and trails are open to the public free of charge. Windrush Garden is accessed from the Rural Life Museum, and represents the life work of Steele Burden (1900–1995), a self-taught landscape architect from Baton Rouge who began his career in garden design with plantings at his family’s 600-acre Louisiana plantation.
4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge, LA 70808, Phone: 225-765-2437