Located in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Old Louisiana State Capitol is a restored historic government building that now contains a political history museum and showcases an award-winning 4D theatrical production. In 1846, the Louisiana state legislature approved a move of its governmental seat from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, fearing too much concentration of power in the state’s largest city.
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The location for the Old State Capitol building was established the following year, when the city of Baton Rouge donated a blufftop parcel of land overlooking the Mississippi River to the state of Louisiana for governmental use. The building, constructed between 1847 and 1852, was designed by architect James H. Dakin to mimic a Neo-Gothic medieval castle with cast iron elements, earning it local nicknames such as the Louisiana Castle and the Castle on the River.
During the American Civil War, the building was used as a prison and later as a garrison for Union troops, resulting in two fires that nearly gutted the building’s interior. In 1882, the building was completely redesigned and rebuilt by architect William A. Freret, who installed several notable present interior features, including a spiral staircase and stained-glass dome ceiling. The building was used again as a statehouse until 1932, when operations moved to the current Louisiana State Capitol building.
Funds were approved by the Louisiana Legislature in 1990 for the restoration of the building as a public museum. In 1994, the building reopened, renamed the Center for Political and Governmental History.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, the Old Louisiana State Capitol building is a designated National Historic Landmark, preserved for its unique architecture. The bulk of the museum’s space is dedicated to a Museum of Political History, which features rotating temporary exhibits focused on aspects of Louisiana’s political history and how it has shaped the state’s social, cultural, and economic progress. Past exhibits have included A Pilot’s Life for Me: Mississippi River Boat Piloting, highlighting selections from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi to explore the history of piloting on the Mississippi River, the Campaigning for War retrospective of local World War I propaganda posters, and an exhibit on Louisiana’s first spouses.
Also featured at the museum is the award-winning Ghost of the Castle presentation, an immersive 4D theatrical experience. The 12-minute presentation is narrated by the “ghost” of Sarah Morgan, a Civil War-era resident of Baton Rouge who wrote extensively about the building’s history in her autobiography. Combining local legends of the building’s haunting by ghosts with historical accounts of its many uses, trials, and recoveries, the presentation showcases Louisiana history through a unique multimedia narrative. The presentation has been the recipient of several entertainment and amusement industry awards, including the Themed Entertainment Association’s 2012 Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement.
The building’s noted architecture and interior design serve as an attraction of their own as well. In addition to the building’s castle fortress shape, unique stained-glass dome windows, structured to mimic kaleidoscopes, cover the ceiling of the building’s House Chamber, Senate Chamber, and Rotunda. A donation art program at the museum offers a chance for large-scale donors to “adopt” one of the windows of the domes, commemorating the donation with an architectural rendering of the dome with the donor pane highlighted.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Self-guided tours of the Old Louisiana State Capitol building are offered to the public for free, with audio guides available to explore the building’s architecture and museum exhibits. Guided group field trips for school groups and organizations, including group presentations of Ghost in the Castle, may be scheduled with advance notice. Picnicking is available on the building’s grounds for groups bringing their own meals, and special accommodations can be provided for accessibility needs.
Specialized tours for pre-K through high school students are tailored with activities incorporating Louisiana schools history and social studies curriculum. Young elementary school tours emphasize museum exploration skills, highlighting architecture concepts through the shapes, materials, and colors utilized in design elements. Activities for upper elementary student groups focus on historic artifacts within the building, analyzing the ways artifacts can serve as social commentary on their creators. Tours for middle schoolers divide participants into teams to explore the former legislative purposes of the building and the technology that shaped its functionality, and high school participants are encouraged to think critically about the roles of government in community and state decisions. Activities are also available for older tour groups, emphasizing critical thinking about the ethics of historical preservation and the role of historic buildings in communities.
100 North Blvd, Baton Rouge, LA 70801, Phone: 225-342-0500