Capitols & churches: Louisiana purchased the spiritual heart of Baton Rouge

tsj column writers - capitols and churchesBy Gary Flanagan

St. Joseph’s Cathedral has stood in the center of Baton Rouge since 1853. The founding parish was established by King Carlos IV of Spain in 1792. Father Carlos Burke, born in Ireland, but schooled in France and Spain was the first pastor.In 1803, The Louisiana Purchase brought the Baton Rouge area into the United States. The President of the United States at the time was, you guessed it , Thomas Jefferson.

Louisiana became a state in 1812. New Orleans was the first capital, as it had been for the territory and  colony since 1722. By 1829, the State legislature declared that the state capital be moved to a more convenient place and tried to move to Donaldsonville. 2 years later moved back to New Orleans.Finally the Louisiana State Constitution included a clause in 1845 that required the capital to be moved by 1849. The City of Baton Rouge donated land overlooking the Mississippi River for the construction of a new castle like capitol building.

The Old Gothic revival style capitol was abandoned and  used as a prison during the Civil war, gutted by an accidental fire in 1862, then rebuilt in 1882. It served the state until Huey Long became Governor in 1928 and used the new capitol building as a symbol to end political domination within the state. The skyscraper that resulted and finished in 1932 is the tallest capitol building in the United States. A short 3 years later, Long was assassinated in the State Capitol by Dr. Carl Weiss who was then killed by Long’s bodyguards. He is buried in front of the Capitol marked by a statue.

I arrived in Baton Rouge in the early evening in March 2013. It was quite easy to find the tall structures that define Baton Rouge’s skyline. The Superman building style of the Capitol dominates the north side of the city. When you move directly south to the center of the city, the Gothic Revival style of St. Joseph’s Cathedral secures the air above Baton Rouge streets. Can you just imagine the conversations these 3 buildings have had during their history? The Cathedral, the Castle, and the Superman Capitol.

As I stood on the street corner framing a photograph in the dimming light, I could almost hear the buildings talking in hushed whispers. I could also hear a storm approaching in the distance.I quickly finished and hit the highway westbound for Texas. Easing onto to Interstate 10, I looked at the skyline one last time before crossing the Mississippi. Too late, it was gone. Completely shrouded in a fast forming fog bank. It appeared to me that some whispers of history, are never meant to be seen.


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