Baton Rouge at 200
After all the town went through in 2016 Baton Rouge deserves to relax, hold hands and party during 2017. Fortunately the city’s forefathers had the vision to seemingly perceive that back in 1817 when they signed an act of incorporation making Baton Rouge a legal entity and, by happenstance, eligible to celebrate a bicentennial in 2017, just when a communal hug would be needed the most.
By the time the paperwork had been signed 200 years ago “baton rouge” had long been a recognized spot along the river dating back to 1699 when the Canadian Lemoyne brothers rowed their boats upriver. They noticed a cypress tree stripped of its bark by the Houma and Bayou Goula Indians to indicate the boundary between their hunting grounds. One culture’s dividing line is another culture’s red stick in the ground and since the latter made the maps the area would forever be known by the French term for red stick.
Neither the Bayou Goula nor the Houma tribes could realize their hunting grounds would eventually best be known as a home for Tigers. Their fields were also fertile for those in search of power and wealth.
Like most United States capital cities Baton Rouge is neither the state’s biggest nor oldest town nor is it the starting point for learning the state’s history, but it is not too many pages away. The city was the seat of a state government that was among the most reluctant to join in on the Civil War, yet did so anyway, and it was the hotbed, during the 1920s, for the American populist movement.
Today’s Baton Rouge is a pleasant town, growing and staying vital as best as it can, blessed by having benefit of the nation’s greatest river and boasting of being the intersection for two interstate systems: I-10 and I-12. LSU is a major university, not just on the football field but also in the classroom. The racial tension from the past summer betrays the overall goodwill in the community; the recovery from the nearby flooding a few weeks later showed the spirit to work together. More than a spot for a lonely cypress the riverfront is alive with gambling boats as well as the totally sophisticated multi-use Shaw Center for the arts.
Anyone travelling toward Baton Rouge has noticed the sight of the state capitol building in the distance. It stands straight, tall and unadorned, like a cypress tree stripped of its bark. Once again the settlement along the river is known for its landmark.
May the new year make it a destination for peace and celebration.