Louisiana State University’s stadium, which is also known as “Death Valley,” once contained dormitories. // © 2016 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Feature image (above): Located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Oak Alley Plantation offers daily tours. // © 2016 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Louisiana’s capital city and home to Louisiana State University (LSU), Baton Rouge is also where many well-preserved antebellum plantations can be found. This blend of old and new has resulted in a modern city steeped in the history and traditions of its Southern roots.
LSU is known nationwide for its 47 NCAA national championships (including three in football and six in baseball), but the campus has a history that dates back many years before the Tigers hit the scene — about 5,000 years, in fact.
The LSU Indian Mounds are two 20-foot tall Native American mounds that are part of a statewide system of mounds that were most likely used for ceremonial purposes rather than for burial. The LSU Indian Mounds are thought to be more than 5,000 years old, predating the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
LSU Football has its place in history, too. In the 1930s, the Louisiana state budget did not allow money for stadium expansion, but it did have funds for dormitories. Louisiana governor Huey Long (an LSU football fan) sidestepped the legislation by ordering that 1,500 dorm rooms be built in the football stadium, with seats above the living quarters. And, in fact, LSU stadium, also known as “Death Valley,” contained dormitories until the early 1990s.
The next-door neighbor to Death Valley is Mike the Tiger, a live Bengal tiger who lives in a 15,000-square-foot habitat at the stadium. On home game days, Mike’s cage is placed outside the door to the opposing team’s locker room so players are forced to pass the intimidating mascot on their way to the field.
Old and New State Capitols
Louisiana's Old State Capitol is a 165-year-old Gothic “castle” perched on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. Since 1994, the building has housed the Old State Capitol Museum of Political History, which contains several interactive exhibits, including one on the life and politics of controversial governor Long, as well as the award-winning "Ghost of the Castle" show. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In the 1930s, the Louisiana seat of government moved to the current capitol building. At 450 feet tall, it is the tallest capitol building in the U.S. and offers spectacular views of the city and the Mississippi River from its observation deck on the 27th floor.
The Louisiana State Capitol is often referred to as “Huey Long’s Monument,” in part because the former governor was instrumental in getting it built, but also because it was in the capitol lobby that Long was assassinated in 1935, and on the grounds in front of the building is where he is buried.
An interesting feature of the capitol building is that the 49 steps leading to the first floor are inscribed with the names of the 50 states in the order they were admitted into the Union. However, because construction was completed before Alaska and Hawaii were admitted, only one step was left, so both names are engraved on the top step.
Between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is where travelers can find several well-preserved Louisiana plantations. These farms and stately homes were strategically positioned along the Mississippi River to take advantage of this important trade route to and from the port of New Orleans. And while many of the homes have not withstood the test of time, those that remain are a reminder of an important chapter in American history.
Travelers can visit examples of magnificent antebellum mansions and gardens, such as Oak Alley, named for the quarter-mile-long alley of 28 live oak trees leading from the house to the river, and Houmas House, which has been called the “Crown Jewel of Louisiana's River Road” and is distinguished by its two rare “garconniere” (a place for an unmarried man to live alone).
Also in the area is the Creole-style Evergreen Plantation, considered to be the most intact plantation complex in the South, with 37 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Quentin Tarantino fans will recognize Evergreen as one of the locations for the Academy Award-winning film “Django Unchained.”
Daily tours of these plantation houses and grounds are offered, as well as of many others in the area.