Postcard from Baton Rouge

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The view from the observation deck near the top of the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge. |

Fairly or not most state capitals seem to be backwaters.

Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, is an exception. While overshadowed by much-larger New Orleans, Louisiana’s capital is very much a destination in its own right as I found out during a recent visit.

My visit over a fall weekend coincided with Louisiana State University’s homecoming football game against the University of Mississippi. Besides being the state’s flagship university, it is also one of the country’s perennial college football powerhouses.

While many would go to the game — college football is the all but established state religion of the South — I went to the capitols. Note I said capitols, not capitol.

The state Capitol is actually the new — if a 90-year-old building can even be called new — Capitol, having been built by the legendary and some may say infamous Governor Huey Long. Long, a populist in much the same vein as Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump, ended up in the U.S. Senate before being assassinated in 1935 at the landmark he erected.

While the art deco architecture is unique enough, the real draws is its tower design. At 450 feet, architect Leon Weiss designed the tallest state capitol.

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The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge is the country’s tallest state capitol. |

Perhaps best of all, visits, including to the open-air observation deck with its million-dollar views of Baton Rouge from floor 27 of 34, are free. The only requirement of visitors is to clear a metal detector just inside the main entrance on the ground floor.

At the other end of downtown near the Mississippi River is the spectacular Old State Capitol.

The antebellum building was designed to resemble a medieval castle and is reflective of the Gothic revival style that was popular throughout much of the 19th century. Apparently, it wasn’t liked by Mark Twain. The writer and folk chronicler, whose real name was actually Samuel Clemens, is reputed to have called it “the ugliest thing on the Mississippi.”

The chambers and halls that used to serve as the seat of state government today make up the Museum of Political History. Among the exhibits is an extensive exploration of Long.

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Designed like a medieval castle, the Old State Capitol was disliked by Mark Twain. |

Beyond the new and old Capitols, Baton Rouge is a city of museums with something for everyone’s interests. Among the most notable are the Capitol Park Museum, Louisiana Art & Science Museum and LSU Rural Life Museum. There is also the USS Kidd Veterans Museum, which is housed within the former naval vessel moored along the riverfront with its brutalist plaza, which itself has become an attraction.

If you go

While the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center has arguably the best location with some rooms facing the Old State Capitol, the hotel is a little tired and could use a renovation. Still, there’s a certain old-school charm about the place. Stay at the Watermark, flagged under Marriott’s upscale Autograph Collection brand, for something newer and nicer. It’s probably the best hotel in town.

Baton Rouge’s airport has several daily nonstop flights on American, Delta and United. While I never needed a rental car, taxis were few and far between outside the airport and wait times for Uber sometimes exceeded 25 minutes.

For those arriving by car, Baton Rouge is within four hours of Houston and just five hours from Memphis.

Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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