Baton Rouge (; French for "Red Stick", French: Bâton-Rouge ) is the capital of the U.S. state of Louisiana and its second-largest city. The seat of East Baton Rouge Parish, the city is located on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River.
As the "Capital City," Baton Rouge is the political hub for Louisiana, and is the second-largest metropolitan city in the state, with a growing population of 229,426 people as of 2013. The metropolitan area surrounding the city, known as Greater Baton Rouge, has a population of 820,159 people as of 2013. The urban area has around 594,309 inhabitants.
Baton Rouge is a major industrial, petrochemical, medical, research, motion picture, and growing technology center of the American South. The Port of Baton Rouge is the ninth largest in the United States in terms of tonnage shipped, and is the farthest upstream Mississippi River port capable of handling Panamax ships.
The Baton Rouge area owes its historical importance to its strategic site upon the Istrouma Bluff, the first natural bluff upriver from the Mississippi River Delta. This allowed development of a business quarter safe from seasonal flooding. In addition, the city built a levee system stretching from the bluff southward to protect the riverfront and low-lying agricultural areas. The city is a culturally rich center, with settlement by immigrants from numerous European nations and African peoples. It was ruled by seven different governments: French, British, and Spanish in the colonial era, West Floridian, United States territory and state, Confederate, and United States again.
The European-American history of Baton Rouge dates from 1699, when French explorer Sieur d'Iberville leading an exploration party up the Mississippi River saw a reddish cypress pole festooned with carcasses marking the boundary between the Houma and Bayou Goula tribal hunting grounds. They called the pole and its location le bâton rouge, or the red stick. The local Native American name for the site was Istrouma. (See Creek War for discussion of Red Sticks as related to Creek group.)
From evidence found along the Mississippi, Comite, and Amite rivers, and in three Native American mounds remaining in the city, archaeologists have been able to date indigenous habitation of the Baton Rouge area to 8000 BC. The complex earthwork mounds were built by hunter-gatherer societies in the Middle Archaic period, perhaps as early as 4500 BC, more than a thousand years before the pyramids of Egypt were begun.
The settlement of Baton Rouge by Europeans began in 1719 when a military post was established by French colonists. During the French colonial period, most settlement and agricultural development was concentrated in the area of New Orleans to the south, which became the major port for the colony of La Louisiane. The French also established colonial settlements at present-day Biloxi, Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama on the Gulf Coast. Upriver settlements were concentrated in the Illinois Country.
Incorporated in 1817, Baton Rouge became Louisiana's state capital in 1849. The architect James Dakin was hired to design the Capitol building in Baton Rouge. Rather than mimic the federal Capitol in Washington, as many other states had done, he designed a capitol styled like a Neo-Gothic medieval cathedral, complete with turrets and crenellations, and stained glass, which overlooks the Mississippi. It has been described as the "most distinguished example of Gothic Revival" architecture in the state and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
By the outbreak of the Civil War, the population of Baton Rouge was nearly 5,500. The war nearly halted economic progress, except for businesses associated with supplying the Union Army occupation of the city beginning in the spring of 1862. The Confederates at first consolidated their forces elsewhere, during which time the state government was moved to Opelousas and later Shreveport. In the summer of 1862, about 2,600 Confederate troops under generals John C. Breckinridge (the former Vice President of the United States) and Daniel Ruggles tried in vain to recapture Baton Rouge.
After the war, New Orleans served as the seat of the Reconstruction-era state government. When the Bourbon Democrats regained power in 1882, they returned the state government to Baton Rouge, where it has since remained. Karl Baedeker in his 1893 guidebook described Baton Rouge as "the Capital of Louisiana, a quaint old place with 10,378 inhabitants, on a bluff above the Mississippi."
In the 1950s and 1960s, Baton Rouge experienced a boom in the petrochemical industry, causing the city to expand away from the original center. In recent years, government and business have begun a move back to the central district. A building boom that began in the 1990s continues today, with multi-million dollar projects for quality of life improvements and new construction happening all over the city.
In the 2000s (decade), Baton Rouge has proven to be one of the fastest-growing cities in the South in terms of technology. Baton Rouge's population temporarily exploded after Hurricane Katrina, as it accepted as many as 200,000 displaced residents. Metropolitan Baton Rouge is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the U.S. (under 1 million), with 602,894 in 2000 and 802,484 people as of the 2010 census. Some estimates indicate that the Baton Rouge metro area could reach 900,000 residents as soon as 2013.
The city has a mix of the cultures found throughout Louisiana, from which it developed its motto: "Authentic Louisiana at every turn".