Baton Rouge (; French: Bâton-Rouge ; Choctaw: Itta Homma; "red stick") is the capital of the U.S. state of Louisiana. Located in East Baton Rouge Parish, the city is the second largest in the state, and has a population of 229,553 people as of the 2010 census. The metropolitan area surrounding the city, known as Greater Baton Rouge, has a population of 802,484 people as of 2010.
Baton Rouge is a major industrial, petrochemical, medical, and research 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, also known as the "Capital Area", is located in the southeast portion of the state along the Mississippi River. The area owes its historical importance to its site upon Istrouma Bluff, the first bluff upriver from the Mississippi River Delta, which protects the city’s residents from flooding, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. In addition to this natural barrier, the city has built a levee system stretching from the bluff southward to protect the riverfront and low-lying agricultural areas.
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 bloody animals that marked 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 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 Baton Rouge was established as a military post by the French. During the French colonial period, most settlement and agricultural development was concentrated in the area of New Orleans, which became a port for the colony.
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 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.
By the outbreak of the Civil War, the population of Baton Rouge was 5,500. The war halted economic progress and the Union Army occupied Baton Rouge 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, some 2,600 Confederate troops under generals John C. Breckinridge (the former Vice President of the United States) and Daniel Ruggles attempted in vain to regain control of Baton Rouge. After the end of the war, New Orleans served as the seat of the Reconstruction-era state government. When Bourbon Democrats regained power in 1882, they returned the state government to Baton Rouge, where it has since remained.
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 vibrant mix of the cultures found throughout Louisiana, from which it developed its motto: "Authentic Louisiana at every turn".