Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Baton Rouge

A city with an interesting name as Baton Rouge translates to Red Stick in English!

To begin our explorations we took a free tram ride around the center of town, mostly government buildings. We had a difficult time understanding the deep Southern accent of the driver, thankfully the trams security person translated for us which led to lot of laughs. When we got on at the Old Capital the driver wanted to know where we wanted to get off and we said right back here! That took a few minutes to explain.
Baton Rouge is the Capital of Louisiana and there are plenty of tourist attractions including the old Capital building - originally built in 1847 which is like an ancient Celtic Castle. We loved it with its towers and castellation, however Mark Twain considered it to be the ugliest building on the Mississippi; clearly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The entrance hall is imposing and leads to an impressive spiral staircase at its center; a stained glass dome filters soft and gentle light on the circular balconies where portraits of all past Governors and the current Governor adorn the surrounding walls. It houses a museum of Louisiana history, a movie one can watch in the Congress Chamber; the Senate Chamber has some beautiful antique furniture.

Adele was fascinated by former Governor Huey P Long Jr. (August 30, 1893 – September 10, 1935); whose motto was "Share the Wealth" he instituted free education, including textbooks and wanted the rich (who Long maintained made their money off the sweat of the poor) to pay more tax and share a portion of their wealth, so…it’s not a new idea by the current administration. He was shot in confusing circumstances at the early age of 42. Who shot him? Was it Dr. Weiss or a ricochet from one of his bodyguards’ shots?   

In the early afternoon we drove to one of the best preserved Plantations in the South called “Nottoway" a 53,000 sq. ft. Mansion which was built in 1859 for John Hampden Randolph, his wife and 11 children. We took a tour of the house led by a lady attired in period costume who was very informative. The mansion has a stunning, big white ballroom with a large semicircle recess overlooking the gardens; this is where Randolph’s daughters had their coming-out Balls and where some were married. Our guide told us that it took many years of soaking the wood in the Mississippi in order to bend it into a semicircle. The White Castle as it is known locally is well worth a visit.
Randolph was a sugar cane magnate who owned 150 slaves on “Nottoway"- he had another plantation nearby with a further 150 slaves. All the slaves were given their freedom after the Civil War; it speaks volumes for Randolph as both a man and “Master” that the vast majority remained working with him. The house now sits on the banks of the Mississippi, however when originally built it was a half mile from the river; the river changed course after an earthquake. Randolph spared no expense building the house as he wanted it to reflect his position and wealth. The inventor of many farm machines Randolph was a very clever man and astute businessman.

After the Civil War in order to hold on to their property all big Southern landowners had to go to Washington, personally apologize to the President, pay a fine of $20,000 and swear allegiance to the US. The alternative was that their land would be confiscated, they would be tried for Treason and if found guilty executed. Now we understand why so many plantation owners were forced to abandon their plantations. Randolph went to Washington paid his fine and held onto his plantation.
The Plantation is now a luxury hotel owned by an Australian magnate who has invested heavily in restoring the house to its original grandeur. Guests are now accommodated in either one of the historic bedroom or a luxury cottage. On our arrival we had our lunch in the restaurant overlooking the garden and its 200 year old oak trees, the food was delicious and the service excellent.

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