The Louisiana territory was purchased from the French during Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign in 1803. Even then, Louisiana had been gifted with a rich history having been territories of France and Spain as well as home to many Natives Americans prior to it becoming an earlier portion of the United States. As the history of the U.S. unfolded so did that of the ever-prominent state of Louisiana. Here are top 14 historical sites in Louisiana.
This park honors the jazz legend of New Orleans, Louis Armstrong, who grew up in the historic Tremé neighborhood where the park itself lies. The Tremé is not just where Armstrong grew up however, it is where the birth of jazz itself happened. Specifically inside Armstrong Park is the legendary Congo Square. Being a huge port city for generations, New Orleans has always been home to a variety of ethnicities. During the French and Spanish colonial era of the 18th century, Code Noire was in place starting in 1724, relieving slaves of work on Sundays. But there were no laws in place giving them the right to congregate. Though it wasn’t until 1817 that the Mayor of New Orleans allowed the slaves to congregate at one place along Bayou St. john in the “back of town” area across Rampart Street from the French Quarter. In this designated area slaves could sing, dance, and even sell homemade items to other slaves. During this era, slaves were allowed to purchase their own freedom making this a big deal for those looking for refuge. Congo Square and the whole of Armstrong Park are full of the rich history of Tremé as well as the city of New Orleans.
This historic site preserves part of the battleground for the longest siege in American history. Lasting from May 23-July 9 in 1863, the siege happened during the American Civil War and was also the first place where the Union Army used African American field leaders to lead African American troops in battle. The siege was part of a wide Union strategy to gain complete control over the Mississippi River. Led by Major General Nathaniel Prentice Banks, the Confederate Army surrendered after General Franklin Gardner learned of fall of Vicksburg to Union forces. Today, the site is maintained by the state as a museum about the siege, artillery displays, redoubts, and interpretive plaques. Re-enactments also take place annually on the grounds.
Though today only a replica of the original blueprints from the French fort erected by Sieur Charles Claude Dutisne and his company, the historical significance of this place cannot be denied. This settlement eventually became the town of Natchitoches in 1714 making it the oldest permanent settlement in the region. Originally the fort was a trading and military outpost designed to stop any Spanish influence from gaining in the region. Soon, with the help of the neighboring Caddo tribes, the fort became an economically significant area that flourished with trade and commerce. However, in 1764 the fort was abandoned as the territory changed from French to Spanish hands. Being apart of the Cane River National Historic Area, Fort St. Jean Baptiste along with the entire town of Natchitoches endure as some of the most historically important areas of central Louisiana.
There are many historical plantations all around Louisiana, but the grounds of Laura Plantation have a particularly unique history all their own. Being high elevation for this area, 19 feet above sea level, nomadic tribes of Native Americans used to take settlement, eventually leading to a Colapissa ceremonial center being located on the grounds. During the mid-1700s Catholic missionaries came and chopped down the Colapissa’s 14-foot-high, red-painted totem, leading to four Acadian families settling on the property in 1785, and Laura’s family buying the property to start a sugar cane plantation in 1804. They officially started the plantation with seven slaves in 1805 until Laura’s grandmother, owner of the plantation, had the idea to buy 30 teenage girls to impregnate. By the onset of the Civil War the plantation had 186 workers, many of which continued to live on or near the grounds even after following the emancipation of slave in Louisiana in 1866.
The state capital of the Boot State is one of the most visited and historically interesting in the nation. Not only is it a fine example of Art Deco design from the 1930s, but it also stands 450 feet-tall making it the tallest state capital in the United States. However, the real historical significance starts with one of Louisiana’s most treasured children and one of the nation’s most charismatic politicians: The Kingfish himself, Mr. Huey P. Long. He was one who gained the funds and had the idea for the elaborate building during his reign as the 40th Governor of Louisiana from 1928-1932. Long did many great things though his politics certainly made him a target for criticism, especially as he gained national spotlight. On Sept. 8, 1935 U.S. Sen. Huey P. Long was shot down in the hall beside what is now the Speakers Office and died from his wounds. The bullet holes can still be seen in the walls today and Huey Long is buried in the gardens outside the capital building. A grand statue of the governor and U.S. senator marks the spot for his burial, forever resting in view of the halls he erected.
Being the oldest state park in Louisiana, this site has much Acadian historical significance. The site is names after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem “Evangeline,” which tells a story of Acadian Evangeline and Gabriel with the historic site being the meeting place of the ill-fated lovers who are well-known in legacy around the region. Whether legend proves to be true or not, what is factual is this site represents the entire Acadian region and the journey of the Acadian exile from Nova Scotia to south Louisiana in 1755. Three historic buildings occupy the 157-acre property, the Creole plantation house Maison Olivier, an Acadian cabin from 1790, and a reproduction of an Acadian farmstead near Bayou Teche. Maison Olivier has been designated a National Historic Landmark having been a vacherie, later developed into an indigo plantation, and was purchased by the Olivier family in the late 18th century where it achieved its greatest status as a sugar plantation. The entire property embodies the story of early Acadian and Creole life in south Louisiana.
John James Audubon is well known in history as a pioneer of bird documentation through his paintings detailing birds in their natural habitat. Having many places upholding his legacy in name, such as the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, it is only right that the very place where did much of his work in the late summer of 1821 upholds that same legacy. Traveling up river from New Orleans, Audubon spent the next four months on the Oakley Plantation where he was to tutor Miss Eliza Pirrie for $50 per month plus room and board. However, the escape from city life proved prosperously as he could paint many of his birds in his treasured work “The Birds of America.” Built circa 1801, the Oakley Plantation itself is a unique piece of history. Part of a beautiful forest setting, the property has a hug separate building kitchen that was typical for the time along with a simple, yet dignified main house that is unusually tall. All rooms have been restored in the style of the Federal Period from 1790-1830 reflecting the time when John James Audubon was a guest.
Noted architect Samuel Weiner started this Art Deco building in the 1920s, finally dedicating the building to the Soldiers of the Great War on Nov. 11, 1929. Then it was known as Armistice Day, and the building continued to serve a military use up until around 1948 when a new concert show called the Louisiana Hayride started showcasing talents weekly. This little show became huge showcasing legends such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Johnny Horton just to name a few. However, it was on Oct. 6, 1954 the one and only Elvis Presley was introduced to the world on that very stage in the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium. Though the show ended in 1960, many performers grace the stage still even today. To note, this was a place in the south where many African American performers, such as B.B. King, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin, withstood the test of time. Known for its musically cultural prestige in the region this historic site is a music lovers must see.
A story 3,400 years in the making, Poverty Point was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 as its rich history with indigenous populations grows with each new discovery at the site. Centuries ago native peoples of North Louisiana would build huge earthen monuments. In this case, they made Poverty Point a huge 72-foot tall mound with enormous concentric half circles and similar earth works that rose above other foundations for thousands of years. Archaeologists ponder why and how these humans accomplished such a task without the use of animals, modern instruments, or wheeled carts. However, over the years, millions of artifacts have been discovered consisting of simple tools, human figurines, and lots of stones that originated over 800 miles away. The site is theorized as to have been a huge place of trade and commerce with hundreds if not thousands of people dwelling in the area as well. The Macon Ridge, where the point is highly nestled, has no stone of its own suggesting the foragers of this plentiful region needed to trade with foreigners to acquire the material to make their tools used for food. Curiously abandoned in 1100 B.C.E., the point was inhabited by a second group of people around 700 C.E for a short time. It remained sparsely used for around 2,900 years until Europeans started settling the area in the 1800s.
This Fletcher Class Destroyer was the 661st of its kind built by the U.S. Navy and launched out of New Jersey with three other ships on Feb. 28, 1943. Though named after Read Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, her initial crew nicknamed the vessel after the pirate William Kidd and so had a local artist paint a pirate figure on the forward smoke stack. During World War II, the Kidd mostly escorted carriers loaded with supplies from place to place protecting them from the heavy air attacks in the Caribbean and Pacific. Her achievements in World War II are many as the Kidd was apart of almost every major naval campaign in the Pacific after 1943, including being a key factor in the invasion of Okinawa as part of Task Force 58. The Navy again called upon the efforts of the USS Kidd for a short stint in the Korean War during the years of 1951-52. Now, safely harbored along the banks of the Mississippi River I Baton Rouge the ship operates as a museum for adults, kids, and history buffs to enjoy.
Built to look and function as a castle, this historic landmark housed the Louisiana State Legislature from the middle of the 19th century until around 1929-1932 when the current capitol was built. It was erected when the legislature decided to move the capitol of the state from the heavily populated city of New Orleans to the then small town of Baton Rouge in 1847. As many of the nations capitols at that time reflected the same architectural style as the national Capitol Building, architect James H. Dakin instead designed a Neo-Gothic medieval style castle built on a hill looking out over the Mississippi River. Though built in reverence, the building itself has lived through tough times. During the American Civil War when Confederate troops retreated from Baton Rouge it was used as a Union prison and to garrison African American troops under General Culver Grover. During this time the capitol caught fire twice and at the end of the war was mostly a hallow shell left to rot by Union forces. Though by 1882, the entire thing had been refurbished by architecture William A. Freret who installed such iconic features as the spiral iron staircase and stained glass dome still in place today.
Built to prevent further French encroachment into Spanish Texas as well as to convert the Caddo Adai American Indians, the Spanish Mission of San Miguel de los Adeas was founded in 1716. As new missions were built around the area, it was in 1729 that Los Adeas was named the capital of Texas form that time until 1770. It was mainly built in response to the French fort St. Jean Baptiste in nearby Natchitoches, the two forts were involved in extensive, illegal trading along with marriage swaps and more interactions due to their isolated locations. Cooperation between indigenous Native Americans also makes this site an intriguing and enlightening site for Spanish American life during this period. Today, major archaeological contributions have been discovered in the earth though no standing structures of the fort remain as the capital was of no use to the Spanish after acquiring French Louisiana and the city closed in 1773. Though some remaining converted Caddo Adai took their church, the Church of St. Anne, and relocated the original building to the shamrock area above Natchitoches where the church still stands today and Caddo Adais worship the same as they did 200 years ago.
Bayou Plaquemine has a long history as a trading route even before Louisiana became a state. It is no coincidence that it was chosen for the building of a string of shipping locks in 1909 when the economy of the Mississippi River was flourishing. The Plaquemine Lock became an engineering wonder, capable of raising ships about 50 feet, an unmatched record at the time. It allowed ships and their goods to flow into the nations interior helping the entirety of the local economy. It wasn’t until World War that traffic overwhelmed Plaquemine Lock and a new dam was built in Port Allen across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. Today, Plaquemine Lock remains intact as a museum that represents not only engineering accomplishments but the vibrant culture that existed along the river at that time.
Being the oldest cathedral in the United States, this is the third cathedral built at this stunning spot right in front of the famous Jackson Square in the heart of the historic French Quarter. It is a three-steeple structure that towers over the rest of the nearby city landscape. The most iconic view is when guests view the cathedral from behind Jackson Square, getting a view of the well-known statue of Andrew Jackson riding on his bronze horse. Since 1727, New Orleans’ natives have worshipped in this church. It is said the famous French engineer in charge of its exquisite design, Adrien De Pauger, died before the church’s completion and requested to be buried beneath its foundation. This site and its surroundings make up everything New Orleans: History, beauty, and culture.