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The Old Arsenal Powder Magazine
Baton Rouge, LA

This imposing powder magazine, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is an exceptional Baton Rouge landmark. The site was of particular military importance because of its location on the Mississippi River for early settlements, and later as the main defensive position of the southwestern United States.

The Old Arsenal Powder Magazine in Baton Rouge, LA
Photo Credit - Louisiana Secretary of State

Historical Background of the Arsenal Magazine

Governor Bernardo de Galvez
The existing Powder Magazine was probably built in 1838 and is the third such structure to stand on this site. The British constructed Fort Richmond near the present capitol complex in the 1760's but their defenses failed to deter Governor Bernardo de Galvez of Spanish Louisiana who captured Baton Rouge in 1779.

Galvez expanded the fortifications and paid special attention to the powder magazine. After a brief restoration of French rule in 1800, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803. By 1812, Louisiana had entered the federal union as the eighteenth state.

In 1819, the United States Army began work on the Pentagon Barracks and on a new powder magazine. However, it was soon apparent that the magazine was too small to adequately serve the garrison and was located too close to the barracks. For reasons of size and safety, the present powder magazine was constructed.

General Zachary Taylor
In the late 1830's, General Zachary Taylor commanded the post at Baton Rouge. Among the officers who served in the garrison or who visited the fortifications were Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, William T. Sherman, George B. McClellan, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Ulysses S. Grant. Baton Rouge and its military compound served as a major staging area for the Mexican War.

Governor Thomas 0. Moore
Meanwhile, the regional differences between the North and South reached the breaking point. On January 26, 1861, Louisiana seceded from the Union. At the direction of Governor Thomas 0. Moore, state militia seized the arsenal. Shortly thereafter, Louisiana joined the new Confederate States of America, and the weapons, ammunition, and powder stored in the Baton Rouge compound was rushed to the embattled Southern armies.

In May, 1862, Union forces recaptured Louisiana's capital city. U.S. Marines and later, Army troops occupied the arsenal and the fortifications. In August, a Confederate army under General John C. Breckinridge tried, but failed to drive the Union soldiers into the Mississippi River.

After the Civil War, the U.S. Army transferred jurisdiction of the arsenal from the Ordnance Corps to the Quarter- masters's Department. Munitions and equipment were shipped to Rock Island, Illinois. In 1884, the Baton Rouge post was placed under the control of the U.S. Department of the Interior which, in 1886, gave the entire property to the Louisiana State University. The old powder magazine was used for library storage and ago a barn.

Governor Huey P. Long, developing his grandiose plans for a new capitol, wanted to demolish the powder magazine but was dissuaded by Edward McIllhenny and other prominent citizens of the state. A Similar threat to the building's existence was later rebuffed by the Manchac Chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution. Since then, the Arsenal served the needs of the State Police and the National Guard prior to its most recent incarnation as a museum. Today, it stands as a sentinel of the past and as a reminder of Louisiana's great heritage.

Location and Hours of Operation

The museum is located on the grounds adjacent to the new capitol building on Capitol Lake Drive in downtown Baton Rouge, and is open Monday through Saturday from 9 to 4; closed on Sundays and state holidays.
Admission: Adults ... $1 Children 6-17 ... $.50
Seniors over 60 and Children under 6 ... Free
Chaperons of organized groups ... Free