Dig Baton Rouge

Civil War, LSU Football & the Capitol

By Chase Berenson

When you mention Tiger history to the average LSU football fan, they’ll probably tell you about the Earthquake Game or the Barn-Burner Game, but Tiger fans sometimes forget that LSU football history goes back much further than that.

The Tigers’ first football game was in 1893, and one of their first football fields is now a park next to the Louisiana State Capitol building.

Most Baton Rouge residents love the lakes in the city. University Lake, City Park Lake, and even Lake Crest are always hotspots for running, walking, kayaking, or even standup-paddleboarding.

Yet, despite our love for lakes, Capitol Lake always misses out on getting the love. If you want to experience some of LSU football’s original history, as well as check out an oft-neglected lake, head straight to downtown Baton Rouge.

Despite what Tiger fans often think, LSU wasn’t the first institution in Baton Rouge. During the Civil War, the Confederates had an army base in what is now downtown. After the war the base was no longer needed, and when LSU moved downtown the university took up residence where the soldiers had left.

Directly next to the Powder Arsenal, where the army had stored stocks of ammunition, was a nice, flat field where the Tigers used to play their earliest games. Today this field is the centerpiece of Arsenal Park, and is open to the football-loving public to visit and imagine the games that happened over one hundred years ago.

Unfortunately, visitors today will notice that the playing area is no longer in suitable shape for football games; the ground today is not level and features a sunken garden.

When LSU’s campus moved away from downtown in the 1920s that opened up space for development of what became today’s State Capitol building in the 1930s.

As part of the Capitol construction, all of the university buildings and all of the historic army buildings were torn down, with the exception of the Powder Arsenal and the Pentagon Barracks on the other side of the building.

Today the Powder Arsenal has been turned into the Arsenal Museum, and is the main focus point of Arsenal Park.

Arsenal Park fronts directly on Capitol Lake, which features approximately a mile of walking paths along the shore. If you turn right and walk east along the lake, a very short path will bring you to the Governor’s Mansion, however you can also turn left to walk west and get to experience the interesting side of the lake.

The path turns north and follows the lakeshore pretty much to the northern tip of the lake. The lake is teeming with wildlife, including turtles and ducks, and the trees shading the path are filled with squirrels and songbirds.

Even if you’re not into hundred-year-old LSU football history, the next time you’re downtown you should set aside some time for exploring Capitol Lake.

Even though you can see the Capitol Building from everywhere along the walkway, the cool breezes and shady trees make you feel like you’re far away from the city.

 

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