A Journey Through “Louisiana’s Attic”

LSU’s Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge is an amazing place, several hundred acres of preserved rural landscape in the middle of Baton Rouge with buildings brought in from farms and plantations across the state. It is a delightfully bucolic oasis amidst a bustling city. Visitors to the museum are greeted by old tractors, huge gears from mills and the remains of marble columns from LSU’s old Hill Memorial Library. These items give a foretaste of the varied nature of the museum’s collections. Like an attic, one can find old treasures that tell the story of the family living in the house. In this case, the family is the state of Louisiana and its people.

The museum occupies 40 acres and was originally part of the Windrush Plantation, donated to the state by the Burden family. The land the museum sits on is joined by 400 more acres devoted to the Windrush Gardens and Burden Gardens. The Burden Gardens are run by the LSU AG Center and feature a 3-mile walking trail. The Burden Gardens also feature a corn maze every Saturday in October along with games and activities for family fun. The Burden Gardens are free to visit. Some of the fall activities do have a small fee.

The Rural Life Museum grounds contain 32 buildings, all historic structures brought in from farms and plantations across Louisiana. They are arranged to represent a typical plantation of 19th century Louisiana. There are slave cabins, a church and school, general store, post office, sick house and overseer’s house and a simulated cemetery. All of the buildings are clearly labelled as to date, type and purpose, giving the visitor a view of plantation life from a viewpoint not often shown in other plantation tours.

The main building houses an incredibly eclectic collection with artifacts ranging from prehistoric Native American displays to patent medicines of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The museum, in the words of director Bill Stark, strives to tell “The whole story of Louisiana’s history.” The museum’s displays do not shy away from Slavery. They include a replica of a jail that held rebellious slaves and displays detailing their daily lives. Other displays detail the Reconstruction Era and Civil War. There is a section on Solomon Northrup, an original copy of his book “Twelve Years a Slave” as well as information concerning Louisiana’s “Creole of Color Planters” and “Women Planters”.

The museum also takes a look at more “modern” farming, with an amazing array of tools, wagons and appliances such as a 1890 washing machine that is more than enough to give the visitor an appreciation of modern comforts. One of the many delights of the museum is the number and variety of artifacts. A visitor never can tell what lies around the next corner.

The family-friendly LSU Rural Life Museum is well worth a trip for anyone interested in our state’s history and unique blend of peoples and cultures. Mr. Stark and his staff are doing a superb job of preserving, presenting and interpreting a fascinating era of Louisiana’s history.

The LSU Rural Life Museum, Rural Life Museum (lsu.edu),is located at 4560 Essen Lane in Baton Rouge. Its hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm with the gate closing at 4:30 pm. The Burden Garden’s hours are the same. The phone is 225-765-2437. Admission is a modest $10.00 for adults, $8.00 for children ages 6-11. Children under 6 are free. Senior citizens 62 and over are $9.00.  NOTE: The LSU Rural Life Museum is a Blue Star Museum. From May through Sept 6, admission is free to active duty, retired and reserve military members and their families. The museum has also graciously extended this program to Veterans. Next week? I am throwing a spear or two. Until then Journal readers, it’s time to hit the road!

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