The West Baton Rouge Museum sits on a 6-acre campus with historic structures, art, and artifacts for visitors to explore.
The Old Courthouse Vault (Main Museum Entrance)
The main entrance to the Museum is the vault of the third West Baton Rouge Parish courthouse, a 2-story structure built in the 1880s. Decay led to construction of a new courthouse west of this site in the 1960s, but when the old building was slated for demolition, a group of concerned citizens, including Ethel “Puffy” Claiborne Dameron, saved what they could of the historic structure to become the first parish library. When the library moved to a new location in 1968, Puffy and colleagues repurposed the structure once more as a museum and formed the West Baton Rouge Historical Association, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, to support it. The Museum’s timeline exhibit covering 300 years of history, gift shop, and front offices are now located in this area. Through this entrance, visitors will also find the Perkins Sugar Gallery, changing exhibits, and a research library.
The Aillet House
The Aillet House (c.1830) was built for Jean Dorville Landry, a sugar farmer of Acadian descent, who lived here with his wife and four children until the 1860s. We call it the Aillet House (pronounced [ I A ]) because the Aillet family, who purchased it in 1880, lived here for over 100 years. Enslaved laborers constructed this home with locally sourced cypress, hewn and pegged, and packed with bousillage, a mud and moss mixture which, when dry, forms tough, weather tight walls. Only 10% of the antebellum sugar planters in Louisiana lived in large columned mansions. The majority lived in smaller homes like this one. This house was constructed in the typical Creole style, raised above ground on brick piers that provided a source of cooling cross ventilation. French doors on the massive front porch were opened to allow air to circulate throughout the house. The Aillet House had an eventful journey to the West Baton Rouge Museum in 1990 after Dow Chemical donated the building to the museum.
Allendale Plantation Cabins
Allendale Plantation was once located about 6 miles north of the Museum campus. Henry Watkins Allen, a sugar planter, Civil War soldier, and Governor of Louisiana (1864 - 1865), purchased land that would become Allendale in 1852. The cabins were built to house the enslaved people who worked on the plantation. Discover history spanning over 150 years, from slavery to Civil Rights, by visiting the cabins from Allendale Plantation.
Cabins 2 and 3
Cabin 1: Freedom and Slavery
This circa 1850 cabin was the first historic structure moved to the Museum campus in 1976. About 150 people were enslaved at the Allendale Plantation in the decade leading up to the Civil War. Four to seven people would have lived in each room of this cabin. Houses like this were the only places of solitude and privacy for the enslaved people. The interior of the cabin interprets life during the antebellum period with audio recordings of ex-slave narratives from the 1930s and an exhibit that includes the names of some of the individuals and families who lived at Allendale.
Cabin 2: Reconstruction and Jim Crow
Moved to the Museum campus with Cabin 3 in 2006, this Reconstruction – Jim Crow Era cabin interprets the home life of plantation workers after the Civil War through the early 1900s. The period known as Reconstruction lasted from 1865 to 1877. Black Americans had great hope with the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, but true freedom was not so easily achieved. The Jim Crow period was a time of racial backlash and terror which lasted nearly 100 years, from the 1860s to the 1950s. Yet the fight for equal civil rights began in the 1870s in Louisiana. Educated and organized people of color such as Josephine Dubuclet DeCuir and later Homer Plessy challenged the legal protections of the 14th Amendment. Jim Crow era laws limited access to education and disenfranchised Black Americans. This led to the need for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
Cabin 3: 1950s and 1960s
The third cabin from the Allendale Plantation interprets rural life in the 1950s and 60s, when Allendale Plantation was in full operation, and West Baton Rouge, like the rest of the region, remained racially segregated. The house was reconstructed from salvaged lumber in the 1890s. On Allendale, this house without plumbing was inhabited until 2004. Black people who lived in homes like this had little access to education and faced discrimination. In 1949, Cohn High, the only high school for Black Americans in West Baton Rouge Parish, opened as a result of years of parent effort and a donation of land from the Cohn family. Although desegregation closed the school in 1969, Cohn High served as an anchor institution in the community. Local activists, including Reverend Freddie Williams and educator Edward Searcy, worked tirelessly to ensure that civil rights and opportunities were granted to all citizens of West Baton Rouge Parish.
Arbroth Plantation Store
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Major Martin Glynn owned three plantations in West Baton Rouge and neighboring Pointe Coupee Parish, including Arbroth. Sitting on the Mississippi River near the northernmost tip of West Baton Rouge Parish, Arbroth was producing sugar cane and cotton until the 1940s when the family transitioned it to a cattle ranch. The first Arbroth Store, a brick building constructed around 1840, was lost to the Mississippi River. This cypress and pine structure was opened in 1880 and moved behind the new levee following the 1927 flood. This store building operated for 100 years before closing in 1980. The store was moved to the West Baton Rouge Museum campus in 2009. The Arbroth Store interprets rural plantation life between the two world wars (1914-1945), a time when riverboats brought travelers, goods, and entertainment to the area.
Juke joints have a history deeply rooted in small towns throughout the south. West Baton Rouge was famous for its juke joints that provided relief for workers coming in from the sugar cane fields and long hard days of work on the Mississippi River. Music was heard playing all night through open windows across the canebrake.
This building was an army surplus building repurposed as the Boy Scout Hut for Troop 38 in Port Allen. In 2017, the building was donated to WBR Museum and turned into an interpretative exhibit, performance venue, and education space. Some of the local Blues musicians featured in this juke joint are Slim Harpo, Silas Hogan, Lazy Lester, Raful Neal, Sr., and the Neal family. The Neal Family donated the upright piano, the jukebox, guitars, and other memorabilia exhibited in this building. Other works of art displayed are metal sculptures of dancers and musicians by local artist Ronald Trahan.
Reed Shotgun House
Joe Reed built this shotgun house from salvaged lumber for tenant workers on his West Baton Rouge cattle ranch in 1938. The shotgun house is indigenous to Louisiana, but its origins can be traced to Haiti and Africa. Shotgun houses are typically no more than 12 feet (3.5m) wide, with rooms arranged one behind the other and doors at each end of the house. Shotgun houses purportedly got their name because the linear arrangement of the rooms meant that someone could stand on the front porch, fire a shotgun through the house, and the bullet would exit the back door without hitting any of the interior walls. (However, the back exit of this home does not line up with the front door.) This cabin’s décor reflects the 1930s, when a young couple lived here with their son.
This building, constructed in 2014, features several demonstration areas including a Blacksmith Shop, a Woodworkers Shop, a Spinning, Weaving, and Textiles Room, and a Pottery Room. Sugar cane farming and milling implements, harvest tools, plows, seeders, tack equipment, tractors, and a Model A Ford are displayed in the large, open center room. Sign up for workshops offered here year-round.
Constructed in 2019 from cypress salvaged from a barn on the Reed Farm, this structure also serves as a wayfinding sign as it sits on the corner of Louisiana Avenue and Sixth Street. Inside is the Julien Sugar Cane Planter, invented in 1964 by brothers Leonard and Harold Julien.