Case 2: River Port

The Mississippi River's annual floods created fertile lands that were the basis for great agricultural plantations. The same floods could also be deadly. Writing in 1793, Daniel Hickey related the damage caused to Baton Rouge when the river levees broke. Alvin Rabenhorst photographed the flood of 1897 and convicts repairing the levee. The floods in 1897 and 1912 spared Baton Rouge for the most part, but were severe in the rest of the state. In 1912 the city suffered under the burden of thousands of refugees fleeing the inundated countryside. The great 1927 flood produced a lasting impact because it changed flood control strategies used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Debate over flood control began when the French settled New Orleans and continues today, as shown by a the East Baton Rouge Parish's comprehensive study of the June 1989 flood.

The river brought prosperity even when people failed to control its floods. The first steamboat that came to Baton Rouge was the New Orleans in January 1812. In 1822, 83 steamboats, 174 barges, and 441 flatboats visited the river port. Increased river traffic brought prosperity to Baton Rouge, and with it new schools, churches, hotels, newspapers, and public services for the citizens. Mark Twain wrote of his visit to the city "clothed in flowers, like a bride" in Life on the Mississippi, first published in 1883. As late as 1917, the steamer City of Baton Rouge, whose log book is shown at left, was an important part of river transportation.

As the height of the levees was raised year after year, steamboats found it harder and harder to dock at the rudimentary public docks. The city needed a deep-water docking facility. Construction of the Baton Rouge Municipal Dock in 1926 enabled ocean-going vessels to land and unload. The Greater Baton Rouge Port Commission, created in 1952, oversaw the construction of the nation's farthest inland deep-water port, which currently ranks fourth in the nation in total tonnage. The Port of Greater Baton Rouge contributes tremendously to the economy of Baton Rouge and continues to grow.

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