City of Donaldsonville - Tour Ascension

City of Donaldsonville

2About 1803, the Englishman, William Donaldson, settled at New Orleans. In 1805, he bought land near Bayou Lafourche from the Acadian, Marguerite Allain, and planned an English town. In 1806, ‘Donaldson’ was dedicated, but the largely French population called it ‘La Ville de Donaldson’. In 1823, it was reincorporated as ‘Ville de Donaldson,’ but due to a growing English presence, it became ‘Donaldsonville’; population 200. In 1808, Donaldson Town Post Office was established. In 1809, due to a public protest it was renamed ‘La Fourche.’ Later, it was once again renamed Donaldsonville. In 1816, the town published its first newspaper, ‘The Creole.’

Until 1815, the buccaneer-pirate, Jean Lafitte, used Viala Plantation (Riverdale Golf Club) on the Mississippi as his headquarters. From there he traded goods amongst the settlers that were seized mostly from English ships. He gained hero status at the 1815 Battle of New Orleans fighting the English. In these times, Ascension was served by mail stage. After 1835, the Parish was accessible by steamboat.

As early as 1808, William Donaldson began working toward having the capitol of the Territory moved from New Orleans to his town. This became a yearly contest between Baton Rouge and Donaldsonville. After years of wrangling, from 1829-1831, the town was the capitol of Louisiana.

The earliest mention of a Donaldsonville census is 1830 with 492 residents, 32% in Slavery, and 15% Free Persons of Color. By 1850, there were 10,752 in Ascension, 68% bound by Slavery. Up to the Civil War, the Ascension region prospered. Large plantations were started, great fortunes made, and fine homes built, first by the ‘Creole Aristocracy,’ and then by the invading English.

Situated at Donaldsonville during the Civil War was the Union stronghold, Fort Butler. Slaves of the region helped in the fort’s construction and defense. Here, in 1863, a crucial battle helped decide the Union’s fate, while showcasing the African Slave’s need for freedom. Despite the Civil War, Ascension’s population continued to grow in the years that followed.

Contributing to Ascension’s growth after the Civil War was daily train service, a steam ferry on the Mississippi, school improvements, daily mail, Reconstruction’s end, the introduction of the telegraph and telephone, improvements in streets, roads, and bridges, and the growth of business.

In 1903, a two-century-old debate ended with the damming of Bayou Lafourche in favor of locks to prevent seasonal flooding in the bayou’s lower reaches. Once the debate ended, so did the talk of locks, and for two decades Donaldsonville declined. With the advent of the automobile, by 1930, this was reversed, and the town once again resumed it onward development.

3Historically, Ascension Parish was always an agricultural economy. In the 1950’s and 60’s this changed with the addition of major industries, the Sunshine Bridge over the Mississippi, and the opening of Interstate 10. Ascension had now entered the world scene.

Donaldsonville is known today as the “Gateway to Cajun and Plantation Country” because of its rich heritage and the numerous plantations along the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche. It is also home to Chef John Folse’s culinary operations. Through his depiction of life along the Mississippi, self-taught primitive artist Alvin Batiste has gained international recognition. Visitors may watch Batiste at work at Rossie’s Custom Framing. Bed and Breakfast and hotel accommodations are available as well as many family style restaurants.  Donaldsonville has a population of 7,436.


Donaldsonville’s Historic Portal to the Past

We invite you to create your own experience in one of Louisiana’s oldest cities. Journey through time in a place that was once a magnet for Indians, explorers, planters, merchants and pirates. Fascinating remnants of a storied past await you!

Learn about Donaldsonville’s Historic Portal to the Past and download the map for your self-guided portal experience here!



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Avenue Evening Stroll                            Louisiana Main Street Roadshow



Welcome Sign

Ascension Catholic Church

Inside Ascension Catholic Church

Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Cemetery

Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Cemetery




River Road African American Museum

River Walk Donaldsonville

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