Heart of Louisiana: Fort Proctor

Heart of Louisiana: Fort Proctor
Source: Flickr Commons
Source: Flickr Commons

ST. BERNARD PARISH, LA (WVUE) - It looks something like an old castle, standing on a tiny spot of land in Lake Borgne in St. Bernard Parish. Fort Proctor was built in the 1850s but never saw any military action. Now, it's one of the few remaining forts that were part of the state's coastal defense network.

A half-century ago, a newly dredged Mississippi River Gulf Outlet cut through the land that led to the pre-Civil War fort. The area used to be called Proctorville, the site of the largest sugar plantation in St. Bernard Parish.

"By the 1830s there were multiple sawmills, multiple rice mills, there was a sugar mill and also a brick yard here," said St. Benrard Parish Historian Bill Hyland. "When the British invaded Louisiana, they invaded through Lake Borgne. They evacuated through what will become Shell Beach. So that's why Fort Proctor was built."

Fort Proctor was built under the supervision of U.S. Army Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard. The design was called a "Martello tower," named after a fortress at Martello Point on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

"And there was a tower upon which Napoleon placed ordnance, cannons and he repulsed an attack of the British Navy from that tower," Hyland said.

This South Louisiana fortress has a thick shell of crete reinforced with brick. It also has iron girders - the sturdiest construction design of its day. But the outpost quickly became obsolete.

"There was never any action here," Hyland said. "There was a small Confederate garrison here in 1862 which fled. And then the Union army sent a small garrison of black troops here, and they remained here through the remainder of the Civil War."

When this site was chosen for the fort, it was a mile-and-a-half inland from Lake Borgne. Now, after a century-and-a-half of hurricanes and severe coastal erosion, it's surrounded by water. In the 1970s the fort was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, some of the brick barracks are in ruins.

And during Katrina, the storm, the tide surge actually went over the fort," Hyland said. "Not only were there the barracks here, there was a commandant's house. There were about 35 buildings associated with this fortification."

It represents so much about our past, and so much - unfortunately - perhaps about our future.

This castle-like fortress is now a victim of land loss on the very land that it was built to protect. The fort is on public property and owned by St. Bernard parish, but it can only be accessed by boat.

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