Heart of Louisiana: Fort De La Boulaye

Heart of Louisiana: Fort De La Boulaye
Updated: Feb. 4, 2016 at 9:36 PM CST
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(WVUE) - One of the most historical sites in Louisiana has been unmarked and mostly unknown. A Mississippi River fort built by early French explorers succeeded in turning around the British. But that settlement was lost for more than two centuries.

"It's been missing for around 30 years," James Madders said. "I wanted to share it with you."

"Wow! Where did you find that at?" said Chris Cadis.

This historical marker, first placed along a marshy canal in Plaquemines Parish and then moved to the side of the highway before it disappeared, commemorates one of the most important events in Louisiana.

Albertine kimble: "But this is historical and I am very touched," Albertine Kimble said. "I'm putting it back."

Before Louisiana's first city, Natchitoches, was settled, and before New Orleans, there was another settlement, Fort De La Boulaye, built by French explorers Iberville and Bienville in the year 1699.

"And Iberville and Bienville are aware of the fact that the English are kind of snooping around the area," Eric Seiferth said. "It's the first attempt by the French to claim physically through encampment the Louisiana territory on the Mississippi River and what would become Louisiana."

The effort paid off. Once the British learned of the French intent
to defend its territory, they sailed away. In a letter, Iberville describes how the fort was built of long squared logs, with a half dozen buildings, a cemetery, six cannons and the area was surrounded by a moat. But the location was terrible.

"The river continues to flood over and over again the area," Seiferth said. "They have difficulty getting provisions for the men."

After just seven years, Fort De La Boulaye is abandoned by the French and its existence is lost to time. It's not until the 1930s that a group of researchers are curious about references they see on maps to an old fort. They discover this site, along the Gravolet Canal in eastern Plaquemines Parish, near the small community of Phoenix.

In 1923, when the landowner, state Sen. Joseph Gravolet was dredging this canal, he pulled up some large cypress timbers - 92 of them. They were the fort's foundation.

All of the logs were burned, except for two short sections. And Gravolet found a single cannonball.

Gravolet's great-grandaughter, Albertine Kimble; her cousin, Chris Cadis and others are returning the marker to its original site.

"And it's so historical because why? It was the first settlers that came here and established a place to live with protection," Kimble said.

Kimble's great-grandmother was here when the marker was unveiled in 1950.

"This area here was where the first settlers settled in Louisiana in 1699, right here where we're standing," Kimble said.

"I didn't realize until probably lately how much history is really here," Cadis said.

Plaquemines Parish historian James Madere said the old sign was tucked under a stairwell in an abandoned building 10 years ago. He decided it was time to return it to the landowners.

"It's incredible," Maders said. "We walk amongst ground that we only read books in school about, these guys and gals coming here and discovering things along the river."

This celebration recreates a similar event 65 years ago that marks the very ground that French explorers walked on, lived on, and where they staked their claim on the Mississippi River.

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