Heart of New Orleans: Part 3

Heart of NOLA segment 3

PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LA (WVUE) - New Orleans was founded 300 years ago, but there was an attempt at an earlier settlement.

It was a fort on the river that was lost and then found two centuries later.

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

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

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

"This is historical and I am very touched," says Albertine Kimbl. "I'm putting it back."

Before Louisiana's first city, Natchitoches was settled. And before New Orleans, there was another settlement, Fort Delaboulaye, that was 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. 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," says Eric Seifert.

The effort paid off. Once the British learned the French intent to defend its territory, they sailed away.

In a letter, Iberville describes how the fort was built of long square 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 they have difficulty getting provisions for the men," says Seifert.

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

In 1923, when landowner and state senator Joseph Gravolet was dredging the 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-granddaughter, Albertine Kimbl, 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," says Kimbl.

Kimbl'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 where we're standing," says Kimbl.

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

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

"It's incredible," says Madere. "We walked amongst ground that we only read books in school about. These guys and gals coming here and doing and discovering things along the river," says Madere.

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 they claim on the Mississippi River.

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