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Fighting for Fort Pike

Guarding a strategic approach to New Orleans, Fort Pike was built to withstand the worst that an enemy force could throw at it.

These days, however, the ravages of time, storms, erosion and neglect are the biggest threats to a site with deep ties to New Orleans history.  

“Every day that passes the fort deteriorates a little more,” says Joseph Yarbrough, an archeologist who leads the private Fort Pike Foundation and advocates for the fort’s restoration. “It’s like a leaky boat. It’s just not going to get better unless you fix it.”

The fort, located on the Rigolets passage connecting Lake Pontchartrain with the Gulf of Mexico, is part of the state park system and in the past has been open to visitors with a museum and exhibits. It was successively damaged, closed, reopened and closed again by hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and, most recently, Isaac, and it remains closed at this writing. Yarbrough who, before Isaac, led tours here, says the fort is sinking as the old cypress foundation on which it’s built continues to degenerate. He says a comprehensive restoration is needed to save it.  

“I would like to see the site thrive,” he says. “When we were open we’d have people visiting from all over the country, people looking for the roots of their ancestors who may have been stationed here or (who are) just interested in the history for their nation.”

Yarbrough says the area where the fort now stands was a Native American site before the arrival of Europeans, who built a succession of forts there. After the War of 1812, the U.S. government started building Fort Pike to better protect New Orleans from invasion. It was completed in 1826 and later served as a military prison and, during the Civil War, as a training center for former slaves recruited to join the Union army. P.B.S. Pinchback, who briefly served as Louisiana’s first black governor after the war, was earlier stationed at Fort Pike.
“It’s our heritage here,” says Yarbrough. “Louisiana and New Orleans have a very unique history and a lot of it can be told through that site.”

For more information on the Fort Pike Foundation and restoration efforts, contact Yarbrough via email at yarbrough.joseph@yahoo.com.


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