Location and History
Grand Terre Island is a barrier island that trends southwest/northeast and is located just east of Grand Isle, Louisiana. Fort Livingston sits on the southwestern tip of Grand Terre Island, on the east side of Barataria Pass, the inlet to Barataria Bay. The fort is managed by the Louisiana Office of State Parks and has been designated a State Cultural Area (SCA), part of Grand Isle State Park. It is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The United States Government purchased land on the western tip of the island on January 10, 1834. Preparation of the site for construction began later that year but was suspended after construction of temporary quarters for the engineer and superintendent. In 1840 Captain J. G. Barnard arrived as the superintending engineer. Temporary buildings for workers were constructed during the following year. There are no remains of these structures today.
Plans for the fort were produced in Washington, D.C. under the direction of Colonel Joseph Gilbert Totten, Chief Engineer with the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Construction of the fort itself is believed to have begun in 1841-1842. Though still incomplete at the time of the Civil War, the fort was occupied by Confederate troops. The fort was abandoned after the Civil War and the property returned to the state of Louisiana in 1923.
The fort is constructed of brick that is believed to have been produced in Mississippi or the Florida panhandle. The brick facing covers tabby walls (cemented shell). The shell for the tabby was reportedly gathered from local Indian middens. The fort sustained significant damage from hurricanes in 1893 and 1915 and has weathered several other significant hurricanes since that time. The remaining portions of the fort are in relatively good condition, though the structure is vulnerable to additional storm damage.
The fort is described in the nomination to the National Register as follows:
“…a trapeziform shaped stronghold, surrounded by a wet ditch and with outworks on the land side. The walls were constructed of cemented shell faced with brick and trimmed with granite. The bricks were shipped from either Pensacola or Mississippi; the shells were removed from local archaeological sites.”
Condition of Structure
The southeast side of the fort, facing the gulf, was destroyed in 1915. Sand and water have intruded the courtyard and casemates. Erosion of the shoreline in front of the fort, on the gulf-facing side, was a concern from the time of its construction. A shoreline loss of 237 feet was documented between 1840 and 1854. Rock riprap was placed as a breakwater around the gulf side of the structure to prevent further erosion and undercutting of the fort. The date of construction of the breakwater is not known but is likely to be after a 1984 when a Site Record Update recommended that the fort be sheltered from direct wave action of the Gulf. Earlier photos indicate that this breakwater was a continuous wall. Today there is a breach in the riprap at the northern end along Barataria Pass, facing the bay.
Sections of the tabby and brick walls and other debris remain submerged on the gulf side of the structure. The remaining structure and materials are in relatively good condition. Mortar has weathered and receded, but appears to be tight and stable. The bricks have retained their fireskin, and little to no spalling was visible. Granite steps and lintels are in good condition. Tabby is visible where the fort’s walls have been breached and within some of the casemates where the tabby might have been the finished surface. The interior tabby is sound with the binder receded but stable. Some of these interior spaces retain their original stucco/limewash finish. A few of the sheltered interior arch ceilings still retail their original limewashed stucco finish. Etched graffiti is visible in some of the interior spaces. Some of the graffiti dates from the early 1950’s with the most recent being dated May 28, 2010. This most recent graffiti may account for some of the oil laden foot prints and hand prints observed around the fort. Because of the structure’s current location within the littoral zone, portions of the structure are permanently submerged and sand has intruded and built up into most of the interior spaces. Silting/filling of interior spaces with sand has prevented more significant penetration of oil into the structure and onto the bay-facing side. The bay side of the moat or “wet ditch” still contains water, but was one location where oil has not contaminated the water surrounding the fort. It is likely that this portion of the moat remains below sea level, as it was originally constructed.
Oil Contamination. Oil reached Grand Terre Island and Fort Livingston in late May or early June 2010. High tide during the new moon on June 12-13, 2010 moved the oil farther into and up the sides of the structure. The consistency of the oil is dependent on the temperature and other conditions on site. In interior spaces where temperatures are cooler, the oil takes the form of a mousse: more viscous with globules stranded on the sand by higher water. Outside of the structure and on the surrounding beaches, the oil is less viscous: the oil adheres to the structure as a sticky coating approximately two to three millimeters thick; on the surrounding beaches it melts into the sand as the tide recedes. The beach on the northwest side of the fort’s moat has oil soaked sand approximately three centimeters deep. The outer masonry wall sections that are on the outer edge of the moat are completely covered in a thick 2-3 mm coating of tar like oil up to the high tide line. The entire fort wall facing the water side has an oil coating to the high tide line, which is 5-6 brick courses high at low tide. The fort’s interior rooms that face the water have an oil coating 20-25 cm up the brick and tabby walls. There is also a heavy band of green biogrowth directly above the oil line. This may have been caused by the oil contamination or it might be a preexisting feature.
In several places, oil contamination has resulted from transfer by visitors. Boot/shoe marks are evident on the granite steps that lead to the terreplein and hand transfer of oil is evident on some of the walls.