Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pic of the Day: Pike's Broken Wall

Fort Pike is America's oldest Third System fort, completed in 1819. It sits at the east end of the New Orleans East Land Bridge (or St. Catherines Island, as Google Earth calls it), guarding the Rigolets pass between Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne.

Pike's taken a lot of damage over the years, all from poor maintenance. Like many of its contemporaries, Pike sits on soft ground, so a grillage of cypress logs was laid down to stabilize the foundations. As long as the wood is protected from cycles of wetting and drying, it won't deteriorate. Judging by this 6-foot-wide section of the north wall, the grillage isn't holding up well. The dark line along the fort's waterline is where bricks have fallen off, probably because of boat wakes and tides lapping away at the mortar. There are big through-and-through cracks in many places where parts of the fort are settling at different rates from the rest. The fort's south corner is almost as bad off as this one.

Hurricane Katrina's center passed directly over Fort Pike in 2005, wiping out most of the houses at this end of the island. The fort remained closed until 2008. Now that it's open again, I need to get out there. The X-11 deserves a road trip and I've got three empty DV tapes, two empty camera cards, and several rolls of 35mm film that need filling. Oh, and some blank notebook paper for making sketches.

Pike's sister fort, Macomb, guards the other end of the island at Chef Menteur Pass. It's in much worse condition--trees and plants overgrown, crumbling masonry. Before Katrina there was a marina just yards away from the fort, and even with "no-wake" zones there's going to be a wake washing up against the foundations. It's closed to the public, so of course I won't go (very far) inside when I visit.

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