Driving east from New Orleans, you could take Interstate 10 as most motorists do, across a sliver of land between Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf. Or you could take the scenic route down US Highway 90 and go on a time-traveling journey like no other, to two early 19th-century forts built to protect the Big Easy.
The first of these, Fort Pike was completed in 1826. When the War of 1812 ended on the outskirts of New Orleans in 1815, the United States’ military weaknesses were laid bare. This prompted President James Monroe’s so-called “Third System” of fortifications, built along the Gulf coast to withstand foreign invaders from both land and sea.
Fort Pike was among them. Its cannons and massive citadel looked out over the water, with cavern-like corridors that even today remain largely intact. It once housed upwards of 400 men, including troops bound for the Seminole Wars in Florida, Native Americans and slaves headed towards Oklahoma, and soldiers headed west to battle in the Mexican-American War.
The Louisiana militia seized the fort during the Civil War and it soon became a prize for both Confederate and Union forces, the latter of which used Fort Pike as a training facility for former slaves.
Southwest of Fort Pike is another Third System installation named Fort Macomb. Nearly identical to Fort Pike (conceived by the same contractors, actually), it was also a prize for Civil War regiments. Confederate forces occupied the fort initially, but when the Union moved in to occupy New Orleans, the Rebels were routed.
Attractions near Fort Pike State Historic Site include the sights and sounds of New Orleans’ French Quarter, the upscale restaurants of Covington and Mandeville, and state parks including Bayou Segnette, St. Bernard, Fairview-Riverside and Fontainebleau.
Entrance fees: $4 per person; free for seniors 62+ and children 3 and under.