Plaquemines Parish (; Louisiana French: Paroisse des Plaquemines) is the parish with the most combined land and water area in the U.S. state of Louisiana. The parish seat is Pointe à la Hache. As of the 2010 census, the population was 23,042, a decrease from the 2000 census result.
Billy Nungesser is the Parish President.
The name "Plaquemines" was derived from French Creole and the Atakapa word, piakimin, meaning persimmon. The French used it to name a military post they built on the banks of the Mississippi, a site surrounded by numerous persimmon trees. Eventually the name was applied to the entire parish and to a nearby bayou.
The oldest European settlement in the parish was La Balize, where the French built and inhabited a crude fort by 1699 near the mouth of the Mississippi River. The name in French meant "seamark", a tall structure of wood built as a guide for ships. The French built one high by 1721. A surviving map from about 1720 shows the island and fort, and the mouth of the river.
As traffic and trade on the river increased, so did the importance of river pilots who were knowledgeable about the complicated, ever-changing currents and sandbars in the river. They lived at La Balize with their families. The village was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, but it was abandoned for good after the destruction of a September 1860 hurricane. The pilots moved upriver and built the settlement they named Pilottown, which reached its peak of population in the 19th century. The river pilots' expertise continues to be critical, but now they generally live with their families in more populated areas, and stay at Pilottown temporarily for work.
An important historical site is Fort Jackson, built in 1822 as recommended by General Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. In 1861, Fort Jackson served as an important Confederate defense for the city of New Orleans during the Civil War because it was at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The US Army used it as a training base during World War I, 1917-1918.
It is one of only two parishes that have kept its same boundaries from the beginning of Louisiana's parishes in 1807 to today, the other being St. Bernard Parish.
Because Plaquemines Parish encompasses the last of the Mississippi River, it is the site of several oil refineries, which rely on the shipping lanes for moving their product. The Mississippi River Delta of Plaquemines is also a base for assistance to offshore oil rigs. Plaquemines Parish was the first place in the United States where shippers used a container for cargo in foreign trade. The area is also known as containing the lowest point in Louisiana, weighing in at just under 29 degrees north. To be further south in the United States, a person would have to be in Texas, Florida, or Hawaii.
In the early 1900s, Plaquemines was an exporter of citrus. Farmers used the railroads and the Mississippi to ship the large annual harvest to markets. Commercial fisheries, especially for oysters, have been important in the parish economy.
The Great Hurricane of 1915 devastated much of the Parish, with multiple levee breaches on both sides of the Mississippi, a 12-foot storm surge, and hundreds of deaths. Homelessness was widespread, and many people were reduced to starvation until charitable aid arrived. The old Parish Courthouse in Pointe à la Hache was among the many buildings destroyed in the storm, but a new one was completed within the year.
From 1919 to 1969, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes were effectively the domain of the political boss Leander Perez, who established a virtual dictatorship in the area. He was notorious for fixing elections and enforcing strict racial segregation. Upon his death, his sons Leander Perez Jr. and Chalin Perez were elected as the dominant political figures of the parish as district attorney and parish president, respectively. Interpersonal feuding weakened the family's hold on power, and by 1980, political opponents had begun to win local elections.
During the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, city and state leaders used dynamite to breach a levee at Caernarvon, thirteen miles (19 km) below Canal Street, in order to save the city of New Orleans from flooding. This action resulted in the flooding of much of the less-populated St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, causing widespread destruction to agriculture and housing.
In 1965 Hurricane Betsy damaged the area, flooding many buildings, including the Parish Courthouse, and causing nine deaths. Leander Perez sealed off the Parish from the outside world, while trying to control state assistance.
The parish includes three U.S. National Historic Landmarks:
The parish has five other sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including Woodland Plantation, which has been depicted on the label of Southern Comfort whiskey since the 1930s. Woodland Plantation is an mansion located in West Pointe à la Hache, on the West Bank of Plaquemines. It is now operated as a bed and breakfast.
One of the worst disasters in United States history struck Louisiana on August 29, 2005. Hurricane Katrina did severe damage to all of Southeast Louisiana. Martial law was not declared in Plaquemines, contrary to many media reports, as no such term exists in Louisiana state law '. No place escaped without some damage, while most of Plaquemines, Orleans and the neighbouring St. Bernard parishes were severely hit. The towns of Pointe à la Hache, Port Sulphur, Buras-Triumph, Empire, Boothville-Venice, Phoenix, and Venice, Louisiana suffered catastrophic damage. Amidst heavy rains accompanied by hurricane-force winds in excess of 120 mph (190 km/h) at initial landfall (with a Category 5 storm surge), the levees failed and broke. The storm surge that flowed in was more than 20 feet (6.1 m) high. Although a majority of the populace evacuated under mandatory orders, some did not. At least three residents died.