Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island has been a fishing paradise since its earliest days of use by the Chitimacha tribe. European settlement began in the 1780’s while Louisiana was under Spanish rule. The government divided the island into four land grants, and the original landowners developed their property into farms—and eventually plantations, raising crops such as sugar cane and cotton as well as cattle. Much like today, they fished off the coast and harvested shrimp and oysters.
Pirates, including Privateer Jean Lafitte, frequented the area in the early 1800s, and construction of Fort Livingston began in the 1830s on neighboring Grand Terre Island. Occupied by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, the site today is a Louisiana State Commemorative Area. Following the Civil War, plantations declined and vacation resorts started to spring up on the island catering to wealthy families. In 1893, tourism halted when a devastating hurricane struck both Grand Isle and neighboring Cheniere Caminada.
The island rebounded though, much like later recoveries from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and the BP Oil Spill in 2010. Today, the island is home to around 1,500 locals, who make a living from the seafood and oil industries. More than 12,000 tourists visit the island annually to participate in fishing rodeos and enjoy the wide open beaches and countless bird sightings.