The task of sorting through a late historian’s vast photo collection at first seemed cumbersome for Burke and Janet Devillier, but it led to a far more rewarding project.
The photos from the archives of Tony Fama, whose daughter Janet married Burke Devillier, play a large part of the new book “Images of America: Plaquemine,” by Burke Devillier and Iberville Museum Curator/Director Meghan Sylvester. Many pictures came from Fama’s photo collection, as well as the Mary Neubig collection
The 126-page book, published by Arcadia Publishing Co. of Charleston, South Carolina, uses nearly 200 photos to document Plaquemine’s history, ranging from the bayous and its growth into a prominent river town.
The book looks into the prosperity of the timber history and local businesses, and into the school system, churches and the civil rights movement that began in 1958 and continued into the 1970s.
This latest publication follows two books Fama completed in December 2004 – “Plaquemine: A Long, Long Time Ago” and “Plaquemine: A Glimpse of the Early Years.”
Fama compiled thousands among thousands of photos over the year, along with memorabilia including a roll of tickets from the Wilbert Theater, which opened in 1917 during the peak of the vaudeville era and shuttered in 1957, after which it was demolished.
He also knew an array of trivial tidbits, including the name of the company that provided the porcelain white bricks – and how many were used, and what happened to those left over – for what is now known as the Gary J. Hebert Memorial Lockhouse at the Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site, which was an active locks site from 1909 until it closed in 1961.
Fama even used reel-to-reel tapes to document everything the spacecraft Sputnik flying over Plaquemine in October 1957, to the television coverage of the Kennedy assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.
Eventually, it led to a new book.
“The new book covers a different history, and a little bit of it overlaps … some are further detailed, other parts are new,” Tanoos said. “I was there to help with clarification.
“The main focus was the history of the bayou, and that the bayou is the main reason Plaquemine exists, and how it played such a critical role in the development of its town and throughout history it connected the eastern and western half of the city,” she said. “I think that a lot of the focus was giving an ode to old Bayou Plaquemine.
Sylvester likened the project to putting a puzzle together.
“There were so many pictures, and we narrowed them down to chapters, and found that it helped to write stories and add photos to what we were talking about,” she said. “It took about a year to the projects between the time we were contacted by the publishers and my completion of the final draft in June
The book is geared more toward a regional audience and will be sold regionally, but it’s also available through Amazon.
“I had someone from India wanting to buy the book,” Sylvester said.
While Sylvester, the Devilliers and Tanoos are still unwinding after completion of the book, Sylvester said they have not ruled out a second book.
“Nothing’s set in stone,” she said. “Right now, we’re excited about this book.”