The V. J. Kurzweg

V. J. Kurzweg.
Image from C. S. Boyles, “Last of the Packets,” Holland’s Magazine, 1936.

For one hundred and thirty years, steamboats navigated the Mississippi River and Louisiana’s bayous, providing reliable transportation of cargo and passengers. Despite their size, these riverboats were able to maneuver quickly, making the steamboat ideal for Louisiana’s snakelike bayous. 

One Plaquemine company that utilized steamboat transportation was Consolidated Companies Inc.

The Iberville Wholesale building located on the banks of Bayou Plaquemine in Turnerville.
Image from Round the Bend to Another 50 Years, 1951.

It began as a retail grocery store, located on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Plaquemine St., but developed into a wholesale food distributor under the guidance of Victor J. Kurzweg. In 1925, Kurzweg ordered the construction of a new riverboat that became the first of its kind. The V. J. Kurzweg was a steel hull river packet built by the Canulette Shipbuilding Co. in Slidell, LA, but what set this boat apart from others was its diesel engine. Its oil-burning engine was the pride of the crew, replacing the wood-burning and coal-burning steam engines of the past.

Coal Oil Pump from the V. J. Kurzweg.
Image from Iberville Museum’s Permanent Collection, IM.2000.001.02.

The V. J. Kurzweg was 155 feet long, 32 feet wide, and drew 5.7 feet of water. It was operated by a stern paddlewheel, similar to the steamboats, which allowed for deftly maneuvering. At all its stops, onlookers referred to the Kurzweg as “a cow without its horns” because it lacked the smokestacks of a steamboat. 

The boat made several summer trips to St. Louis, Missouri and traveled weekly from New Orleans to New Iberia. The voyage typically began in New Orleans, traveling up the Mississippi and stopping at the Consolidated Company Inc. branches in Lutcher and Donaldsonville before arriving in Plaquemine. Once the boat arrived in Plaquemine, the crew would scramble to find beer and cigarettes, while passing through the locks. It would then travel down Bayou Plaquemine into Grand River. From Grand River, the boat connected with Bell River, then Bayou Long, and Flat Lake, stopping in Morgan City before it continued up the Atchafalaya River and into Bayou Teche. Once it reached Bayou Teche, the boat stopped in Franklin and Jeanerette until it reached its final destination of New Iberia. Here, the crew restocked its cargo and headed back to New Orleans before the week’s end. 

Loading Cargo on the V. J. Kurzweg. Image from Round the Bend to Another 50 Years, 1951.

The cargo crew for this paddle-wheeler was predominantly black. C. S. Boyles, Jr., traveling on the Kurzweg in 1936, noted: “Sixteen Negros are carried as regular cargo crew. .. Extra ‘hands’ are picked up by advance arrangement at each landing, help to do the loading and unloading, and go back to wait another week.” African Americans have operated as riverboat crews since the early 1830s. During the Antebellum period, riverboat owners most commonly used slaves as their crews throughout the south. 

According to Boyles, in addition to the cargo crew, three black women ruled over the boat’s galley. One of the women was named Carrie and she prepared the meals for the crew. For breakfast, an assortment of eggs, fried ham, grits, rice, cereal, syrup, hot biscuits, and drip coffee was served, and for dinner, the crew was provided with smothered chicken, boiled pork, sausage, beans, corn, more rice, French bread, beets, spaghetti with “wop” cheese, ice cream, cake, and thick coffee. 

White Enamel Drip Coffee Pot. Image from Iberville Museum’s Permanent Collection, IM.2001.011.01.

The V. J. Kurzweg was operated during the decline of the paddlewheelers. In 1936, the boat’s captain, Captain Blackman, predicted the Kurzweg may run another two years. He recalled, “[In the early 1900s,] the river traffic [was] so heavy, the woods echoed with the whistles the clock round!” However, by the 1930s, Blackman claimed he was the sole captain of a river packet on a regular schedule with freight and passengers out of New Orleans. The boat was eventually retired in 1943, which some argue was partially due to World War II rationing. It was later dismantled for parts.


Bernard, Shane K. Teche: A History of Louisiana’s Most Famous Bayou. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 2016.

Boyles, C. S., Jr. “The Last of the Packets.” Holland’s Magazine, 1936.

Buchanan, Thomas C. Black Life on the MIssissippi: Slaves, Free Blacks, and the Western Steam Boat World. University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Kurzweg, Frank Turner. “The Story of V. J. Kurzweg.” Frank Turner Kurzweg, ca. 2000.

Signatures of the Past

Small notebooks of loose paper filled with well wishes, poems, and “remember me” signatures were once carried around by the masses. Otherwise known as autograph books, these little notebooks were the precursors of yearbook signings, business cards, and address books. The decorative “note boxes” fluctuated in popularity, being most popular during the Victorian era and 19th century, and dying out again in the mid 20th century.

The notebooks, or memory boxes, were made of cardboard sleeves that allowed for the loose sheets of paper to be bound after the sheets were sent around, hence the nickname of “note boxes.”

The practice of using autograph books dates back to the 15th century in the German and Dutch regions of Europe. Known at the time as Album Amicorum (Book of Friends) and commonly practiced by graduating university students for their peers and instructors to sign their goodbyes and well wishes.

As seen in the autograph books owned by Verna Mae Kirkland and Leana Boudreaux Brady, both women went to Plaquemine High School during the 1940s. During their last months there, they passed their books’ around.

These autograph albums were also popular to tote around while traveling. University professors at conferences would use the notebooks to have acquaintances write their information and current research. Additionally, tourists would ask any new friends or extended family to write small notes or addresses in the album for future contact. This can be seen in the notebooks belonging to “Bert” Nadler, Eliska Carmouche Hardingand, and Marie Pamelia Marchland.

Marie Pamelia Marchland was the granddaughter of Evariste Lauve and Celeste Brunet, who established Celeste Plantation in Bayou Goula. Her album contains well wishes, signed during Christmases at Tally Ho and Celeste Plantations in 1860-1862, as well as lithographs of girls, poems about the war, and newspaper clippings on Southern ladies and womanhood. Therefore, her book had a dual use as a scrapbook and an autograph book.

“Bert” Nadler, of Plaquemine, LA, also had a dual purpose for his book. It acted as a diary, documenting his 1916 trip to Alaska with his mother when he was eleven years old. But, it also includes addresses of people he met along the way.

Eliska Harding was a native of Plaquemine, LA, and a resident of Oakland, CA. Her books were gifted to her by friends. She used them to document trips she took around the United States in the 1930s. However, in her book, Harding appears to be thinking ahead for her album. Most of the pages are labeled “Verse or Toast,” and on the back were fill-ins like “full name,” “address,” “favorite color,” “eye and hair color,” “birthday,” etc. for her new friends.

Eventually, yearbooks, address books, and business cards became the norm, and the autograph books slowly faded out again. But these memory boxes are now signatures of the past that tell of once-close friendships, inside jokes, and travels.