Historical tug boat ‘Denver’ getting overdue facelift

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 25, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / September 25, 2000

DES ALLEMANDS – It took several hours, but the “Denver” floated high in the water at Bayou Gauche, ready for its day-long journey to a long-needed overhaul at a Larose shipyard.

Once the tugboat, now nearly 50 years old, is rehabilitated, owner Mike Matherne will have it on display as part of an exhibit on St. Charles Parish’sillustrious history.

St. Charles Parish has already contributed $50,000 toward the lugger tug’srestoration by shipbuilder Rodney Cheramie. Early Monday, Matherne joinedrepresentatives of the St. Charles Historical Foundation, who took picturesand kept volunteer workmen supplied with food, water and soft drinks.

“We’re just so pleased, because this represents an integral part of our history and it’ll be good to preserve it for future generation,” said Marilyn Richoux, president of the foundation.

Men from the Bayou Gauche Volunteer Fire Department brought a truck to the end of Bayou Gauche Road where the “Denver” was sitting, its hull half- submerged in the murky water.

“It’s a pretty, old thing,” Richoux commented with a smile.

There, they pumped out the hull, while temporarily patching holes in the hull.

Matherne himself swam in chest-deep water, scooping out vegetation.

The 48-foot lugger tug “Denver” was built in 1952 by Joseph “Yep” Dufrene for Victor Matherne. It was used to push work barges and perform variousstandby duties, first for Amaco and later for Exxon oil fields. It was possiblythe last lugger boat built in Louisiana by a family whose traditions go back a full century.

Built from local cypress timber, the “Denver” was additionally reinforced in front to handle barge-pushing operations. Other still-existing lugger boatsfrom the same family include the “Champion” (built in 1926) and the “Ellen,” built around 1900 by Pierre Dufrene.

Both the “Denver” and the “Champion” have been recognized as important cultural treasures by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the White House Millennium Council.

C. Ray Brassieur, of the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program at the Universityof New Orleans, observed: “These vessels belong to a type of historically significant folk watercraft craft which generally has been taken for granted, ignored and allowed to become all but extinct. Today, only a few historicalluggers are being conserved in outdoor settings – none, to my knowledge, are placed in museums.”

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