The Friends of the Plaquemine Lock Historic Site honors Joyce Hebert

Staff Writer
Plaquemine Post South
Joyce S. Hebert

The Friends of the Plaquemine Lock Historic Site will honor retired Board President Joyce S. Hebert with the unveiling of a bronze plaque to be mounted in her honor. The unveiling will be Saturday, May 18 at 10 a.m. at the Lock, 57730 Main Street in Plaquemine. The public is invited to attend.

Hebert was instrumental in helping her late husband, Gary J. Hebert, Sr. save the lock and a portion of Bayou Plaquemine from being demolished by the La. Department of Transportation and Development for the construction of a highway. They fought a two-year battle in which their newspaper was boycotted by business leaders and officials who wanted the highway. Eventually they managed to get the Lock and a portion of the bayou named to the National Register of Historic Places, which saved them from destruction.

Joyce Hebert later established the Friends of the Plaquemine Lock, Inc. to help keep the lock open when the La. Department of Parks and Recreation wanted to close it due to budget cuts. She worked with local officials to keep the lock open through a local/parish/state partnership. Hebert served as president of Friends of the Plaquemine Lock for seven years, working tirelessly to educate others about the historical significance of the Lock, to raise funds for needed maintenance and repairs, and to help put on programs for both youths and adults at the Lock facility. She retired as president in 2018.

The unveiling will include a brief ceremony in which two other founding Friends of the Plaquemine Lock board members will be honored. They are Richard Trepagnier and Leonard "Buddy" Roberts. The ceremony will be followed by a reception with refreshments.

The Lock building was named in honor of Gary Hebert after his death in 1994 for his tremendous efforts to save the facility. Joyce Hebert’s plaque will be placed next to his at the Lock.

Today, the Lock remains open largely thanks to Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso, Jr. and the Iberville Parish Council, and Mayor Edwin "Ed" Reeves, Jr. and the Plaquemine Board of Selectmen, who have established a cooperative endeavor to maintain and have a tour guide at the Lock five days a week – Tuesday through Saturday. The La. Department of State Parks, which has undergone extensive budget cuts and closed numerous parks throughout the state, still owns the facility and provides liability insurance, but the local agencies maintain it and keep it open to the public as a tourist attraction.

The Lock was designed by Col. George Goethals, the chief engineer of the design and construction of the Panama Canal. It opened in 1909, after 14 years of construction. When built, it had the highest fresh water lift, at 51 feet, of any lock in the world! The Lock building is unlike any other in Louisiana. It is built in a Dutch-influenced style featuring gleaming white tile and massive circular windows. Its extensive use heralded in a new era of economic vibrancy for Plaquemine. By 1925, Bayou Plaquemine became the northern terminus of the Intracoastal Canal system. It also was a critical river route during and after World War II.

Increased river traffic, demand for a larger lock and longer barge lengths all resulted in the construction of the Port Allen Lock, which opened in 1961. The Plaquemine Lock ceased operation at that time. Today it is considered the jewel of downtown Plaquemine, perched above the Mark A. "Tony" Gulotta Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park, majestic St. John the Evangelist Church and next to the Iberville Museum – all tourist attractions and the heart of downtown's historic district.

Contributed by Friends of the Plaquemine Lock