Often, when we think about historic preservation, our mind immediately jumps to the preservation of old buildings. Progress and poor planning can bring about the demise of historically significant structures very quickly. And once they are demolished, the buildings only exist in our memories or in old photographs, while a gaping whole in the cityscape reminds us that we lost something truly significant.
It’s easy to notice when buildings are gone, but it’s harder to notice when ways of life disappear under the onward march of progress. Horses & buggies have been replaced by cars, the internet has almost been a death-knell to handwritten letters, and on and on. One such way of life that has disappeared in Ascension Parish over the last 50 years is Virgie, a ferryboat that ran between Darrow and Donaldsonville.
Prior to the construction of the many bridges across the Mississippi River, ferries were the only means of traveling from one bank to another. Even after the Eads Bridge in St. Louis was completed in 1874, there wasn’t another major bridge thrown up across the lower Mississippi until Huey P. Long commissioned one to connect New Orleans and Algiers.
Ferries like the Virgie were commonplace the length of the river. The Virgie was tasked with ferrying people from Donaldsonville to Darrow, where they hopped on a short trolley car which took them half a mile to a train depot in Darrow. From there, they could travel to New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and all points between and beyond.
Unfortunately, as America’s car culture grew, so did the number of bridges that span the Mississippi River. Once the Sunshine Bridge was completed in 1963, the Virgie’s client base dipped dramatically and eventually disappeared. Luckily, Al Robert, preservationist and collector of all things “Ascension Parish”, managed to have a picture of the Virgie in his collection. It may be a small vestige of the Virgie’s long career, but it is an important one, because it helps us to remember that times were quite different 50 years ago.