St. Martin Parish Library is working to preserve, catalog and make available a collection of survey maps and plats of Southwest Louisiana. Charles and Octave GuteKunst worked as Parish Surveyors and local land agents for over seventy years. Their maps cover St. Martin Parish and various lands west of the Mississippi River. The surveyors were known for their knowledge of the Atchafalaya Basin.
Charles Richard GuteKunst, born in Germany, studied civil engineering in Germany and France before immigrating to Louisiana in 1870. Working as a surveyor GuteKunst lived in Pointe Coupee where he met and married Elouise Mendoza. The couple moved to St. Martinville where they and their children became part of the French speaking community. Charles GuteKunst, hired as Parish Surveyor, also served on the Police Jury and was elected Justice of the Peace.
In 1874 Octave Otto GuteKunst, Sr. was born to Charles and Elouise. A lifelong resident of St. Martin Parish, Octave, Sr. joined his father as surveyor at the conclusion of his engineering studies in New Orleans at the University of Louisiana, now known as Tulane University. While surveying in the nearby farming area known as Isle Labbe, Octave met and married Josephine Barras. The couple married in 1904 and lived a block off St. Martinville’s Main Street.
For many years the maps remained in the family’s possession until the 1980s when Rosy GuteKunst Angelle, Octave, Sr.’s daughter, gave them to the St. Martin Parish Library. Hidden away in storage cabinet drawers, the Collection gathered dust until current Library Director Charlar Brew recognized their value.
Lacking the space to conserve and store the maps, St. Martin Parish Library reached an agreement with the City of St. Martinville for the use of a room in the Maison Duchamp. The large 19th century home on Main Street serves the city as an exhibition hall. A former bedroom on the second floor in the mansion has been converted into a document conservation lab. The Collection will be housed and preserved in St. Martinville’s iconic mansion.
Historian Patricia GuteKunst, great-granddaughter of Charles and granddaughter of Octave, Sr., has taken on the tasks of conserving and preserving the documents. Handling her family’s legacy and studying its contribution to her community are rare privileges. Once the work is completed, the goal is for the maps to be displayed and made available for study.