In St. Mary Parish you can see how Louisiana’s lumber industry and Louisiana’s aviation stories come together. It’s time for a Dave Trip!
I cruised down highway 90 to Patterson, and even though the weather wasn’t so inviting that day, I managed to stay dry at on of Louisiana’s official state museums. It’s actually two museums in one.
The Wedell-Williams Aviation Museum and the Cypress Sawmill Museum. You probably wonder, how would these two industries be linked?
Jimmy Wedell was born in Texas. He lost his parents by the time he was a teen, but was mechanically inclined. His hobbies included transforming bicycle parts and gasoline motors into automobiles.While expanding his hobbies he managed to build a flyable aircraft from two crashed ones and aviation became his passion. He ended up staying behind during World War I because of an eye injury, but his younger brother Walter joined the Navy. As a self taught pilot, he was barnstorming, and eventually running guns and rum along the Texas/Mexico border. His home built planes eventually were no match for new planes now patrolling the border, so he decided to start building newer, faster planes.
Harry Williams, was the son of a wealthy lumber company owner. Williams had a passion for speed whether cars or boats. He met Jimmy Wedell in the late 1920s. Wedell had sold him a plane that was a duplicate of the Lindburgh plane that had just crossed the Atlantic. When the lumber company closed in 1929, Jimmy and Harry formed the Wedell Williams Air Service. Patterson became the hub for Louisiana aviation and at one time had the largest privately owned fleet in the world.
They created the first commercial airline for Louisiana, had the contract for mail between New Orleans and Houston. But the team’s need for speed kept them racing. Jimmy broke the 300 mph barrier in 1933.
Unfortunately Jimmy was killed in a test crash in 1934. At the time he was recognized as the speed king of the world. Tragedy struck again in 1935 when his younger brother Walter died in a crash of the Gulf of Mexico, and less than a year later Harry Williams died after take off following a conference with the Governor in Baton Rouge. Williams wife eventually sold all of the assets of the company and was rolled into what would become Eastern Airlines. Many of the planes and other memorabilia are on display at the museum.
The other side of the museum highlights the history of Cypress lumber industry in Louisiana. Prior to oil Cypress was king in Louisiana. The coastal swamps boasted some of the largest cypress trees in the region, and the most plentiful. New techniques were used to bring cypress from the depths of the swamps.
Patterson at one time the home to the largest cypress sawmill in the world owned by Frank B Williams. Over 20 years ago, the Louisiana State Legislature designated Patterson as the Cypress capital of Louisiana. The museum features artifacts that brings the story of this industry to life. Patterson also holds the Cypress Sawmill Festival in April.
The Wedell-Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum is open from Thursday to Saturday from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is free.
For more information on the museums visit louisianastatemuseum.org .