The Wedell-Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum
The dual focus of this museum site highlights two very distinct—and compelling—aspects of Louisiana’s rich history.
Learn about aviation pioneers Jimmie Wedell and Harry P. Williams.
In Patterson, Louisiana outside of Morgan City, the Wedell-Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum host two different views into Louisiana's rich history. From the adventures of aviation pioneers to the Cypress logging industry, visitors can begin to understand just a few of the forces that shaped the state's industries in the Cajun Coast area.
Aviation in the 1920s
Wedell-Williams Aviation Collection highlights the legacy of Louisiana aviation pioneers Jimmie Wedell and Harry P. Williams, who formed an air service together in 1928 in Patterson. Both men became nationally prominent during the Golden Age of Aviation. Although both Wedell and Williams perished in plane crashes, their legacy lives on in the memorabilia and planes on display in this collection. State-of-the-art displays include numerous aircraft, such as the famous Miss Patterson #44 and the Gilmore #121. Also on display are Wedell-Williams’ 1930s air racing trophies and memorabilia. The David J. Felterman Theater features an exciting air racing film that visually transports you to the heart of the 1932 Cleveland National Air Races.
Logging Cypress in Southern Louisiana
The Cypress Sawmill Collection documents the history of the cypress lumber industry in Louisiana. Lumbering became the state’s first significant manufacturing industry. As a result, cypress lumber harvested and milled in Louisiana was shipped in mass quantities throughout the United States. Patterson was once home to the largest cypress sawmill in the world, owned by Frank B. Williams. In 1997, the Louisiana State Legislature designated Patterson as the cypress capital of Louisiana. The exhibit features a variety of artifacts, photographs and film that tell the story of this important regional industry. The museum also hosts changing exhibits that highlight other aspects of Louisiana’s culture and history.
From Berwick Bay to Étouffée: Shrimping in Louisiana
Between the demise of the lumber business and the rise of the oil industry, Morgan City produced about a quarter of the country’s annual shrimp harvest, due to an unprecedented shrimp boom in the late 1930s following the discovery of a large school of jumbo-sized white shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico.
A new exhibition traces the history of the shrimping industry in St. Mary Parish from its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, including the role that shrimp fishermen played in World War II, and leads into the challenges of the present era.
Most of the artifacts and images on display come from the collection of Mr. F. C. “Butch” Felterman Jr., a native of Patterson and former shrimp boat owner and captain. In 2008, Felterman and his wife, Sylvia, had Fisherman’s Light, a replica of a lighthouse, built on his property on the Lower Atchafalaya River and created a small private museum. The museum features shrimp boat models, maritime equipment, photographs, and other artifacts related to the ten shrimp processing facilities that operated in Patterson between 1937 and 1988.
No exhibition on shrimping in St. Mary Parish would be complete without an exploration of the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival, which attracts more than 140,000 visitors each year. The exhibit includes a recently digitized film from the Louisiana State Museum’s collection featuring footage from 1959 of the Blessing of the Fleet ceremony, an integral part of the festival.
Check out this fascinating exhibit while it’s on display through September 2020!