End of the Wedell-Williams Air Service, Patterson

Stop 5 of 6 in the Wedell-Williams Airport in Patterson tour

Jimmie Wedell would never enter the MacRobertson Race from England to Australia. The Gypsy Moth in which he was giving a lesson crashed just outside of Patterson on June 24, 1934. Wedell died instantly. The funeral procession led from Patterson to New Orleans and then ended in West Columbia, Texas. The aviation industry had lost a pioneer and promoter; this tragedy was followed by the death of his brother, Walter Wedell, in 1935 under mysterious circumstances.

Harry Williams carried on the business, but he had lost the heart of the company and a dear friend. The company also started to decline in New Orleans because of competition with the newly opened Shushan Airport. This problem prompted the Wedell-Williams to relocate its office to the lakefront airport and to use its Jefferson Parish airport as an emergency landing field.

The company experienced another tragedy when Williams' plane went down outside of Baton Rouge in 1936. Williams’s wife, Marguerite, took over as president and majority stockholder, but the air service was losing money. Within six months, Mrs. Williams sold the air service to Eddie Rickenbacker of Eastern Airlines.

The Patterson Airport came under the State of Louisiana’s jurisdiction in 1947, and it was renamed the Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport. The airport experienced many improvements and underwent expansion. Despite fluctuations in business related to the oil industry, the airport remains today to serve St. Mary Parish and the Central Louisiana Gulf Coast.

Images

Jimmie Wedell's crash site just outside of Patterson

Jimmie Wedell's crash site just outside of Patterson

Frank Seeringer, a Wedell-Williams student pilot, was in the middle of a lesson when the Gypsy Moth crashed. Wedell was at the controls and died instantly. Seeringer survived with critical injuries. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Jimmie Wedell's funeral procession

Jimmie Wedell's funeral procession

Mourners escorted Wedell's body to the airport, from where it would be flown to New Orleans and eventually to West Columbia, Texas, to be laid to rest. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

The XP-34, one of Wedell's final designs

The XP-34, one of Wedell's final designs

Wedell based the XP-34 design on the #45, and he and Williams submitted it to the military as a possible new fighter plane. Without the plane's designer, the project did not come to fruition. The XP-34 model above is currently housed in the Louisiana State Museum in Patterson. Image courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Eastern Airlines Buys Out the Air Service

Eastern Airlines Buys Out the Air Service

Eddie Rickenbacker, General Manager of Eastern Airlines, visited Mrs. Harry Williams many times to negotiate the deal to buy the company in 1936. Because of the decline of the company, Rickenbacker was able to buy it for well under what it was worth. Image Courtesy of the E.F. Newman Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans View File Details Page

The Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport

The Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport

After the Wedell-Williams Airport became the Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport, it remained busy serving the needs of the locals in St. Mary Parish. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Hollywood Comes to the Harry P. Williams Airport

Hollywood Comes to the Harry P. Williams Airport

The cast and crew of Thunder Bay came to Morgan City to film a story about two men who want to build an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. In the above photo, Jimmy Stewart stands in front of the main hangar of the Harry P. Williams Airport. The film was released in 1953. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Remembering the Aviation Pioneers

Remembering the Aviation Pioneers

The people of Patterson commemorated Wedell and Williams with memorial airshows at the Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport. Today, the Louisiana State Museum in Patterson honors the memory of these Louisiana aviation pioneers. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Hurricane Hilda Destroys the Last Hangar

Hurricane Hilda Destroys the Last Hangar

The airport's last original hangar stood until 1964. Though the original buildings are gone, the Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport remains a functioning reminder of Louisiana's aviation past. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Teresa M. Thessen, “End of the Wedell-Williams Air Service, Patterson,” New Orleans Historical, accessed April 30, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/690.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Share this Story