During the early 1800s, a group of Pennsylvanian Dutchmen boarded a sailing vessel in New Orleans and ventured into the Bayou Teche. One of them, Hans Knight, decided to settle his family in what is now Patterson. The community was originally called Dutch Settlement, Dutch Prairie and Dutch Town. In 1832, Captain John Patterson, a trader from Indiana, settled there. He built a store and became a prominent citizen. The town was renamed Pattersonville after the captain successfully moved the post office to Dutch Settlement. Pattersonville was incorporated in 1907 as the Town of Patterson.
The town of Patterson was once home to the largest cypress sawmill in the world, owned by Frank B. Williams. Two of his sons became prominent citizens within the community. Kemper Williams was an extraordinary philanthropist, leaving behind foundations for the support of the Historic New Orleans Collection and the Kemper Williams Park and Campground in Patterson.
His brother Harry Williams was a wealthy playboy with a love of speed. He met Jimmie Wedell, a daredevil barnstormer, in 1927 when he purchased his first airplane. Harry learned that though Jimmie had very little formal education, he was a genius with engines and had some innovative ideas about increasing air speed. With Harry’s money and Jimmie’s know-how, they developed an extremely successful partnership. The aircraft they manufactured held the world’s speed record for land planes as well as transcontinental and international records for flights across the United States.
The Wedell-Williams Air Service was originally formed to provide charter trips to New Orleans. The business expanded to include sightseeing, student instruction and airmail. Jimmie Wedell became famous for the construction of speed planes and his skill as a race pilot. He won the Bendix Trophy, the French Government award, Shell Trophy, Thompson Trophy and many more. Jimmie Wedell died behind the controls of a plane on June 24, 1934, at the age of 34.
Harry Williams died in 1936. His widow was Broadway and silent-screen star Marguerite Clark. With the loss of both Jimmie and Harry as well as other vital members of the Wedell-Williams team, Marguerite could not keep the air service operational. She sold it to Eddie Rickenbacker, owner of Eastern Airlines, then moved to New York, where she died in 1940.