In the course of assembling his holdings, Rockefeller offended many locals, one of whom, Civil War veteran Oliver Lamora, refused to sell to him; the ensuing struggle garnered national attention.
Following Rockefeller's death in 1922 the property was sold to Bay Pond, Inc., and the company lumbered the tract. In 1935, William A. Rockefeller II bought some 23,000 acres, including the buildings that his grandfather had built.
The 28,000-acre Ross Park, owned by heiress Wilhelmina du Pont Ross until her death in 2000, was put on the market in 2012. In 2015 it was bought by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma. 1 The estate has eight homes and more than a dozen other structures, including guest cabins and a fish hatchery, and some forty miles of roads. 2
New York Times, July 27, 1913
William Rockefeller Busy on Visits to His Bay Pond Camp.
Special to The New York Times.
SARANAC LAKE, N. Y., July 26.— William Rockefeller has been getting back vigor and strength at his Adirondack camp at Bay Pond, where he has been spending much of his time. Mr. Rockefeller has not been taking the rest cure, however. During his health-recovering visits to Bay Pond Mr. Rockefeller has been directing the activities of nearly two score of workmen.
Mr. Rockefeller has lately had a barn 100 feet in length and 70 feet in width moved a distance of thirty rods. The object of the change has been to make ground room for a large "guide house" or quarters for men. The present quarters for the guides also contain the Winter quarters of Mr. Rockefeller and his sons and the members of their respective families. Mr. Rockefeller wants more seclusion in Winter, and also plans to increase the force of men that he keeps regularly at Bay Pond. Even at this time he has a larger crew of workmen than was employed at Brandon in the best days of "Pat" Ducey, the lumberman who operated the saw mills there. When the lumber mills were closed the residents of the once populous district thought things were going into a decline, because Mr. Rockefeller tore down every structure that passed into his possession when he established his private park of 110,000 acres.
Not long ago one of Mr. Rockefeller's sons asked him:
"Father, how much money have we invested here?"
"I don't know exactly; we'll ask the Superintendent, John Redwood," replied Mr. RockefeIler.
"John," said he, "how much money have we got tied up here? "
"About $500,000," replied the Superintendent.
"Now, father," began the son again, "don't you think we had better stop spending money here?"
"Why?" asked the elder Rockefeller.
"Because they are trying to get laws enacted to limit the size of a private park to 1,000 acres."
"Is that so? " Mr. Rockefeller wanted to know, "I'd like to see the State take away any of the property I own," and Mr. Rockefeller straightened up and grasped his stick in an aggressive and determined manner.
The proposed legislation by which the great estates were to be reduced to 1,000 acres, or one hundredth of the present size of the Rockefeller park, failed to pass. Mr. Rockefeller never stopped spending money at Bay Pond.
"When he comes to his Adirondack place Mr. Rockefeller does not bother much about Adirondack pastimes or Adirondack Summer functions. He walks much all around his clearing at Bay Pond, and inspects the grounds and buildings. Rarely does he enter a guide boat to be rowed across the ponds, but his men say of him that he is studying ways all the time to keep his corps of men at work.
Workmen and guides who have come in contact with Mr. Rockefeller at Bay Pond say that his philanthropy and charity take the form of the employment of men at clean, decent tasks at good wages. The men who work for Mr. Rockefeller breakfast at 6 A. M., go to work at 6:30, stop for the midday meal at 11:30, and cease work at 5 P. M. They have the comforts and conveniences of modern quarters, and the quality of food served to all workmen is of the best, often including the luxuries of the market.
One day a valet recently engaged by Mr. Rockefeller arrived at Bay Pond on his first visit. He looked all around the horizon.
"Does Mr. Rockefeller own much land around here?" he asked of a guide.
"I should say he did," replied the guide. "He"—
"Does he own that hill?"
"Yes, he owns that hill and that mountain, and he owns every hill and mountain you can see anywhere around. "Why, he" —
"Does he make any money off this farm?" inquired the valet.
"Make any money!" shouted the guide. "Jumpin' scissors! Make money! Why, his payroll here is $4,000 a month, an' he don't raise enough off this farm to feed any more than one-twenty-fifth of the men and horses and hens and turkeys"—
"Bum farm," complained the valet.
"That's all you know about it," the guide came back. "This is a deer park, and them ponds are trout ponds"—
"Getting any deer?" inquired the valet.
"Not just now: it's out of season,"
"Nope; its out of the season for trout, too."
"I can't see any good in, this place at all. Can't raise anything on the farm; out of season for deer and out of season for trout, but the expense is more than $50,000 a year. Why, they couldn't run fast enough in town to hook anything like this onto Mr. Rockefeller. Wall Street could never in a million years pin a joke like this on William Rockefeller."
When the valet got back into Mr. Rockefeller's presence he had a discoloration about the right eye, poorly concealed, and he had three very sore ribs. He never returned to Bay Pond.
Sunday is a quiet day at Bay Pond, according to Mr. Rockefeller's direction. There isn't a gun fired, not a fish caught, not a boat launched. Every man observes Sunday strictly.
Malone Farmer, December 24, 1935
DEED FILED FOR 23,013 ACRE TRACT TO ROCKEFELLER
A deed was recorded in the Franklin county clerk's office yesterday which signified the close of one of the largest real estate transactions in several years and the return of the Rockefeller family to the Adirondack region after a long absence.
The deed revealed that the Bay Pond, Inc., has sold to William A. Rockefeller 23,013 acres in the towns of Waverly and Santa Clara, the property being a large part of the vast Bay Pond tract. Stamps on the deed indicated that the purchase price was $225,000. The property has been assessed at about $200,000.
The deal was closed in New York city Friday with William Herron of the Malone law firm of Moore and Herron, acting with Paul Smart of New York, attorney for the Bay Pond interests. Mr. Rockefeller's personal attorneys were Shearman and Stirling. Mr. Herron was in New York several days on the deal.
The Rockefeller estate in the Adirondacks, established about 1900 is one of the show places of the Adirondacks and has figured prominently in the history of the region. The property includes several lakes, ponds and rivers and is one of the best fishing and hunting preserves in the Adirondacks.
Back in 1900 William G. Rockefeller, [sic, actually William A. Rockefeller, Jr.] described as the grandfather of the present purchaser, bought about 54,000 acres and built some beautiful camps upon the property. At that time the Adirondacks was quite hostile to the so-called baronial interests and the fight between Mr. Rockefeller and Black Joe Lamora engaged the attention of the nation, old Black Joe refusing to sell his small bit of property which was surrounded by the Rockefeller preserve.
Mr. Rockefeller maintained a summer home there for many years and following his death the property was sold to Bay Pond, Inc., in 1923. John N. McDonald of Utica was a principal figure in the Bay Pond corporation. They proceeded to lumber the tract extensively.
A few years ago they sold 6,000 or 7,000 acres to the state. But the present purchase includes all of the buildings, some of which are palatial.
The return of the Rockefellers will mean considerable to the Adirondack region and Franklin county. It is regarded as a strong indication of returning interest in this region. A significant change is the attitude of the Adirondack dwellers in that neighborhood. When the property was first purchased there was bitter antagonism. Now there will be rejoicing.
In addition to the indirect benefits to the town and the county the return of the Rockefellers will mean considerable employment on the tract. It is expected that they will go immediately into possession
Plattsburgh Sentinel, June 9, 1888
The Adirondack News says that a route for the extension of the Northern Adirondack R. R. from Brandon to Bay Pond—a distance of about three miles—is to be at once laid out with a view to the building of the line this season. Bay Pond lies in the direct line which the extension to Tupper's Lake, planned for 1889, will follow, and in its vicinity are some fine tracts of timber owned by the Ducey & Backus Lumber Co. This company expects to make a large cut of pine there, and would have no way of getting the logs to its mill unless this extension should be constructed.
Plattsburgh Sentinel, December 28, 1912
TAKING FOXES FROM ROCKEFELLER PRESERVE.
Because the foxes make war on the song birds and game birds they are being trapped in the Rockefeller preserve at Bay Pond. They are not killed but shipped to various hunt clubs all over the country. In one of the recent consignments there were 116 of the animals.
Alfred L. Donaldson, A History of the Adirondacks, New York: The Century Co., 1921 (reprinted by Purple Mountain Press, Fleischmanns, NY, 1992)
THE LAMORA-ROCKEFELLER FEUD
When Hurd ran his road to Brandon in 1886, there was already a settlement there. It had been built up as a lumber hamlet by Patrick A. Ducey, a wealthy lumberman from Michigan, who came to the place about 1881. He bought some 30,000 of the surrounding acres, put up the best-equipped mill these woods had ever seen, and began feeding it about 125,000 feet of lumber a day. He was the first, it is said, to fell trees in the Adirondacks by sawing instead of chopping. He was altogether a hustling, far-sighted, shrewd-witted business man—an Irishman of the best type, jovial, big-hearted, and honest. Many of his workmen wished to buy lots from him and build in Brandon, but he always advised them not to. He told them frankly that the land in the flat and barren village would be worthless the moment he finished lumbering and moved away. This happened around 1890. He carried on extensive and successful operations in other parts of the country for a while, and finally died in Detroit, Mich., in 1903.
Before leaving the Adirondacks he tried to induce Paul Smith to buy his holdings. He offered them at $1.50 an acre, and was more than willing to take a long-time note in payment. It was a rare opportunity for Paul, for these lands adjoined his own, but he felt land-poor at the time and let the chance slip, much to his subsequent regret.
A little later Mr. William Rockefeller appeared upon the scene, looking for a few acres on which to build a quiet home in the woods. He heard of the Pat Ducey tract and eventually bought it. About three miles south of Brandon is a charming lake called Bay Pond. Here Mr. Rockefeller decided to build. It seemed a very beautiful, quiet, and secluded spot. And it was. Only there turned out to be a hornets nest very near it—Brandon.
The remnant of this little village consisted at the time of the foolish few who had failed to take Pat Ducey's advice about not buying his land. Having bought, and being unable to sell, they remained residents of a necropolis. There were a couple of churches, a small hotel, and about fifteen families left in the place. These people awoke one morning to find themselves in a preserve and a dilemma. Rockefeller had bought the land around and in between their houses, and even claimed control of the road that led to them. The consequence was that they could not step off their own land without stepping on his, and he had made all the surrounding stumps eloquent with his disapprobation of trespassing. Those who walked could not fail to read.
The situation was both awkward and irritating, but Mr. Rockefeller had no intention of leaving it so. He planned to pour oil upon the troubled waters. He offered to buy up Brandon—vicariously, of course. His agents made offers that were unquestionably liberal. Most were accepted with alacrity, but some householders bickered and delayed, and a few refused to sell at all. This minority took the pose of disdaining tainted money. The owners of the Presbyterian Church were among this number. Rather than sell to Mr. Rockefeller, they pulled down their building, shipped it to Tupper Lake, and re-erected it there—which amounted to doing at their own expense what Mr. Rockefeller was willing to do at his. All he wanted was to get rid of the church.
A crisis in the affairs of any community usually develops an unguessed leader. Brandon was no exception to the rule. What may be called the anti-park faction crystallized around the dictatorship of one Oliver Lamora. He was an old French-Canadian, poor and ignorant, but stubborn and fearless. He refused to sell at any but his own exorbitant figure, and he announced his intention of hunting and fishing where he had always hunted and fished. He was as good as his word, moreover. He persisted in trespassing, and was as persistently arrested and sued. He showed such obstinacy that every possible form of legal procedure and every petty annoyance of the law was used in retaliation. Action was brought in distant parts of the county, and the old man was put to the trouble and expense of long journeys. But his neighbors raised money to help him out, and a firm of lawyers offered to defend him free of charge. The lower courts nonsuited his case, but it was finally won on appeal, and Mr. Rockefeller was awarded eighteen cents in damages and a temporary fishing-injunction against Lamora.
Meanwhile another suit had been brought, and was pending, under the Private Park Law. Here the final decision was of far greater importance. Lamora's trespassing was defended on the plea that he had a right to fish in any waters stocked by the State. This contention was overruled and the principle established that preserve owners enjoyed an absolute right of exclusion over the waters as well as the lands in their domains. The decision was hailed with delight by the big landowners, and with disgust by the little ones, and temporarily it only served to embitter the class feeling between the two.
Of course the trouble and litigation between a prominently rich man and an obscurely poor one was quickly noised abroad and exploited by the press. The names of Brandon and Lamora became as familiar to the reading public as Rockefeller's own. The leading papers and the social-justice magazines sent special correspondents to Brandon, and long, illustrated articles were the result. Lamora was interviewed and photographed, and became the newspaper idol of the multitude. His pictures alone awakened sympathy. He was a tall and erect old fellow, with snow-white hair and beard, and was usually pictured standing on the steps of his humble home, his head thrown back, gazing defiantly over the marshes of Brandon toward the wooded seat of oppression at Bay Pond. In his hand he held a fishing-rod, which symbolized for many the struggle of righteous poverty against unrighteous wealth. As a matter of fact, of course, it merely symbolized foolish stubbornness and reckless poaching.
The papers on the whole tried to present the facts impartially, but the public soon forgot these and the causes of the quarrel in the protracted contest that ensued. The man who was right lost much public sympathy merely because he was rich; and the man who was wrong gained much public sympathy merely because he was poor. Locally, of course, the feeling against Mr. Rockefeller was bitter and kept growing more and more intense.
Lamora was arrested for the first time in 1902. In 1903 the Dexter murder occurred and heartened the malcontents in Brandon to throw off the yoke of oppression in the same lawless manner as Santa Clara had done. Mr. Rockefeller began to receive anonymous letters threatening his life. It is not believed that Lamora had any hand in these, nor was he ever accused of menacing his arch-enemy with personal violence. But, like every agitator, he had over-zealous friends. There is little doubt that Mr. Rockefeller's life would have been attempted at this time had he exposed himself as carelessly as Mr. Dexter did. But he surrounded himself with every precaution of safety. He came and went under an escort of detectives, and his home at Bay Pond was patroled day and night by a small regiment of armed guards. It is said that some of them sat in tree-top platforms watching for the approach of any suspicious persons. The place was actually in a state of siege, and the inmates were prisoners of fear, scarcely daring to step out of doors or even sit by a window. "The Reign of Terror" the newspapers called it. And yet some people felt sorry for Lamora!
The prison house-party at Brandon broke up that autumn earlier than planned. The winter came, and passions cooled. Then Mr. Rockefeller deliberately stirred them up again, and did something that gave the Brandonites just cause of complaint and resentment against him. A post-office had been established at Brandon in 1887, and the mail for Bay Pond was delivered there. This was considered an inconvenience of distance which might be more fittingly imposed on the unfriendly natives. Mr. Rockefeller, therefore, asked his friend, Henry C. Payne, then Postmaster-General, to have the post-office transferred to Bay Pond. This was done with obsequious alacrity. As a result those who wanted their mail —and many of them lived far beyond Brandon—were subject to a lengthened tramp along a road bristling with trespass signs. This was perhaps as galling as anything that had happened, but the sufferers sought redress in the most approved manner. They circulated a petition asking for the restoration of their post-office to its former site. Seventy-four interested persons signed this petition, and it was sent to Washington. There it was promptly and obligingly pigeonholed.
A little later "Collier's "Weekly" got wind of the matter and started an investigation. They sent their representative first to Brandon and then to Washington. He laid the case of the strayed post-office and lost petition before the Fourth Assistant Postmaster, who should have been consulted about any change in the first place, but who knew nothing of it. He made a hunt for the side-tracked petition, found it, investigated, and ordered the post-office at Bay Pond to be restored to its original and legitimate location. This was a well-deserved victory for the Brandonites, but it was their only lasting one. The end of their long adventure in obstinacy was defeat, and many accepted it before the end. As Lamora's cases dragged slowly on, the first enthusiasm of his friends began to cool to a cash temperature. They gradually accepted what was offered for their places, and moved away, and as they went their houses were torn down. Finally Lamora's stood almost alone. In it the old man continued to live, broken in health but not in spirit, a prisoner of injunctions, trespass signs, and gamekeepers. In it he finally died. His foolishness did not descend to his son, however. The latter gladly accepted $1,000 for the house of contention, and in 1915 it was the last, lone structure on the battlefield of Brandon.
It must not be supposed that the form of enmity that resulted in the Santa Clara murder and in threats of similar lawlessness at Brandon, was peculiar to those localities. It simply developed there into acuter virulence and was given wider publicity. It existed more or less wherever similar conditions existed, and it began with the establishment of the first private park.
It cannot be justified, of course, but it can be explained, and to some extent, excused. The early Adirondacker lived in a wilderness, and was bred to the roving freedom of his environment. To be suddenly and imperatively confronted by vast property restrictions that were not only new to him but seemed both senseless and selfish, was to arouse that feeling of injustice to which the primitive reasoner is always prone. Some natives accepted the new order of things with grumbling resignation; others with guerrilla opposition. Some park builders, moreover, tempered the assertion of their rights with tact and diplomacy; others asserted them without any attempt at conciliation. Each, it is safe to say, reaped a harvest of personal good will or ill feeling which, in the main, bore distinct traces of what he had sowed.
The local antagonism to private parks is dying out with the generation to whom they were a restrictive innovation. The present generation finds them an accomplished fact, and takes them as much for granted as the automobile. Their economic value is also being recognized. They have brought profitable employment to many a man's door, and they have been a potent factor in preserving the forests and the game. The one lingering criticism against them is that they absorb large areas of what was intended for a public playground. This cannot be denied; but after all the public still has left some two million acres where it may roam and camp at will and hunt and fish in season.
From Karl Jacoby, Crimes against Nature, University of California Press E-Books Collection, 2001
The 1,580 signs around William Rockefeller's park in the Adirondacks read: “NOTICE! PRIVATE PARK. All persons are hereby warned not to hunt, fish, camp or in any manner trespass upon the following described premises or any stream or body of water within their boundaries, or disturb or interfere in any way with the fish or wild birds or wild animals upon said premises, under strict penalty of the law, as the premises described now constitute a private park for the protection, preservation and propagation of fish, birds and wild animals.” [William Rockefeller v. Oliver Lamora (New York Supreme Court, Cases and Briefs, 4004, Appellate Division, 1896–1911, New York State Library), Case on Appeal, 26–28.]
Founded in 1886, Brandon had originally been a lumbering center with a largely French-Canadian population of almost twelve hundred. But as the marketable timber within the village's vicinity decreased, making it no longer profitable to run Brandon's sawmill, Patrick Ducey, the lumberman who owned much of the land surrounding Brandon, sold his holdings to Rockefeller, who planned to make a private park out of them. Ducey was not able to sell all of Brandon to Rockefeller, though: some of the land in the village center belonged to the town's residents. Anxious to leave, many willingly sold their homes to Rockefeller, who “to the amazement and concern of the remaining inhabitants” tore them down and allowed the forest to grow back over the old housing sites—an action that led Collier's to dub Rockefeller the “Maker of Wilderness.”
Within a few years, some two to three hundred of Brandon's homes had disappeared, along with the village's hotel, church, and mill. [According to Carol Payment Poole, the Presbyterian Church was relocated to the west side of Demars Boulevard in Tupper Lake Junction in the early 1900s.] The fourteen families remaining in the town relied mainly on hunting and fishing in the surrounding forest to survive—or, in the words of Oliver Lamora, one of the holdouts, “my occupation is, well, doing nothing.” A veteran of the Civil War, Lamora received what one observer termed “a pension enough for a plain subsistence, which he ekes out with trout from the streams, partridge and deer from the forest, and berries from the mountainside.” Such activities brought Lamora and the other residents of Brandon into inevitable conflict with Rockefeller, on whose lands any hunting, fishing, or foraging had to occur, since Rockefeller's park completely surrounded the village.
In late April 1902, Lamora took one of the paths leading out of Brandon and crossed into Rockefeller's park, where he began to fish in the St. Regis River. He did so, Lamora later admitted, “with full knowledge that Mr. Rockefeller had … forbid me to go there.” One of Rockefeller's guards, Fred Knapp, spotted Lamora and ordered him to leave the park. Lamora replied that he would go when he was ready. He spent a little less than two hours at the river, catching nineteen fish, before he returned home. As this was not the first time that Lamora had engaged in such behavior, Rockefeller decided to have the bothersome French Canadian prosecuted under the Fisheries, Game and Forest Law for trespass.
Lamora demanded a jury trial, and the result was a series of lawsuits that dragged on for the next four years. Lamora won many of the early rounds, but, in the words of the New York Times, “the case was carried from one court to another until a decision was rendered in favor of Mr. Rockefeller.” At the first trial a jury in Saranac Lake found no cause for action, and Rockefeller had to pay court costs of $ 11.39 for bringing a frivolous suit. Rockefeller also lost his first appeal in a case that took a local jury only thirty minutes to decide. In the second appeal, the jury awarded Rockefeller damages of just 18¢, although by finding Lamora guilty of trespass (as the judge in the case had ordered the jury to do), this decision required Lamora to pay Rockefeller's court costs of $790.31.
Paul Schneider, The Adirondacks: A History of America's First Wilderness, Henry Holt and Company, 1997, p.274
William Rockefeller's heirs still own their camp at Bay Pond, though they are currently selling a handful of house sites and shares in the property in order to offset the cost of maintaining a 21,000-acre estate.
Press-Republican, October 3, 1993
Vintage dining cabin lost
PAUL SMITHS - Whether something is new or nearly a hundred years old, it is hard to see it go up in smoke.
Such was the case with the original dining cabin which burned at Bay Pond Park on March 26,1993.
“The camp was put together by my great grandfather, William Rockefeller, brother of John D.,” said Frederic Rockefeller. “He started in the late 1890s to acquire the land.”
The original tract of approximately 65,000 acres included St. Regis Mountain, which was donated to the state of New York which desired to build a fire tower on it. Twenty-one thousand acres remains with the Rockefellers, and the northern part, known as Ross Park, is owned by the Duponts.
“He liked this part of the world,” Rockefeller said of his great-grandfather. “He stayed at the fancy Paul Smith's Hotel. A lot of the big hitters had their own railroad cars during the Golden Age of railroading. They could walk out of the office at 5 o'clock in New York City, jump into a car and arrive here the next morning.”
One of the main reasons why those who had the means journeyed north was to escape sweltering New York City that was no fun in the summertime.
“The original dining cabin had two big dining rooms, a big kitchen and quarters for the cooks” Rockefeller said. “In the tradition of the Great Camps and southern plantations, the kitchens were separate from the main house — the smell, the noise, the danger of fire.”
The camp was out of the family from, perhaps, 1920 to 1934, at which time William A. Rockefeller bought back half of the original property for the estate.
The dining cabin, a two-level structure, had high ceilings in the dining rooms, and the interior, including the ceiling, was paneled. The second floor consisted of small bedrooms that had been modified some 20 years ago for practicality.
“The insurance company believed it started in the ceiling above the second floor,” Rockefeller said of the fire that was discovered by his daughter, Debbie Roddy. “It was difficult to contain. Being all wood, they couldn't get enough water on it to contain it.”
The things Rockefeller lost were the things he said anyone hates to lose.
“I had a lot of VCR tapes of the children and grandchildren,” Rockefeller said. “My father had quite a collection of Western books about Indian tribes. Nothing valuable or unique, just books he enjoyed collecting.”
A few folding chairs and a kitchen table were a few things salvaged from the fire that melted an old piano down to its steel frame. The construction of the new dining cabin is going strong, arid its design, will be more suitable for the Rockefeller progeny that includes eight children and 15 grandchildren.
2011-10-14 15:50:18 Had the chance to drive to the main gate this fall. Would love to see the park and it's buildings. Jim Service, Saratoga Springs,NY [email protected] —126.96.36.199
2012-03-25 14:28:16 If anyone has any pictures of Bay Pond and the estate, please send them to [email protected] Thanks,jim —188.8.131.52