Died: June 8, 1941
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 10, 1986
Old Black Joe Perrin held out at Brandon
Like so many other Adirondack ghost towns the tiny village of Brandon was born and died with the lumber industry. Unlike other ghost towns such as nearby Derrick and Floodwood, which simply melted into obscurity, Brandon went down fighting. When the more accessible perimeters of the Adirondacks were stripped for timber the lumbermen were forced to look deeper into the wilderness.
And so it was that in 1881 Patrick Ducey, a lumber baron from Michigan, purchased thirty thousand acres of virgin pine in the northwest portion of the Adirondacks in what was then the Town of Brandon. He set up a fabulous sawmill that would eventually turn out some 125 thousand feet of lumber per day, a record for that period. He would need hundreds of workers to fell the trees and operate the mill so he laid out a company village complete with streets bearing such names as Washington, LaFayette, and Napoleon.
He built company owned houses for his work force and named the place Brandon for the parent town but seven years later he wound up in the Town of Santa Clara. When Ducey first arrived on the scene, Brandon was the largest town in Franklin County extending from the Town of Bangor in the north to the Hamilton County line in the south. So large a town was found to be unmanageable politically, and so it was subdivided. The central portion became Santa Clara while the southern sector was added to the existing Town of Harrietstown. To avoid confusion we are concerned only with the village and not the town.
Among the very first to arrive in Brandon was Joseph Perrin who, like so many other Canadians, came south of the border to work in the woods. His name, when pronounced in the French vernacular, came to the ear as "Peryea" and just as Apollos "Pol" Smith became Paul Smith by common usage so, too, did Joe Perrin become Joe Peryea for the rest of his life with two adjectives to be added later. His foreman had a firm habit of calling his men by first name only so when a second Joe was assigned to the crew a further definition became necessary. Since the newcomer turned out to be a red headed Irishman the solution came easy. From then on he was Red Joe while Peryea became Black Joe.
Despite the availability of company housing Black Joe and several others preferred to own their own property and build their own homes. Ducey was an honest Irish gentleman and he tried to dissuade them by explaining that when his operation was finished, he and his sawmill would be moving on. Once the timber had been stripped there would be no source of income left in the area and their investments would be lost. When the workers insisted with their petitions, Ducey relented and sold some building lots in the village. Black Joe built his house and as the community grew he added a small store on the premises. By this time the population had grown to nearly 1500 and the settlement boasted a school, two churches, a post office, a town hall, hotels and general stores. When Hurd built his railroad south from Santa Clara in 1886 Brandon also had its own railroad station.
All this prosperity was short lived and the time finally arrived when the pine was depleted and Ducey packed up his mill and moved to greener pastures. Just prior to his departure Ducey offered his lands to Paul Smith at $1.50 per acre. At that particular time Paul felt overextended and turned down the offer. He later confessed to friends that it was the biggest mistake he ever made. Ducey's thirty thousand acres did not remain long in limbo. As fate would have it there was someone waiting in the wings.
Learning of Paul's refusal the millionaire oil magnate, William Rockefeller, seized upon the opportunity and quickly purchased the lands for fifty thousand dollars. He had been looking for just such a large holding to provide a sylvan retreat with plenty of privacy. At Bay Pond, some 3 miles south of Brandon, he built his camp but he had overlooked a perplexing problem. In the midst of his private property there was that little group of holdouts that Ducey had left behind. It turned out to be trouble in his paradise!
Black Joe and his cohorts awoke to find that they were completely surrounded by Rockefeller property. They could not step off their lots without being trespassers and the new "PRIVATE" posters made this very clear. Naturally a bitter hostility was focused on their wealthy neighbor. Feeling that he had the Brandonites over a barrel Rockefeller sent his agents in to buy them off. Some were happy to sell and escape the dilemma but, on the other side of the coin, there were also some who stubbornly refused to sell at any price. The two leaders of this latter group were Black Joe and another, former Canadian, Oliver Lamora. Lamora chose to ignore the posters completely and continued to hunt and fish within the park confines. Each time he was caught by Rockefeller's wardens he was hauled into court but just as soon as he was released, he would return to his poaching with no regrets. Public sympathy ran strongly in Lamora's favor and a group of lawyers offered to represent him at no change.
18 cent fine
One such case resulted in a fine of 18c awarded to Rockefeller for damages. The human interest story was taken up by newspapers and magazines and old Lamora was soon the idol of the press, a poor martyr being persecuted by a ruthless millionaire. Angered at the treatment he was receiving in the local courts Rockefeller appealed his case to the higher court. Lamora's counsel maintained that although the lands were privately owned, the fish and game belonged to the public. As could be expected the powerful influence wielded by the oil magnate won him the decision, a bitter defeat for Brandon.
Although Black Joe did not join in Lamora's escapades, he was a strong supporter and the high court's decision infuriated him. To further the humiliation Rockefeller pulled some strings in Washington and the post office moved from Brandon to Bay Pond. This meant that the residents of Brandon must travel 3 miles to get their mail. Of course this move only added fuel to the fire and a petition was forwarded to Washington in an effort to right the wrong. The petition was quietly pigeon-holed in a bureaucratic desk to gather dust. Black Joe and his cohorts got word of this injustice to a national magazine. A reporter was sent to Washington to investigate and he soon located the "lost" petition. There was some embarrassment in the postal department and some red-faced officials restored the post office to Brandon.
Lamora died in 1915 and his son sold out to the Rockefeller interests. This caused Black Joe to vehemently proclaim "He ain't never gonna get my property!" As the years rolled by the second adjective was added to his name and he was known far and wide as "Old Black Joe." His wife was an excellent cook and sportsmen, who came to the store for supplies, enjoyed her home cooked meals. There was still enough public land around the park for hunting and fishing and the town road from Paul Smiths to Santa Clara ran past Brandon. Joe kept a cow and chickens plus a well-tended garden which afforded him a sense of serene security. As Mrs. Peryea's culinary fame spread guests from the nearby resort hotels at Paul Smiths, Rainbow Lake, and McCollums came to sample her menu. Old Black Joe also featured a certain liquid libation that was extremely popular during prohibition.
Let's go see Old Black Joe
A common remark overheard on the streets of Saranac Lake or Tupper Lake was "Let's go see Old Black Joe." Since Brandon was well off the beaten path, it was indicative of the popularity which Joe enjoyed. He ran a tight ship, however, and would not allow any rowdyism in his place. Any disorderly person was given a one-way ticket out the door and any mention of the name Rockefeller brought the perpetrator the same treatment. He was a real Adirondack character and people who had never met the man knew him by reputation. In light of this it is odd that A.L. Donaldson, in his excellent history, fails to mention Old Black Joe. He gave full coverage to the Lamora-Rockefellef feud and mistakenly credits Lamora with being the last resident of Brandon.
This honor unquestionably belongs to Old Black Joe who outlived Lamora by 26 years, and also outlived his arch enemy at Bay Pond. After his own death on June 8, 1941 Old Black Joe was buried in the Catholic cemetery at Brandon. In the meantime, a later Rockefeller sold off two large parcels of the original holdings. The southern parcel that contained St. Regis Mountain went to the state while the northern portion was sold to the Ross family. The ghost town of Brandon now lies within the borders of the Ross Park and the ghost of Old Black Joe no doubt rejoices that his remains are no longer surrounded by Rockefeller property.