Last week’s Dexter Lake article covered a decade or two of turmoil near St. Regis Falls around the turn of the century. This week, we return to Dexter Lake eighty years on…
Media coverage of Orrando P. Dexter’s 1903 murder case raged on for quite some time, with national newspapers ‘feasting on the social conflict’ and local editors, worried about the negative impact on Adirondack Tourism, tried to defend the North Country and its people. As the unsolved murder case slowly faded from the headlines, Dexter Lake once again returned to its quiet former self and all was quiet on the lake for decades. The estate underwent numerous changes in use. It had been a summer camp for boys, sportsman’s hotel, St. Lawrence University research center, and most recently a private residence.
Murder in the Adirondack wilderness is rare; unsolved murders even more so. After more than a century, the mysterious death of Orrando P. Dexter continues to be a topic of conversation and is part of the region’s legacy that perplexes and mystifies local residents and visitors alike.
Dexter Park is a private preserve, located five miles from the northern border of the Adirondack Park, near St. Regis Falls, about 37 miles northwest of Saranac Lake. The rich history of this property began in the late nineteenth century when Dexter, a wealthy New York attorney, purchased nearly 10,000 acres surrounding the pristine, 200-acre East Branch Pond.
In the late 1800s, Dexter constructed a $50,000 Adirondack reproduction of the German artist Albrecht Dürer’s Nuremberg home and named it Sunbeam Lodge. He built a guesthouse (in which no one ever stayed,) a boathouse, barn, carriage house, and several other outbuildings, and renamed the East Branch Pond after himself. Like many other owners of exclusive Adirondack preserves, he posted and fenced in his entire property.
The village of Brandon, in the town of Santa Clara, Franklin County, was built by a lumber company for its workers. When the company and the lumber industry declined, most of the people left. John D. Rockefeller’s brother, Standard Oil co-founder William Avery Rockefeller Jr., bought the land surrounding the village, fenced it in, and posted it. Woods located on private property that had been open for years to sportsmen and other residents were suddenly closed.
William Rockefeller made offers to the villagers for their houses and in the end just a few residents remained. One was Civil War veteran Oliver Lamora, with whom Rockefeller would battle over access to his new property for years. The full story of Lamora’s battles, financial and legal, against Rockefeller is given in Lawrence Gooley’s excellent 2007 book Oliver’s War (I wrote this article several years before Gooley’s book). » Continue Reading.
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