The Worst Guides… and The Worst

Part Three

Orrando Dexter. Besides being killed, Orrando Dexter’s name also suffered in that it was repeatedly given as Orlando, even by Donaldson’s history. Barbara McMartin spelled it correctly.

Orrando was the son of Henry Dexter, President of the American News Company.

Orrando bought two contiguous tracts of 6000 and 4000 acres at Santa Clara and was a millionaire and also a recluse. His official residence was in Connecticut to avoid New York City taxes.

At Dexter Lake, Dexter built a large mansion designed after Albrecht Durer’s Nuremburg house, a large cottage for his workmen, a maple sugar orchard and a farm house, most of these roofed in copper.

He also fenced in his lands, the traditional haunts of locals and woodsmen, prevented lumber jobbers from passing to deliver wood for their contract jobs and built a house on a widely used road, posting guards to shoot trespassers on site, to prevent its continued use by locals.

Continuing judgments in his favor hurt financially strapped trespassers and hunters, and antagonized the feelings of the people about millionaires getting their way with the law, resulting in many threats against him. 

At one time, they flooded his lands by damming the outlet of Dexter Lake.

In September 1903, just prior to his death, his housekeeper heard loud screaming outside the home, possibly to lure Dexter outside.

Orrando spotted a lantern moving about which was then extinguished. His father repeatedly warned him to relent or remain in danger.

On September 19, 1903, Orrando Dexter was driving his carriage on the road from his farmhouse to his home.

Hired hand Guiles was in a wagon a distance ahead and Bert Russell, a farmhand was in another wagon trailing behind.

Two shots rang out and Dexter’s wounded horse and carriage came up the road to Guiles, who saw blood on the seat.

He turned the carriage back and found the body, shot twice in the back, on the ground.

Examining the scene later, investigators determined that the killer(s) shot from behind a pile of logs.

Also, two calibers of bullets found led them to consider it the act of two assassins.

Henry Dexter, Orrando’s 90 year old father, claimed he knew the murderers but couldn’t prove it. He offered rewards and the preserve owners silently supported the search, knowing they also could be in danger.

Newspapers decried the murder, but also gave reasons why it could have been part of a growing retaliation against all rich preserve owners.

Signs warning of a bullet ready for Rockefeller soon appeared on the fences at that owner’s preserve boundaries.

Orrando’s lawyer, Azro Blake, tried unsuccessfully to obtain information from the locals and was forced to leave the area in fear from threats.

At his New York home, Henry Dexter received mysterious letters from a presumed participant saying he’d confess only on his deathbed.

Henry offered a $10,000 reward for discovery of the murderer which remained available after his death according to his will.

He gave his lawyer, John Badger, $50,000 in Company stock as retainer to find the murderer and later had to sue to recover it.

Mr. Dexter died in 1910. Though the murderer’s identity was believed to be known by locals, it has never been revealed.

As a legacy to his son, Henry Dexter’s estate gave $250,000 in cash and $55,000 in granite for construction of a new building for the New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West in New York City.

A marble archway over the entrance to its auditorium says: “The Orrando Perry Dexter Memorial-The gifts of Henry Dexter made in memory of his only son Orrando Perry Dexter have enabled the New York Historical Society to erect this building.”

The second floor gallery is known as the Henry Dexter Hall.

Offered for sale in October, 1903, Attorney Badger sold the estate’s 10,000 acres, land and buildings, for $50,000 in November.

Later, these buyers subdivided the tract and sold 5,000 acres to a syndicate on December 20, 1904 for $100,000.

Without paying a dime, the new owners sold the 5,000 acres and buildings to the Brown’s Tract Lumber Company of Fulton Chain for $142,000 in January 1905.

The new owners expected to reap a quarter million dollars from the tract’s lumber.

In March 1905, Brown’s Tract Lumber Company opened the lands for hunting and fishing and in May, Sylvester Scofield of the firm moved his family into the Dexter house.

In 1916, the Company’s mill in Fulton Chain next to Deis’s planing mill burned.

The St. Lawrence University later received the Dexter estate for use as a conference center and around 1994, sold all of the buildings and 3,040 acres to Shania Twain and her husband.

The couple later had to settle for environmental damages done when they made extensive changes to the property and wetlands.

The property was later put on the market.


Note: Sources for the above information were back issues of the Lowville Journal Republican, Watertown Herald, Plattsburgh Sentinel, Franklin Gazette, and Ogdensburg Advance available from the Northern New York Library Network website, the Post-Standard 12/5/1998, “The Privately Owned Adirondacks” by Barbara McMartin, “Canoeing the Adirondacks With Nessmuk” Dan Brenan, Editor, “History of the Adirondacks” by Alfred Donaldson, the Merrill Thomas, Inc. realty website, and special thanks to Mariam Touba of the New York Historical Society.

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