Joseph Perrien – Park #45

Location:  Warren, Hancock, Grandy, Chene Street

THE WEALTHY MILLER

Joseph Dominick Perrien (1833-1896) was born in Loraine, France and immigrated to St Louis, Missouri in 1847.  Eventually his father brought the family to Detroit and erected a steam mill on Gratiot Avenue. Joseph and his brothers inherited the business named Fort Gratiot Mills.  They built a larger mill and began grinding wheat for flour.  The brothers lived behind the mill on Catharine Street and offered boarding to a few immigrant workers.  

Joseph was a bachelor investing his profits into real estate on Gratiot Avenue ultimately increasing his wealth.  Newspapers of the day described him as a half-millionaire.   

Perrien Park in the spring when the trees are beginning to leaf.
Perrien Park in the spring when the trees are beginning to leaf.

HOODWINKED FROM HIS FIRESIDE

All this money would eventually lead to a bit of trouble.  One evening around 10:00 pm,  Perrien answered his door to find a well-groomed young man indicating  Perrien’s personal friend was ill and was requesting him immediately.  Perrien complied.  Let’s remember, this was 1891 and honesty was king and phones weren’t prevalent.  When the carriage started heading in the wrong direction, Joseph knew he was in trouble.  He attempted to jump from the carriage only to be met by two men with revolvers.  He was being kidnapped.

catharine_gratiot_map
Fort Gratiot Mills and the Perrien residence were located in this area. Catharine Street no longer exists. Map: Plan of the city of Detroit. 1887 by Wm. M. Bradley & Bro.

 

Reports indicated that he was bound and gagged so quickly he had no time to scream.  His captors drove him around the city for a few hours. Finally, he was taken to a house and locked up with an attentive bodyguard.  The kidnappers indicated to Joseph his ordeal could be over quickly with a $15,000 cash outlay; a large sum of money for 1891.  *Note* it was very convenient that Perrien was a Vice-President of The Peninsular Bank. His captors dictated a ransom note which Perrien penned in shaky writing.  He also provided them a promissory note written on the bank.  Both documents were delivered to Perrien’s home in the middle of the night; his nephew answered the door.

The Perrien's are buried in Detroit's beautiful Elmwood Cemetery. Photo: Twist@ F A G
The Perrien’s are buried in Detroit’s beautiful Elmwood Cemetery.
Photo: Twist@ F A G

RESOLVED 

Joseph Perrien was released a few days later, dumped off at 13th and Myrtle Street in Detroit.  [Today this spot would be about the Rosa Parks and MLK area.]  Some reports say the ransom was never paid.  Hmmm.

Newspapers quickly caught wind of the story printing it widely.  Arrests came in the form of the Considine boys – a rough and tumble brood of brothers  described as being commonly known for their Detroit mischief.    

“I’m not what the police have pictured me,” said Johnnie Considine in a news interview.  Perrien was shaken by this event; he hoped his captors would be caught. He held no malice toward them and continually indicated he was well treated while under their terms, “My gold watch and chain, diamond stud and $30 in money were not disturbed, not a single thing were [sic] taken from me.”

His captors were charged with conspiracy to commit a kidnapping for ransom. They were acquitted.

In 1893, Joseph Perrien donated a 5 acre parcel of land to the city of Detroit for a park located between Chene, Grandy, Hancock and Warren.  The deed was written indicating the donation as forever parkland and which would always remain named for Perrien.  

Perrien Park with the intricate spiderweb walks per the book 1900 Detroit Deeds and Maps.

This was an over populated area in the 1890’s and in need of a greenspace for rest and relaxation.  Over the years, Perrien Park contained a wading pool with fountain, tons of swings, a maypole, baseball diamond, horseshoe pits and a really nicely built bathroom facility.  

Perrien’s ‘comfort station’ built in 1913. Source: 23rd Annual Report of Detroit Parks and Boulevards.
Detroit built a good park bathroom back in the day.. This snap from 1968 [55 years later] and the building is still looking good.
A wading pool smaller yet similar to this one was located in Perrien Park during it's early day. Photo: DPL Burton Historical Collection
A wading pool similar but  smaller was located in Perrien Park during its early days.     Photo: DPL Burton Historical Collection

Today, Perrien offers some picnic tables, shade trees and a round portico that looks like a bandstand.  The park is still a meeting and party place for neighborhood residents. One lone resident lives on the south side of the park.. Go on over and she’ll greet you personally !  

Andrea Gallucci ©2015.