Joseph Perrien – Park #45

THE WEALTHY MILLER

Joseph Dominick Perrien (1833-1896) was born in Loraine, France and immigrated to St Louis, MO 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 – Fort Gratiot Mills.  They improved on the business and built a larger mill, grinding wheat for flour.  They resided on Catharine Street behind the mill often offering board to a few immigrant workers.   Joseph was a bachelor investing his profits into real estate increasing his wealth.  Newspapers of the day described him as a half-millionaire.  He owned an extensive amount of property on Gratiot. 

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.  On an 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. This was 1891, honesty kind of reigned and phones weren’t prevalent.  Perrien complied.  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; locked up with an attentive bodyguard.  The kidnappers indicated to Joseph that this ordeal could be ended quickly with a $15,000 cash outlay; a large sum of money for 1891.  It was 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. The aforementioned 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.  Instead, the 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 who were commonly known for their Detroit mischief.  They were charged with conspiracy to commit a kidnapping for ransom.  They were acquitted.  “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.. “

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.  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 on.   Today, it offers some picnic tables, shade trees and a round portico which perhaps could be the remnants of that wading pool underneath it.   The park is still a meeting and party place for neighborhood residents.

Andrea Gallucci ©2015.

 

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 to this one was located in Perrien Park during its early days. Photo: DPL Burton Historical Collection