Family History

In the early 1800’s the Burres’, maternal French Canadian ancestors, migrated from Canada to the United States due to religious persecution. Upon their arrival in the North Country, Emogene Burres married David Stringham and settled in New Russia, NY, to raise a family.

Addie “Mabel” Stringham, daughter of Emogene and David, married Leslie Lawrence and began their life together at the Lawrence homestead located on the Hardy Road in Wilmington, NY. The farm consisted of many acres of land and spanned the side of a mountain. From the farm house a person could look over the fields for a breathtaking view of Whiteface Mountain. Cows were raised for their milk, butter, and for beef. Maple trees were tapped for the syrup and for making maple sugar. Leslie harvested trees on his wood lot, selling the wood for furniture building and firewood. Hay was harvested on their fields and provided feed for the large dairy herd and to sell for extra income. Mabel worked the vegetable gardens and sold fresh produce, while still managing to raise her ten children. Apples picked each fall made wonderful homemade pies. A brook, fed by a natural underground spring, meandered through the property yielding tasty brook trout.

Julius Burres

Of Scottish, Irish, and English decent, the Perkins’ were farmers. Fred and Fannie lived just a few miles down the road from the Lawrence homestead on what is now called the Perkins Road. On the property was a pond that when frozen in the winter provided ice-skating fun for family and friends. Ice blocks were cut and removed in the winter and sold to farmers in the surrounding area. Hay cut from their fields provided feed for personal livestock and was sold as well. Homemade apple cider harvested from the apple orchard provided much needed extra income. Blueberry and strawberry patches were prevalent and a delight to pick when in season.

A one room schoolhouse, where the Lawrence’s, Perkins’ and neighboring families attended, was located on the Hardy Road only a short distance from the Perkins Road. One teacher was responsible for teaching children in grades kindergarten through the eighth grade.

What a treat to have Leslie Lawrence and Julius Burres pull out their fiddles and play some old fiddle tunes. Leslie generally played the melody while Julius played a style of fiddle called second fiddle. Lois always got up early each morning and asked her father, Leslie, to play a fiddle tune before he would head to the barn for chores.

Emogene and David Stringham (pictured with "Sassy Nancy" the gun)

The kitchen was a natural place to congregate for good times. The table and chairs were pushed against the wall and the music and dancing would begin. Kitchen dances would last until the wee hours of the morning. The children squealed with delight to watch Great Grandpa Stringham walk up behind the apron clad Great Grandma Stringham and, with a wink, untie her apron strings.

Lois “Mabel” Lawrence (aka “Aggie”) and Francis Perkins were married in 1931. For a short while they lived in a small cabin on the Lawrence homestead, but decided to move to the Village of Lake Placid and start a family. There were four boys; Philip, David, Donald and Dewey and one girl; Phyllis. Although times were tough and the work hard, God richly blessed. Both Lois and Francis loved to dance and were regulars at dances held throughout the North Country. Their love and appreciation of different genre’s of music was passed down to each of their children.

Francis played some guitar but was an exceptional square dance caller. In the mid-1940’s he teamed with a good friend, Bob Lacy, and entertained at local venues. Bob played both fiddle and guitar. Lois, under the guidance of Bob, fine-tuned her piano playing and joined the group; hence the Perkins Family Band was born.
Each Perkins sibling has an innate musical aptitude. Philip, and the late David, each had a great sense of rhythm, were great dancers and could play a wicked set of spoons. This talent was most evident at Lois’ 80th birthday party when they faced each other in the middle of the dance floor and had a dueling spoons contest.

Dewey is also musical and a multi-instrumentalist. Due to the excellent music program at Lake Placid High School, Dewey was exposed to a variety of musical genre’s. He was the youngest student, at the time, to audition and become a member of the Lake Placid High School Marching Band. He belonged to the orchestra, played in a Dixie Land band, a German Umpah band and a dance band. While entertaining with the Perkins Family Band, Dewey also found time to play with the Drum and Bugle Corp and the Young Set, a rock and roll band he founded. With a chuckle, Dewey still recounts the time when as a member of the LPHS Marching Band he played drums, with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees below zero, for the opening of Whiteface Mountain. All the instruments froze so left only Dewey, playing a drum roll with gloves on, and the gloved bell player playing for the opening ceremonies. While serving with the Army in South Korea, he played bongos in a Korean dance band and entertained at the NCO Club. Proficient in saxophone, accordion and piano, Dewey only learned to play Mary Had A Little Lamb on the fiddle.

Grandmother Fannie Perkins was a fiddle player. Recognizing Donald’s interest, she gave him a fiddle at age five. Donald took to the instrument immediately and at age ten played fiddle at Old McDonald’s Farm in Lake Placid. Guests would park their vehicles and then be transported by horse drawn wagons to the venue. The barn housed cows on the ground floor and a second floor hall was used for dancing. To a young musician it was a sight to behold seeing so many people dressed in western attire and cowboy hats. Every Saturday night the place was jammed with square dancers with more than eighteen sets circling the floor at any given time.

It was very common to see the family piling into the old Plymouth and heading for either a grange hall or the Fish and Game Club to entertain on a Saturday night. What a perfect opportunity to socialize, catch up on the past week’s events, and most importantly play music. Most venues had an upright piano so the need to haul equipment was minimal. The addition of a fiddle, guitar, microphone, and a pair of small speakers was all that was necessary for an evening of entertainment.

When Phyllis was born, Lois continued to play in the band and never once considered leaving her little girl behind. All that was needed was a blanket, J. Fred Mugs (her stuffed monkey), and a couple of chairs put together for sleeping and Phyllis was content for the evening.
Phyllis made her singing debut at the Jay Grange Hall in Jay, NY, at the age of five. When not singing, she would sit at the piano beside her mother and learned to play by her mom’s example. Studying her technique, Phyllis played her first square dance at age nine.

The family hasn’t stopped entertaining and has broadened its musical horizons with the addition of other family members who also have within them that musical ability. Phyllis and her husband, Joseph, continue to play in the family band. They have two children, Daniel and Lesley. Daniel generally plays bass while Lesley supplies the vocals. Each continue to entertain with the family band whenever their busy schedule permits.

Daniel’s son, Liam, also shows an interest in music. Being the youngest member of the Perkins family, Liam perpetuates the Perkins musical genes by breaking into a dance step, singing, and clapping his hands when hearing fiddle music. He has expressed an interest in drums and loves to accompany his father, Grammy, and Grandpy when they practice their music.

Philip Sr., the oldest Perkins sibling, didn’t pursue music but his son Philip, and grandson Joel, keep the musical traditions of the Perkins family alive. Known as “Twiliper”, Philip entertained with the Perkins Family Band during high school claiming he was only in the band to stay out of trouble. He and his wife, Terrie, have two boys Jason and Joel. Jason is an active participant and supporter of the family music. The band isn’t complete without “Jas.” His dedication is truly appreciated.

Having exposure to the family music at a young age, Joel developed a desire to play violin at the age of eight. After graduating from high school, Joel pursued a career in music education graduating from the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, NY. He co-founded, along with his father, the band Inisheer and performed Celtic/Cape Breton/Appalachian music at various venues for over ten years.

Each generation of our family has contributed a diverse approach to music through kitchen dances, country music, square dances, and concerts. There is no limit to where this family’s musical ability will take them - the future is yet to be determined….

(Pictured above left: Mabel and Leslie Lawrence circa 1951. Pictured above right (from bottom left to top left): Grandma Burres, Grandma Stringham, Philip Perkins Sr., Mabel Lawrence, Lois Lawrence Perkins circa 1933)