We had exciting guests the second week of July. The descendents of Sam and Lucy Grenell—Connie Grenell, his wife, Mary, and his three adult children Philip, Rae and Ginney along with Philip’s wife Doreen--came to Grenell. As the day approached, I happily told every one I ran into…”The Grenell’s are coming!”
I was flooded with questions. What relation are they to Sam? Hmmm. I didn’t really know. Are they going to be able to tell you more about the history of Grenell Island? I didn’t think so. In fact, I wasn’t sure if they had known about Grenell Island before I received that first email from Rae. The questions continued and more often than not, my response was, “I don’t know.”
I’d only been in touch through email, with a couple of phone calls in between. All I knew was that Connie Grenell was turning 80 in July of 2013 and his daughter, Rae had been putting together a geneology of the family. While doing research she’d run across the article, Who was Sam Grenell?, in TIL and contacted me. She got the idea to come to Grenell as part of Connie’s 80th birthday celebration. All three kids—Philip, Rae and Ginny—live in California. Connie and wife Mary live in Michigan. I really didn’t know much beyond that. Rae had sent a few pictures and they looked like a happy, normal group. But as the day of their arrival approached, I’ll admit that I was a little nervous. What had I done? I’d invited total strangers to come stay with us.
Within minutes of meeting them at Fishers Landing, those misgivings went out the window. They felt like family immediately. As soon as we arrived on Grenell, I took them on a whirlwind tour of the island Connie’s great-great-grandfather had called his home for over 60 years.
First, we visited the Community House to look at historic pictures of the island. Next, we went to the Grenell Island Chapel. Sam Grenell donated the land, stones and served as one of the first trustees. The chapel was dedicated on Lucy Grenell’s birthday, August 21, 1898. As a gift, she gave the pulpit bible, which is still in the chapel today.
From there we went to the Langsam’s cottage—Sam and Lucy built this cottage in 1889 and lived there until they died. Lucy in 1901 and Sam in 1910. The Langsam cottage hasn’t been updated much in the last 120+ years. The old cookstove is still in the kitchen. Did Lucy heat her morning cups of coffee here? In the front of the guestbook, we found this quote:
Written in the drawers under the stairs, May 7th 1890
“Old Sam Grenell” who owned the whole island and had a dairy farm here, built this house. People used to come here for milk, which was given out through the little window under the staircase, as dairy products were kept cool in an opening there.”
Whoa! That matched up with something that I’d read in The Story of Grenell. Gary’s Great-Aunt Olivia had written about getting milk at the Grenell tavern, before this house had ever been built:
Some of us can remember going each morning to the kitchen door of the Tavern, where Aunt Lucy Grenell ladled out our milk from the great can. If by chance we ever carelessly left our ticket in our pail, and she poured the milk upon it, we were sternly reproved with the words, “You spile my tickets.”
Next stop was the location of the Grenell Island Store. Sam Grenell had this building brought over on the ice from Fishers Landing in 1891. He owned the store and his nephew, Herbert Kilbourn. ran the store until 1922. Current owner, Mirian McMahon graciously welcomed us inside to show us old pictures and an old row of P. O. Boxes.
The last stop that day was another cottage formerly owned by the Grenells. Steve and Debz Sweet were kind enough to show us around. We know that Myron Grenell, Sam’s son and Connie’s great-grandfather had lived in this cottage at one time. Steve had done some research of his own and believed that Sam’s grandson and namesake had been born here. That caused a flurry of questions. According to Rae, the family genealogist. Myron did not have a son named Sam. Two days later, we spent some time at the Koffee Kove in Clayton pouring over the big red 3-ring binder and decided that Sam Grenell—the one born on Grenell Island and not the owner of the island—had been born to Sam’s nephew, George Grenell who lived next door in what is now the Tom Sweet Cottage.
An island visit isn’t complete without an evening boat ride. Too many people to fit into just one of our wooden boats, so we had to take two. Gary captained the Lindsey Lynn and I drove Say When. The next day we took them down river to Boldt Castle where executive director, Shane Sanford, gave them a royal greeting in the grand foyer of the castle.
The next morning we were off to Omar to find Sam and Lucy’s grave. It was there we said good-bye and they were on their way. A wonderful ,whirlwind visit.
I’ve read that islanders usually referred to the Grenells as Uncle Sam and Aunt Lucy. After meeting the Grenells.05 and Grenells.06 versions I can see why. What warm and giving people! Before they left, the Grenells made a very generous donation to the Grenell Island Improvement Association. Their short three-day, two-night visit will have a lasting effect on our tiny island community.
Our greats knew their greats, so how could this experience not turn out—great!
By Lynn McElfresh, Grenell Island
We especially thank Lynn and Gary McElfresh for their special story. Lynn is a regular contributor to TI Life, writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. Recently she presented several articles about Grenell for its 100th Birthday where one of those stories Who was Sam Grenell? led to the Grenell descendants discovering Lynn and her island history. See all of Lynn’s 50+ articles here.