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Island Nuptials…

When my husband proposed to me back in 1974, he asked if I would consider getting married on the island. At that point in our relationship, I hadn’t even been to the island. I had no idea how wonderful it was when I said “no”. With a large family in Illinois and 884 miles between my hometown and Grenell, the distance alone made the suggestion impractical.

When he mentioned the idea to his parents, they seemed alarmed. I recall hearing the word impossible. I assured them I thought it better to get married in my hometown. My future in-laws didn’t hide their relief.

Shelly Lee photograph
Built in 1898, the Grenell Island Chapel looks like something out of a fairy tale. Photo by Shelly Lee, originally published in TI LIfe’s section of Communities in 2006, (Grenell Island).

Now an islander myself, I know the idea isn’t impossible. This year there have been four weddings on Grenell Island.

Built in 1898, the Grenell Island Chapel looks like something out of a fairy tale. If I had had a chance to see it and experience island life before I made my decision, I might have changed my mind.

I also now understand my in-laws concerns. Planning a wedding anywhere is a challenge, but having it on the island adds yet another dimension. How will we get everyone there? Will Grandma Ruthie be able to navigate the uneven terrain? Will Uncle Will be able to get in and out of a boat? Will a caterer come to the island? And the most daunting of all for those who decide to have the reception on the island: Will the septic system handle such an onslaught of guests?

I have watched four families plan wonderful weddings on the island this year. The first step for an island wedding starts with Dorothy Topping, who currently handles scheduling for the chapel. Dorothy knows all about weddings on Grenell. Both of her children were married in the Grenell Island Chapel.

The chapel comfortably holds 90 or so. Larger weddings sometimes have guests sit outside and use the chapel as a backdrop. If the date is open, the bridal couple needs two important things. First, someone to officiate. Second, access to the island.

There are no public docks on Grenell. The public dock went away when the Grenell Island Store closed decades ago. So in order to get married on Grenell you have to know someone on Grenell who will allow you to use their dock.

Because of this limiting factor, most Grenell Island weddings are of Grenell Island families. Most, but not all. Last year the Miss Clayton Tour Boat brought a boat load of people in for a wedding. I heard the couple was from Murray Island, right across from us. This year ,a few small boats arrived on Saturday afternoon. The twenty or so wedding guests “oohed” and “ahhed” over the cottages as they walked down the sidewalk from a private dock on the SW corner of the island to the chapel.

Some couples get married on the island and then are whisked away to a reception on the mainland or on a tour boat. Others have their reception here on Grenell, with festivities lingering late into the night. Island families have informed their wedding guests that what happens on Grenell, stays on Grenell—and will be talked about for the next 50 years.

Whether formal or informal, on-island reception or off-island reception, island weddings have a special aura around them. Imbued with soft North Country light and infused with intoxicating breezes off the St. Lawrence, a Grenell Island wedding is a magical beginning for a new life together.

I’ll admit it. Especially after the beautiful weddings I’ve experienced on the island this year, I’ve sometimes regretted the practical decision I made back in 1974 for a more traditional wedding in my hometown in Illinois. I’ve daydreamed what kind of fairy tale wedding we might have had. In the end, I figure that even though I didn’t say “I do” here on Grenell I’m certainly enjoying the “Happily Ever After” here.

Note:  The Clough/Falterman wedding held in 2003, is our thumbprint photograph intoducing Island Nuptials.

By Lynn E. McElfresh, Grenell Island

This is Lynn’s second article for Thousand Islands Life.  She is the author of children stories and is currently working on several projects as a ghost writer.  Lynn explains that she came to Grenell Island for the first time to meet her fiancé’s family in 1975. Lynn became part of the family and the island became part of her life. Lynn and her husband, Gary, spend their summers in the Thousand Islands and their winters in Dunedin, Florida.


Posted in: Places
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Rosanne Withington
Comment by: Rosanne Withington ( )
Left at: 8:14 AM Tuesday, September 15, 2009
What a delightful article, Lynn. The photographs added so much. Please consider writing more.
Linda Hendley
Comment by: Linda Hendley
Left at: 9:19 AM Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Thanks, Lynn. Weddings on islands? Grenell certainly does provide a unique setting. Thank you for the history and beautiful photos. We'll be looking for more pieces from you in the future!
Deb Russell
Comment by: Deb Russell ( )
Left at: 2:29 PM Thursday, September 17, 2009
This is the most wonderful article...
and I am the Mom of the bride that got married last year, when the
Miss Clayton Tour boat arrived. We live across from Grenell on
Wintergreen. Our daughter spent all of her summers on Wintergreen,
which is owned by her grandfather.
We had guests from all over NY State arrive in Clayton, and come
over to Grenell...and the groom's family loved the river....
Her grandfather actually officiated at the wedding, so we cannot
tell you how special the day was.
Thank you for this wonderful article.
Lynn McElfresh
Comment by: Lynn McElfresh ( )
Left at: 4:02 PM Thursday, September 17, 2009
Thanks for letting me know it was you we waved to as you went by our dock in the Miss Clayton!

We are right across from you on the NE tip of Grenell. (We face the Hub.) We have the big Criscraft on the dock, Say What.

Since our bedroom window looks at Wintergreen, I have lots of great pictures of Wintergreen I would love to email to you. Stop by the dock sometimes and give me your email address. We'll be here through the first week in October.

Cheri Hinds-Witz
Comment by: Cheri Hinds-Witz ( )
Left at: 10:41 PM Thursday, September 17, 2009
This article was forwarded to me by my father William Lawyer Hinds. It is my grandmother in the picture "Hinds/Gotham wedding" She is on the right. What a special picture it is and I hold so many fond memories of Grenell having spent many summers there with my grandparents. A proud moment in life was the day I was allowed to row the rowboat around the Hub age age 5 or so!! We held a family reunion a couple of summers ago and had a beautiful Sunday service in the Chapel. A most favorite place on Earth! thank you for bringing back such vivid and wonderful memories.
Cheri Hinds-Witz
Jackosn Hole, Wyoming
Cici Nims Sauda
Comment by: Cici Nims Sauda ( )
Left at: 8:10 AM Thursday, September 24, 2009
Great article Lynn!! I have attended 5 weddings on Grenell Island (3 of which I was invited to, two I crashed...hey, I blended right in). There is nothing like it!! I can only hope that one of my children decides to get married on Grenell. It will be totally worth the endless hours of work planning the event!! Enjoy your fall season on the island....
Dorothy Topping
Comment by: Dorothy Topping ( )
Left at: 8:54 AM Friday, September 25, 2009
I loved your article. The weddings continue on Grenell. We have one scheduled in the Chapel for 2010 already.
Dorothy Nims Topping, Clerk of Grenell Island Chapel
Kate Walsh
Comment by: Kate Walsh ( )
Left at: 4:43 PM Saturday, October 10, 2009
Great article Lynn! As a planner of one of this year's weddings, I can't tell you how nervous I was trying to anticipate all of the details and ways to handle the possible disasters. Thank God we persisted, because thanks to you and all the other very special Grenell Islanders, we experienced that special, magical aura that you mentioned in your article. A Grenell Island wedding is truly magical and certainly enhances the romance and the joy in all who participate.
Mary Schmid
Comment by: Mary Schmid ( )
Left at: 3:29 PM Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Hello all! I just wanted to say that I had a terrific time as a guest at the "Walsh/Yousey" wedding. Lynn, the article really captures the beauty and serenity that we all love about Grenell. I'm not a true "islander" but the Walshes have always treated me like family. Props to Kate for overseeing such a phenomenally well-run event (to-do-list post-it-notes and all!).
Brand Gould
Comment by: Brand Gould ( )
Left at: 12:19 PM Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Hi Lynn,

My old friend John Topping sent me this article, which I enjoyed reading. It reminded me of the planning for Kelli's and my wedding at the chapel in 2005. That was an exercise in long distance logistics, certainly, with much help and advice from Dorothy Topping, but the memories well worth the effort. We had friends travel in from Virginia and Colorado. I think all were happy to have made the trip! We had a ball!

Especially memorable for Kelli and me (and my Mom) was knowing that my Mom and Dad had been married on Grenell in 1950.
Carol Goetz
Comment by: Carol Goetz ( )
Left at: 10:06 PM Monday, November 2, 2009
Hi Lynn,

As a guest at your first wedding, and having enjoyed the beauty of Grenell Island first hand, might I recommend a renewal of the wedding vows, for your 30th anniversary? The island chapel in July would be a perfect setting - with island flowers and island friends (and a couple of us mainlanders), a more perfect atmosphere there couldn't be.

And might I please reserve a room now in the small cottage for the nuptials?

Great article !
Vina Baldwin
Comment by: Vina Baldwin ( )
Left at: 2:38 PM Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Hi Lynn,

I always wanted to get married near a water and reading your article gave more reason to want to get married on the island. The Chapel is super for a ceremony. Is there a place on the island that you can rent weekly? How can I make a reservation for the Chapel? Please help!
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 11:30 PM Monday, March 5, 2012