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First Summer Cottage on Grenell

By the time I first arrived on Grenell Island in 1975, my husband’s family had already been on the Point, for nearly a hundred years.

In 1877, the island we call Grenell went up for auction on the courthouse steps in Watertown, NY. A Mr. Jennison purchased the island for $67 and presented it to his sister, Lucy Grenell. Lucy and her husband, Sam, built a farm on the foot of the island. Their house, a long, low building, served as both home and tavern.

In 1879, Sam Grenell sub-divided the island and sold lots. The first lots to sell were all on the foot of the island around a little bay that faced Hub Island. This part of the island was close to the Grenell Tavern, but also close to Thousand Island Park, which was established in 1874.

H. O. Pratt was among the first to purchase lots. Mr. Pratt was my husband’s grandmother’s uncle. We affectionately refer to him as Uncle Otis.

Lost to time are all the juicy details. How did Otis hear about the island? What brought him from Syracuse to Grenell? Had he been to the area before? The only words we have left are those of his daughter, A. Olivia Pratt, who wrote in The Story of Grenell in 1945:

In the summer of 1881, my father, H. O. Pratt, of Syracuse, built on the lot he had purchased, the first summer cottage on Grenell. At the time it consisted of one room, the kitchen, with two tents for sleeping and a boathouse. I can remember falling out of bed one night, and slipping down between the tent floor and the canvas side, and being pulled up from among the kettles and pails sitting under the edge of the tent fly.

Grenell Island Map
This is the map on the back of the Grenell Island Directory. It’s an adaptation of the original map that Sam Grenell commissioned Hinds, Moffet and Co., Engineers of Watertown, NY to draw in 1879. The first lots sold are highlighted in red.

Olivia goes on to tell how her father carefully positioned the house to face east:

the carpenter who built the room was a member of the Masonic Lodge, as was my father, and my mother used to tell how the two of them squinted across the front porch at the north star, so that the house should face the east exactly!”

It had always been my understanding that Uncle Otis had purchased the first lot, but careful reading of Olivia’s book gives another account. The first lot to sell was #52, purchased by Henry C. Hodgkins for the grand some of $50. Fifty dollars seemed like such a bargain until I remembered the entire island had been purchased for $67 only two years before.

Lot #52 is the current site of the Wayne Richard’s cottage. Olivia states that “Mr. Hodgkins never built on his lot and apparently never returned to Grenell.” Uncle Otis bought Lot #56. Four lots were sold in 1880: #45(Geers), # 49 (Hinds), # 51 (originally Fits, now Walsh ) and #56 (Originally Pratt, now McElfresh).

As Olivia describes, the cottage started with one room and other rooms were cobbled on through the decades. A fireplace room, three small bedrooms and eventually a bathroom were added. The porch was screened in the early 1970s.

Uncle Otis died in 1893 and his widow, Alice Pratt, built a two-story cottage next to the original cottage in 1895 as a rental, with the idea that the income from the rental would pay the taxes. Many families who eventually built on Grenell had their introduction to Grenell in the Pratt rental cottage.

The first boathouse was on the southeast side of the Point and still stands as a workshop/laundry room. A second dock and skiff house was built on the northeast side of the Point after the turn of the century. That first skiff house burned sometime prior to 1909 and was rebuilt, this time with a rounded roof to match the southeast boathouse.


When I first came to the island in 1975, there was a boathouse on the west side of the Point. That boathouse was torn down, but the walls of that boathouse were used to build the big boathouse on the east side of the Point in 1983.

When Alice died, the property passed to her daughter, (Alice) Olivia Pratt who summered here until the mid-fifties. Olivia was a teacher and not married so she passed the property to her cousin, Mabelle Ogden, my husband’s grandmother, who passed it to her daughter, Margret McElfresh, my husband’s mother, and now us. What started as two tents and a kitchen, is now, as my father-in-law is fond of describing, a five-building compound (two cottages, a boat house, a skiff house and a workshop.)

Uncle Otis labeled the property Pine Point on his map in 1879, which perhaps was more of a description than a name. From 1880s to 1950s it was known as Pratt Point, then Ogden Point from 1950s to early-1980s and then MarMac Isle from 1980s & 1990s (short for Margret McElfresh). We currently call it Rum Rock. Why? That’s a whole other story.

The names have changed, the buildings occasionally updated, but for the most part, the pine point on the NE corner of Grenell remains the heartbeat for 1000 island life for six generations of our family.

By Lynn McElfresh


Lynn E. McElfresh, once again. provides a special story about the island she loves the most – Grennell.  Lynn 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, are now back in Dunedin, Florida, where they spend their winter.

Ian Coristine Grennell
Photo by Ian Coristine ©
Grenell Island taken from the air by Ian Coristine shows the bay at the foot of the island where the first lots were sold in 1880.
Posted in: History, Places
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Sally L`Huillier
Comment by: Sally L`Huillier ( )
Left at: 8:07 AM Sunday, November 15, 2009
I guess I just love history, because I find these stories of early history in the islands, very fascinating. They are all extremely interesting.
Tom Walsh
Comment by: Tom Walsh ( )
Left at: 7:57 PM Friday, November 20, 2009
Great story from friend and neighbor, Lynne
Charlene Heinrich
Comment by: Charlene Heinrich ( )
Left at: 1:46 PM Tuesday, December 15, 2009
My family had a small cottage on Grenell during the early 1950's. I have a few picutres, but can't figure exactly where the boathouse/cottage was located. I think it may have been on the channel side. How can I research the location of the cottage. The name would have been under William and Norma Kuetter from Rochester/Webster, NY.
Comment by: CAROL A PARKER ( )
Left at: 12:45 AM Monday, December 21, 2009
Aloha, I was so happy to come across this story of my 3rd cousin Olivia. My mom, Mary Parker Braxton, and I were reminising about cousin Olivia. As a young teenager my mom used to go to visit cousin Olivia on the island during the summer. She helped with some of the housekeeping, swam in the bay, and remembers the cottage and the boathouse. Fun memories for my 91 yr old mom. Olivia made several trips to Pasadena California to visit my grandfather, George B Parker. It was always a treat when cousin Olivia came to visit. I had the privilege being at my grandparents house when she visited them. I vaguely remember when she died in Pasadena and my grandfather was distraught because they were good friends as well as cousins, he really loved her. I hope to see the island someday. Carol Parker
deb fenton
Comment by: deb fenton ( )
Left at: 3:55 PM Wednesday, January 20, 2010
'Good to see you are still writing and everyone is still enjoying your talents...
'....always enjoy seeing your name as an author on things....'miss our walks and talks.....Debbie Fenton
Todd Hellert
Comment by: Todd Hellert ( )
Left at: 4:46 PM Sunday, August 1, 2010
Our family have friends who had and I believe still have their home on Grenell on the channel side. Last name Reeves. I visited them in 1986. Their daughter is the same age as me, and I was and still envious of her first car, a "boat". The kids and mother spent the summers living at their house on the island. What memories they must have. I graduated from Clarkson University in nearby Potsdam, NY in May, and my parents stayed with the Reeves the night before, and they told me of their perilous trip across the river that morning before graduation. It was cold enough to be snowing in Potsdam.
Ardis Nardone
Comment by: Ardis Nardone ( )
Left at: 6:29 PM Sunday, October 31, 2010
So delighted to read your article and see the pictures.For about 7 summers my late husband,Frank Nardone,and I enjoyed being there.When we first met I was told by him that his wish was to have his ashes spread into the water from the rocks beside the chapel after his death.My last time on the island was to keep that promise.Would love to be in touch with anyone who remembers me.He was a wonderful man and i have great memories.vgq
Scott Edwards
Comment by: Scott Edwards
Left at: 1:28 AM Thursday, September 29, 2011
I grew up vacationing on grenell with family. I remember my great uncle Bill and Frank Nardone taking a very eager young boy (me) pike fishing for a day. As soon as i caught one it was off to the boathouse!Im sure they were eager to get back but what a beautiful day that was for me.
Suzanne Desort
Comment by: Suzanne Desort ( )
Left at: 9:05 PM Saturday, June 16, 2012
My genealogy hobby brought me to your website. In October 1918 my Great Great Grandfather John LaRue, Sr. of Fishers Landing died in the flu epidemic. His occupation according to the obituary was that he was 26 years in the employ of Thomas B. Kerr of Englewood, NJ who had a summer home on Grenell Island. It must have been a very pleasant job for him since I searched out the island on the internet and was pleasantly surprised to find beautiful pictures and stories. Maybe someday I'll see it for myself!
Nikki Truman Harding
Comment by: Nikki Truman Harding ( )
Left at: 2:12 PM Sunday, August 19, 2012
I was just reminiscing about all those summers as a young girl visiting my grandparents, Fran and Charlotte (Hinds) Truman, on the island, and came across your story when I wanted to show pictures to my husband. I had no idea that my family was one of the first families to purchase land there. I'll have to track down which Hinds had the engineering firm in Watertown but I'm sure he's the one that saw a great opportunity and snatched up that wonderful corner lot. I haven't been there in years but my cousin Ed was there just recently. I believe he said that my dad's cousin Catherine Hinds is the current owner. Incidentally, I was led to believe that there was some sort of connection between our family and the Pratt family but I don't know what the relation. I do recall that my grandfather Fran went to Williams College with Professor Pratt and that there is building named Pratt Hall. Any of this ring a bell?
Lynn E. McElfresh
Comment by: Lynn E. McElfresh
Left at: 6:14 AM Monday, August 20, 2012

Nikki, I met your grandparents (Fran and Charlotte) a few times. Fran was quite the fisherman and would have a big party toward the end of the season with his famous fish stew. Jesse L. HInds is your ancestor who built not only the cottage you remember, but two other cottages on the island.I'm currently writing a cottage history of Bay View--one of the cottages he built. The other cottage is next door to me...the current Roger Richard's Cottage. Otis Pratt was a shoe and boot manufacturer in Syracuse, so I don't think that there is any connection with Williams College.Catherine Hinds is still here and enjoying summers on the river. Also have a wonderful photo of your Grandmother, Charlotte, from the 1930s.
Pat Vink
Comment by: Pat Vink ( )
Left at: 5:12 PM Friday, September 7, 2012
I was so excited to fine this site. As a youngster I vacationed at our family cottage there. I always wonder what happened to the cottage and I saw a picture of it here.It has changed some, but it looks so wonderful.
The cottage is still red and sits across from the wee house.
The Wideners had two places there. My aunt was Oliva (Brotsch) and a cousin was named Grenell Widener- all for the island. My dad was Roger Widener who loved to fish.
My uncle Seth Widener had a cottage next door. Schnabels were on the other side and cousins Earl Brooks on the other side. Wonderful memories!
Linda Anderson
Comment by: Linda Anderson ( )
Left at: 6:46 PM Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Im so excited to come across this site. i have been researching for years bits and pieces of information from my family; alice was my great grandmothers sister; my great grandmother was Florence Parker; i have several pictures of the island and the family. I would love to talk more; im actually coming to Alex Bay this weekend. If you see this before then please e-mail me. thank you.