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Grindstone Island: Lost in Time

Listen to the audio version as read by Jan Eliot 

Some islands tell a story. Grindstone Island tells many of them.

It depends on how you see it - and today that almost always means by ATV. I was given a tour of the island as it woke from winter last spring by Ken Deedy and Janice McPhail, both long-time 'Grinders' who know every corner of the fourth largest Thousand Island not to mention all the details of its storied past.

ATV is the best mode of transportation across the island - although there a few dust-covered pickup trucks in driveways - there are very few roads to get you from one point of the island to another.

To say the village is sleepy at this time of year is an understatement. It's narcoleptic.

About the only sign of life is a man mowing the lawn of the village's cemetery that has a surprising number of tombstones. There's a closed dance hall while the century old Grindstone Island United Methodist Church is getting ready to open for its Sunday Praise and Prayer Service packed during the summer months.

"It's the best time of year," said McPhail. "It's so quiet and peaceful."

Grindstone Island's pastoral past lingers in its grassy landscape: cattle, barns and farms. One of the few roads is marked with a sign that reads: School House. There are two closed school houses on this island - including the last one-room school house to close in New York state in 1989. There are signs of previous islanders' lives everywhere. Ducks lazily paddle in a marsh in front of the old cheese factory that closed down a half century ago. There were dairy farms and quarries on the island back then and community of residents who stayed year-round. It is said the name 'Grindstone' comes from its quarries.

"That's what I love about it," said McPhail, president of the Grindstone Island Research and Heritage Centre. "It's like going back 150 years in time."

"I love the heritage," said the fourth-generation islander of Lowville N.Y. who returns every spring with her husband for the season and runs a museum in one of the old school houses. "It's a legacy I've been handed," she said.

The island's population grows from about 10 hardy households in the winter to an estimated 700 people in the summer months. Grindstone is known today for its protected lands.

Grindstone is known today for its protected lands. The Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) together with private property owners has preserved one-third of the island. The protected areas include Potter's Beach, one of the few sandy beaches in the Thousand Islands which is an idyllic anchoring spot for boaters during the summer. The island's nature trails are open to the public, attracting visitors to its state parks at Canoe Point and Picnic Point. Songbird forests are populated by Bobolink, Yellow warblers, and Gold Finch making it a popular birding spot.

Deedy, a TILT trustee and past president of the organization who helped spearhead the conservation efforts here over two decades ago, is Grindstone's unofficial ambassador. He frequently holds court with visitors and fellow preservationists on his cottage's deck.

"The ATV has changed the way of life on the island," he said, as we bump along the island's rocky trails beneath a canopy of hemlock, cedar and pine trees.

Deedy's cottage is perched on a granite cliff with a view of osprey nest platform. The retired teacher and union leader from Long Island has spent summers on Grindstone Island since he was a child. The property was once owned by tobacco tycoon Charles Emery.

"It's an awesome wildlife refuge," said Andrew Wood, executive director of TILT, adding the history of the island makes it unique. "It's one of those places that's stopped in time."

TILT, which also oversees similar preservation efforts on Carleton Island, works with property owners to preserve its natural beauty, he said. "We protect the environment to make sure it's never developed."

The organization works in partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials and Ducks Unlimited and other conservationists.

The island's eclectic architecture includes actress May Irwin's ice house transplanted from nearby Club Island, formerly Irwin Isle where her pink granite mansion once stood, to a glass cottage and rambling summer estate with a curved porch designed by the same architect who designed Grand Central Station.

Manley Rusho, who was born here in 1931, comes back every summer from Orlando Florida to his family's homestead. He bought the historic Lower school house he attended as a child. He converted the 1880 building into a guest cottage for his children and grandchildren. The Korean war veteran has lined a wall with photographs of Grindstone Island war veterans. "There was a few who never made it back," he said, studying the young faces.

Grinders always get their mail thanks year-round resident Brian Parker, the island's postman who works as a tour boat operate for Clayton Island Tours in the summer. The independent contractor for the U.S. Postal Service delivers the mail to the residents of Grindstone, Round, Murray and Grenell Islands.

Though there are fewer than 10 households on his Grindstone route in the winter months, he still has to pick up the mail by airboat in Clayton.


Rex Ennis, a long-time summer resident, who spent three winters on the island with his wife Janet, acted as a lay preacher for the Grindstone United Methodist Church until the minister arrived for the season. The church is the island's top attraction during the summer months, drawing as many as 100 worshippers every Sunday.

McPhail makes her annual pilgrimage back to the granite shores of Grindstone every spring. "Even as a child I longed to be here," she said. "It's hard to describe. It's like my soul's here."

Grindstone Island stretches seven miles long and three miles wide. The fourth largest Thousand Island is known for its preserved meadows, nature trails and songbird forests. History and conversation and stunning waterfront architecture live here side by side. Potter's Beach is the largest sandy beach in the Thousand Islands, an idyllic anchoring spot for boats during hot summer days.

by Kim Lunman,

Kim Lunman is a well known author in the Thousand Islands. Kim first wrote about her tour of Grindstone Island in an article that appeared in Island Reflections magazine last July. TI Life is delighted that Kim provided this review and it is just the type of article that will brighten a cold winter’s night.  We asked Jan Eliot from Sagastaweka Island to present the story in audio. 

Kim is the owner of Thousand Islands Ink, a new publishing company which will go to print in May with Island Life magazine just in time for summer.

Posted in: Places, People
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Rex Ennis
Comment by: Rex Ennis ( )
Left at: 1:30 PM Monday, February 15, 2010
Kim, very nice article. Come and visit Jan and I next summer.
Seth Montgomery
Comment by: Seth Montgomery ( )
Left at: 11:47 AM Monday, March 1, 2010
Thank you for the mental trip back to the island that I love. As an "Honorary Grinder" I can undoubtably say that it is one of the most tranquil places on this Earth.
ronald bryant
Comment by: ronald bryant ( )
Left at: 9:46 PM Saturday, April 10, 2010
I am now 80 years old. When i was about 11or 12 years old i would go over to grindstone and help my uncle Woodrow Condgon peddle vegtables around the islands.I would drive the horsees when loading hay.I took the milk to the cheese factorey,went in the ditch a couple times.He farmed it on the south side on shares While on the south side i was rakeing hay with a dump rake he hade a big horse named ned I was about a quarter mile from the barn when he ran away with me over rock piles and all. i fell down behind the horse got some bruses, The horse went between 2 trees busted the rake a part. If he had not went between the trees he would went over a cliff about a nother 50 feet.I rember Calhouns bull would get out and he was ulgly Woodrow would shoot it in the but so he would go home.That was when he bought a farm on the north shore.Theese were times i wont forget.
Trudy Berkman-Nitti
Comment by: Trudy Berkman-Nitti ( )
Left at: 3:47 PM Monday, October 18, 2010
I am related to the Calhouns of Gridstone Island In Clayton, NY through my father side. My grandmother on my father side is Gladys Sevey Berkman, her mother and father are Hattie Mae Bartlett and Silas Sevey. Gladys Sevey married is the mother of my father John Henry Berkman and his father was Howard Berkman Sr. From my understanding my father's family goes all the way back to the Mayflower. There are names mentioned such as; Brewster, Emerson, Fuller and of course Sevey and Berkman. Other names include Richard Warren who is the 10th great father of my father John Henry Berkman Sr. There are also names such as Bartlett, Walker, Davis. I am so interested in the family history. Is there a place in Clayton that has like a town hall with family history or anything to help me discover more. Any help is appreciated. Thank You.
Morland Berkman
Comment by: Morland Berkman ( )
Left at: 8:06 PM Monday, November 7, 2011
My father (born 1904)was a brother of Howard Berkman who married Gladys Sevey. The parents of Glenn Berkman (my father) and Howard (as well as their siblings, Clyde, Mabel and Maude Berkman) were Hiram Berkman and Ida Calhoun. The parents of Hiram were Gilbert Berkman (born in Austria 1837) and Sophia Edgely. I have other information about the Berkmans and Calhouns.
Trudy Berkman Nitti
Comment by: Trudy Berkman Nitti ( )
Left at: 9:29 PM Monday, November 7, 2011
This for Morland Berkman-I was in contact with you a few years ago about the Berkman and Calhoouns. I lost your email address. Fell free to contact me at My father was John Henry Berkman Sr.
Dorothy Estelle
Comment by: Dorothy Estelle ( )
Left at: 6:39 AM Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Thank you, Pat, for telling me about this site. It is most interesting. My grandfather, Wellington Elmer Calhoun, was born on Grindstone in 1883, and lived there until he was in his teens. His father was Elmer Calhoun and his mother Emma Jeanette Garnsey. His grandparents were Nancy Clark and Samuel Calhoun on his father's side and Moses Garnsey and Louisa Mitchell on his mother's side. I have looked for years to find something of Louisa Mitchell's mother, Lavina Adams, who was born in New Hampshire and moved to Jefferson County with her husband Samuel G. Mitchell.

My grandfather made "pilgrimages" to Grindstone throughout his long life, and now we grandchildren occasionally return for the same purpose--to just absorb the heritage and beauty of the Island.

Thank you for this site. It's almost like a visit.
John Henry Berkman Jr.
Comment by: John Henry Berkman Jr. ( )
Left at: 9:17 PM Monday, December 26, 2011
Seven of my ancestors are directly from off the Mayflower on my Father's side and 1 from the Mayflower on my mother side.
Father John H. Berkman Sr. and mother Luella June Snyder.
Sandy Kramer
Comment by: Sandy Kramer ( )
Left at: 8:18 PM Friday, July 13, 2012
My mother Eunice Schultz Carderelli, lived on Grindstone Island when she was about 5 years old. Her mother's mother was a Carnige. She mentions the Garnsey, Slate and Dano families. Mom just turned 90 years old this year, and I am always enthralled with her stories of life on the Island. Her mother was Alta Sherbino Schultz and her Dad was Percy Schultz. They left the Island and migrated to Watertown then Syracuse. We are now in Virginia, and have been here since 1960. I really appreciate this site as it gives me a little glimpse into my Mother's past.
ronald bryant
Comment by: ronald bryant ( )
Left at: 1:27 PM Sunday, July 15, 2012
woodrow congdon was married to mabel calhoun. Her brother lived the next place down from them ,his name was calhoun.I cant remember his frist name. That was when they lived on the north side.Woodrow Congdon bought the farm on the north side. I rember the cheese factory well.I rember the church ice cream soicals.I rember how good the fishing was back then.We could go fishing after haying in the evening catch a mess of fish in a few min and cook them in the out side fire place.Getting older now cant remember so good now.I will never for get Grind stone island.
michael matthews
Comment by: michael matthews ( )
Left at: 11:18 PM Sunday, July 28, 2013
I wish people would do a little more research and choose who they interview more closely grindstone isnt like little house on the prarie like most of these articlesmake it sound like
Laura Brown
Comment by: Laura Brown
Left at: 10:21 AM Monday, June 1, 2015
I would like to state to the media I was after birth or a week old at the most brought home to Gringstone Island to live as my family home we and the rest of the people I have grown up with here my whole life are Islanders not " GRINDERS" do I make myself clear I find this an insult. Do not make the harritage people my ansesters of Grindstone Island out to be a Joke let dalone stump jumping hillbillies, you are getting your information or taking thing out of context upon your self is not taken kind to me it is insulting very much!
Dorothy Estelle
Comment by: Dorothy Estelle
Left at: 2:02 PM Sunday, June 7, 2015
Moreland/Pat Berkman, would you please email me. I have contacted a woman that I believe is quite closely related to you. I tried to email you today, but it did not go through, so you must have changed your email address. Thank you. Dorothy Estelle
Laura Brown
Comment by: Laura Brown
Left at: 11:20 AM Tuesday, December 15, 2015
I would like to say thank you to Dorothy Estella for speaking out about the native people from Grindstone people being Called Grinders, treat stump jumping hillbillies! My Mothers Aunt was a Teacher and Her Grandfather was a active wealthy Politician. I do not like the inconsideration of people oh think Grindstone people are not intelligent educated people!
Garrad Rusho
Comment by: Garrad Rusho
Left at: 4:08 PM Friday, March 18, 2016
I would like my family to be able to see where my ancestors first settled here
Brian Nemier
Comment by: Brian Nemier
Left at: 4:46 AM Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Does anyone have info on the Grandee family from Grindstone Island ? My grandmother Viena Irene Grandee was born there in 1879 and later married my grandfather Asa Nemier. They lived in Clayton and are buried in Syracuse. I'm looking for any remaining relatives to learn more about my family. Any info would be great.......Thank You

Brian Nemier
Priscilla Kinney Moran
Comment by: Priscilla Kinney Moran
Left at: 7:58 AM Saturday, July 23, 2016
I was born in Clayton, New York in 1935. I lived in the area until after graduation from high school. It is only in recent months that I discovered that my great grandmother lived on Grindstone Island and married an Alexander Carr after the death of her first husband. I was able to find that he was a chemist through some old papers.
It seems my mother was born on the Island as well, Alice Ellingworth Kinney.
What information does anyone have about these events ? I'm helping a grandson do some genealogy.
Grant McPhail
Comment by: Grant McPhail
Left at: 11:14 PM Wednesday, June 27, 2018
My name is Grant McPhail, i am Dan and Janice McPhails grandson. Every summer since i was born i have come up here to my grandparents house. The week or two i spend up here every year is something that i am waiting to do all year. Grindstone is my favorite place in the world to go and i cant wait to go and fish, ride fourwheelers, see my family, and ride the boat here. Coming every summer has really put this island in a special place in my heart.