If there is one thing that Grenell Island does not need, it’s more numbers. There are Lot Numbers, Fire Numbers and the dreaded Tax Numbers. But here I go adding more numbers to an island already swimming in numbers.
I could see the confusion on islanders’ faces when I unveiled the map with orange stickers each with a big, black number to represent each cottage. “Why the new numbers?” people asked. Using the Lot Numbers didn’t work for me because some cottages were built on more than one lot. Fire Numbers also proved problematic. Assigned a couple of decades ago to help emergency responders, there isn’t necessarily a fire number for each cottage. (i.e. there is only one fire number for our 5-building compound.) And, the tax map made me dizzy just to look at it.
So why did I feel Grenell needed a fresh batch of numbers at all? The first chronicle of Grenell Island history was written by my husband’s great-aunt Olivia in 1948. In the little green book titled, The Story of Grenell, she refers to the cottages by the names of the owners in 1948 or sometimes the former owners. Occasionally, Olivia added a description of where the cottage was located, but most of the time, the description was so vague that I couldn’t decipher which cottage she was referring to. Back in 1948, Olivia describes one cottage by saying that it belonged to:
Mr. & Mrs. Bailey, Mrs. McIntosh’s mother, were in the Benson’s cottage in 1907 or thereabouts. Mrs. Bailey was sister of Dr. Benson’s second wife, the nurse.
I have no idea who any of those people are! Later Olivia wrote that the cottage was now owned by Wobser. Again, that didn’t help. Finally she referred to the cottage by name, Cedar Rock, and Viola! I finally knew which cottage she was talking about! Cedar Rock is the lovely cottage around the bend from us, which belongs to Tim Dennehy. But who will it belong to 70 years from now?
Learning from my predecessor’s mistake, I decided that I would number the cottages. It would be lovely if everyone named their cottage and stuck with that name, but the cottage known as Cedar Rock formerly owned by Bailey, Benson, Wobser, Deutsch and currently Dennehy is now also known as Cottage #68.
After I decided to number the cottages, my next problem was where to start. I could have started with Lot #1 and made that Cottage #1 (Short Rock, currently owned by Winkie Schiebel Reeves), but I didn’t. Olivia states in her book that our little cottage was the first summer cottage on the island so I decided that was good enough reason to make it #1. From there, I went clockwise around the island. It was a little difficult here and there with the double row of cottages in the SW corner, but I did the best I could ending with Wee House on the rock in South Bay as Cottage #71.
The cottage history forms I passed out last summer continue to trickle-in. Meanwhile, I continue to collect information from a variety of other sources to fill in the blanks. Resident lists, newspaper clippings and my husband’s grandmother’s diary have proved most helpful.
Last month, I received a lovely email from someone whose first name is Grenell! Apparently, Grenell’s parents owned a cottage on Grenell and was named for the island. Grenell has a copy of the Olivia’s book and said that Ernie Smith is underlined in the book and thinks this may have been the cottage. I’m still not sure which cottage belonged to Ernie Smith. What Olivia says doesn’t tell me much: Knetter bought Ernie Smith’s in 1945. I did find a resident list that puts Kuetter (same as Knetter?) on lot #148. The problem is there is no cottage on that lot today. Did there used to be a cottage there? The best info I received was from my husband’s grandmother’s diary which states in 1955 that: Mrs. Charlie Doust II bought Uncle Ernie Smith’s boathouse and lot between Simons & Waldorf’s for her son—Fred Schlecht.
Writing a cottage-by-cottage history means focusing a lot on names and dates. But as time goes on, I find that I’m more interested in putting faces to the names. Who were the past residents? What did they like to do? How did the island touch their heart? But hearing from Grenell made me realize that while many of the families have stayed on Grenell for generations, there are those who sold, but still have strong heartstrings connecting them to the island even decades later. I look forward to hearing from more former Grenellians and hearing about their memories of Grenell.
By Lynn McElfresh, Grenell Island
Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life, writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. We have learned a great deal over the past three years from Lynn McElfresh’s musings, from moving pianos to island weddings or from plumbing problems to meeting old friends, taking nature walks and the importance of trees. Currently she is helping to compile the history of Grenell for its 100th Birthday coming up this summer.
To see all of Lynn’s island experiences search TI Life under Lynn E. McElfresh.