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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.