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Camp Life 1901

I often wish I had a time machine, to transport me back, to see what life was like on Grenell in past times. Several years ago, an islander gave me an article about Grenell she found while doing genealogy research. It was titled:

For Friends’ Intelligencer.




Eight Month 18, 1901

As I read through it, I could immediately recognize that whoever wrote it had been camping on the north shore of Grenell. Because the author spoke of Murray Isle, the Narrows and Whippoorwill, Camp Ste. Anne wasn’t too far from our present-day location. It was signed A.L.C.Camp Life 1898

When trying to unravel any mystery on Grenell, it’s always best to start with the little green book, “The Story of Grenell.” There, I found the Anne I was looking for:

“The Misses Anne and Ruth Clements were school friends of the first Mrs. Sharples, one was the head of a Friends’ school and the other a doctor. They visited at the Sharples’ and soon after (1898) built the green camp on the northeast shore, toward Murray.”

“The Friends Intelligencer “was a Quaker publication out of Philadelphia. So, it fits that the author of the piece knew the Sharples family, who were Quakers from Philadelphia. A.L.C was the head of a Friends’ school, Anne L. Clements.

I was right! The location of the camp was very close to our location on Grenell, adjacent to it. The Clements sisters built a small cottage on the top of a rock, then known as Camp Ste. Anne, but today is known as Castle Rock and owned by a family from Cazenovia, NY.

Camp Ste Anne TodayAt one time, this cottage was owned by my husband Gary’s great-aunt Edith. It has been a honeymoon stop for many islanders, through the decades, including Gary’s grandparents back in 1920.

I thought it was interesting that in 1901 there were lots of vendors coming to the island to sell food and that if you missed them, you would have to fish for your supper. Islander Doris Rasmussen told me when she honeymooned in the cottage in 1951, that the cottage did have electricity, but no running water. She walked to the store in the morning to buy what they needed to make lunch then returned to the store in the afternoon to buy what they needed for dinner. There was a store on the island in 1901, but it sounds like A.L.C. had similar experiences.

I also enjoyed the description of the Native Americans. I found a picture in our island photo album labeled: Chief Two-Buttons. He is holding baskets, which I recognize as baskets we still have in the cottage.

Once I discovered the location of Camp Ste. Anne, I realized Anne’s neighbor is Olivia Pratt, another of Gary’s great-aunts. The fish caught from a small hook was the fish Olivia wrote about in “The Story of Grenell,” which was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not (See Muskies Believe it or Not , TI Life Jan 2013.)

The style and words may be a little different, but the same love of nature, friends and island life shine through. So without further ado, I invite you to enter a portal, through the magic of words and experience Grenell 1901:

“For Friends’ Intelligencer”




                                                                                                                              Eight Month 18, 1901

A second moon has looked down upon the Thousand Islands since we pitched our tents and launched the boats at Camp Ste. Anne. Last night it shone out from between two dark, purple clouds, while the afterglow of a gorgeous sunset still adorned the heavens and was mirrored, ruby red, in the waters beneath, ---the beauty of the sky and bay holding us spell-bound. Supper was spread on the roof, where we might watch until the last golden lines had faded. The many canoes that had been enjoying the sunset, then glided along home-ward in the twilight, reminding one of times when the Indian warrior moved stealthily along in the dusk on the war-path.Chief Two Buttons

All was still save the dipping of the paddle, the lapping of the waters, and the note of the whip-poor-will on Murray Isle. We moved closer to the water’s edge and some of the canoes pointed toward our landing, and there, grouped on rock, pier, and canoe, friends enjoyed the quiet together, when suddenly a huge steamer, heavily laden with passengers and a band of music, emerged from behind the island and turned a powerful search-light on party, camp, and canoe---studying every feature.

Earlier in the season there was a hush in the pleasures on Grenell Island, and our flags were all half-mast, for Mrs. Grenell was dead. A beautiful steam yacht bore her body away to a distant burial place, and as it passed down the River many islanders gazed sadly and reverently at the departure of their aged friend, a pioneer of the islands and one endeared to all.

The camp is fragrant with the odor of sweet grass today, for our friends, the Indians, have been here. We bought their baskets, and gave them food and drink, which afforded an opportunity to listen to their conversation. There are no real Hiawathas here, nor do we find many unmistakably pure Indians as our friends, the Navajos, or Hoppas; but so akin to Canadian that the French language is as familiar to them as their own.

Now they raise their tiny sail and start for another island, while we push off for the “Narrows,” to enjoy the beauties there. The steamer “St. Lawrence”, which brings the mail, is just touching at Murray Isle; and the “Nightingale” is waiting for its turn to effect a landing at the same place. Across the bay the steam yacht “Where Now” passes some smaller sailing craft—the “Hornet” and “Water Witch’. Bright sails dotting the river for miles, rise and dip with the wind.Searchlight Steamer

It is gossiped about the islands that the “Erro,” the fastest yacht on the St. Lawrence, has a rival—that a new launch has appeared, making still greater speed; but, ask the oarsmen and they’ll say, The “‘Erro’s’ all right.”

Our boats return from the “Narrows” laden with water lilies, sweet fern, and some reeds held together with a long, picturesque bird’s nest, who owner had deserted it, leaving it rocking above the waves perhaps to be occupied another year.

After the camp chairs and blankets are spread about on the deck we have two other visitors. These appear to be Sisters of Mercy, soliciting alms for the erection of a hospital in Manitoba. They had sweet faces, the smaller one being frail and delicate. Seated under the awning, looking about admiringly, and we thought, longingly, at rock and tree with the water lapping at her feet, she said: “It is very beautiful here; how restful it must be for you!” and then added, “we are not permitted to go on pleasure trips; we have a mission. We are working sisters’—nurses.”

When taking their leave, four of us happened to cross hands, when one of our party hesitatingly drew back. “O, yes!” said the sisters, “Please make the sign of the Cross!” and so, to gratify her, the farewell was taken with crossed hands.

Just at this date the fishing is fine. This was not so early in the Seventh month, as the eel-flies were here those myriads of exceedingly delicate creatures whose life seem to terminate the instant they come in contact with any foreign body. These insects the fish recognize and jump from the water to seize. Fat and satisfied they then ignore the choicest bait offered them. So fishing for a time was unsatisfactory. At present fine pickerel and black bass are quite plentiful. Our neighbor has just caught a muskalonge (sic) four feet long, weighing twenty-six pounds. We thought it quite absurd that one should catch that huge creature with a tiny hook and live bait, but the proof was there.

Huckster and butcher alike come to our tent door in their canoes, either from Canada or the New York shore. It makes one fairly sigh if the market man sails by to another island, forgetting to make his regular call. It certainly means row or fish for your dinner.

Last week the program included a trip to Gananoque, which was made in a larger sail-boat going in and out among many beautiful Canadian islands as well as those belonging to New York. Among the State lands are several reservations tastefully arranged with pavilions or other attractions for pic-nincs (sic).

As the vessel bounded along with well filled sails, and waves breaking into silver spray across her bow, it made a pretty picture, indeed; and while the sunlight rested on the mist and spray, it held a rainbow there. Nearing the opposite shore it became noticeable that the steamers answering to our bugle call all bore the British flag.



By Lynn E. McElfresh

When Lynn McElfresh sent her article, I wondered what it would be. I am not disappointed as finding these historical notes are certainly exciting, and allowing us to share with so many readers is more important.  This marks Lynn’s 104th article.  Yes, you read that correctly!  You can see all of Lynn’s articles here. (We celebrated her #80 in July, 2015!)

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Diane Cordes
Comment by: Diane Cordes
Left at: 6:45 PM Monday, August 14, 2017
Love the article - it's so easy to imagine being there. In spite of the changes life brings, some things remain pretty much the same! Island life is one.
Deane Parkhurst
Comment by: Deane Parkhurst
Left at: 7:15 AM Friday, August 18, 2017
I always enjoy reading about events and the history of our neighboring island just across from 1000 Island Park. A lot of years ago I worked at the Rochester Hotel when it was owned by the Shay family. On one occasion three guys, myself included, were taken over to Grenell for some yard work around a very large home, more like a mansion to my then teen aged eyes. It was located on the North shore but up on the hillside back from the water. I assume it was owned by the Shay's at the time but have no idea for how long or any other details. I would be very interested to know more about the place or even if it's still there.

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