On a Wednesday afternoon in August 1904, Lillian May Stoddard was the first bride ever to be married in the Grenell Island Chapel. Everyone on the island was invited. It was the first of six weddings for the family through the last century. This Grenell Island family has a long, storied history with the Grenell Island Chapel.
It was a fire that first brought the Rev. F. P. Stoddard and his family to Grenell Island in the summer of 1885. On October 20, 1884, fire swept through Carthage, NY, where Frank Stoddard was minister of the Baptist church. One hundred and sixty buildings went up in flames that night, among them the Baptist church and the good reverend’s home. Left with nothing, John Rogers, one of their congregation, invited the reverend, his wife, and infant daughter to live with them. By summer, the church granted the minister a four-week sabbatical.
John offered the young reverend and his family the use of his camp at Rogers Point on Grenell Island in the Thousand Islands. From what I understand, there was a little skiff house and dock at water’s edge, but, perhaps the little family tent camped. The Stoddard family fell in love with the island back in 1885, and their family devotion to Grenell is still going strong 135 years later.
Mrs. Gardner owned a large guesthouse across the bay, one of three guesthouses. The Thomas Kerr family frequently rented the Gardner House for the season. Rev. Stoddard often visited the Gardner cottage on Sundays to deliver a sermon. The three families—Stoddard, Gardner, and Kerr—decided to offer a church service to the entire island. Mrs. Gardner volunteered her point of land on the island, as she had an organ inside her cottage. Grenell Islander Prof. Pabst, music teacher and the official organist for the Syracuse Masonic organization, offered to play for the service. The two Kerr sisters, Lois and Mary Mason, offered to hold a Sunday school for the children inside the cottage. Rev. Stoddard delivered the sermon.
It was a success, and many on Grenell desired regular Sunday services on the island. When the weather was good, services were held at Gardner Point. When the weather was bad, the faithful met in the parlor of the Pullman House at the other side of the island. In August, a meeting was held to discuss the need for a church on the island. Rev. Stoddard made an impassioned speech in which he called Grenell Island Park, “the grandest place on the River so arrayed by nature that it is designed to be the most densely inhabited in the near future.” A prediction which happened to come true.
The chapel was talked about for years before it was finally built in 1898. Six years passed before the first wedding in 1904. How ironic that the first bride was Lillian May Stoddard, the daughter of the reverend who was instrumental in the creation of the chapel and who preached the dedication sermon. Newspaper accounts were chock-full of details. The ladies of the island had filled the chapel with greenery. The wall behind the pulpit was banked with cedar, pine, and ferns. At the beginning, middle, and end of the center aisle were three archways covered with evergreens and ferns. Before the ceremony started, six little girls dressed in white, carried chains of bittersweet vines woven with pink and white sweet peas and attached them to the archways to create a fragrant aisle for the bride.
Miss Mary Thompson, daughter of another Baptist minister who summered on Grenell, played the chapel’s pump organ. Rev. Thompson went to seminary at Colgate with Rev. Stoddard, also had camped on Rogers Point, and had built a cottage next door to the Stoddards on the western shore of Grenell. Yet, another Colgate classmate, Rev. Hutchinson, built a cottage named “Overlook” on Grenell after staying on Rogers Point.
After the wedding, Captain Visger was waiting for the newlyweds with his yacht. Moored in the bay near the chapel, he blew the steam whistle so long and so loud that people on neighboring islands must have thought Grenell was on fire or the steam yacht was in great peril. The wedding party boarded the yacht, and were taken around the island to the Stoddard Cottage, which was on the northwest tip of the Grenell.
By then the guests walked from the chapel to the cottage where a sumptuous wedding breakfast was served, catered by Mr. Snyder and Mr. Fraser of the newly established Wellesley House at Thousand Island Park.
Twelve years later, Lillian’s younger sister Harriet was married in the Grenell Island Chapel. This wedding was in the fall. Instead of sweet peas, the chapel was decorated with goldenrod. This wedding was delayed because one of the Lillian’s daughter’s, who was serving as flower girl, fell off the dock. Her dress had to be dried out before the wedding could start. The attendants carried white water lilies in panama hats tied with yellow ribbons.
Four more weddings were to follow. The last was Elle Hanna, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Rev. Stoddard, who was married at the Grenell Island Chapel in 2011.
Elle Hanna married into an island family on Murray, one of many island romances and marriages between the neighboring islands.
Will there be more Stoddard descendants to marry at the Grenell Island Chapel? Only time will tell.
By Lynn E. McElfresh, Grenell Island
Lynn McElfresh has written well over 130 articles for TI Life, and each one makes this editor happy and entertains TI Life readers.
Earlier in the year we reported that the Grenell Chapel would be closed this year, due to COVID-19, but the outside garden would be a substitute. Lynn decided it would be a good time to provide the Chapel's history.
To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn McElfresh. And, as an added bonus, a few months ago, we announced Lynn's first of nine novels... Grenell 1881, Her second novel is about to be published, and being "safe at home," we no longer suspect, we know, she is working on Novel 3.
Grenell 1881 is now on sale in several River locations. Buy it, read it, and enjoy it! I mean it!