History of Greenland Island

Compiled by Art and Dale Wheaton

Viewing the glittering 16,070 acres of East Grand Lake from the air, one immediately notices distinctive, kidney-shaped Greenland Island abutting the lake’s largest open-water expanse. On the water—unlike Billy and Nan Islands, which are occupied by herring and black-backed gulls—Greenland’s forested profile invites fishermen and picnickers to come ashore, its double lobes boasting 3,100 feet of rocky shoreline.

Why do we think so much of this special place? It is one of the landmarks of East Grand Lake, and those of us who see it up close and personal have fond memories of this little pearl and its intriguing history.

Bud Brooks, at 82 years young and a font of historical knowledge, remembers being towed on a sled across the slick, gleaming ice by his dad, Waldo, a superb skater. On their way home from Danforth, they stopped and visited Billy Springer, locally known as “the hermit of Greenland Island.” Mr. Springer was a lanky fellow who lived alone in his sturdy cabin with a team of work horses in a nearby shed—his sole company through the long Maine winter. His old block chimney and root cellar remain as part of the island’s heritage. Bud also tells of sheep grazing on Manley (also known as Snow’s) Island which, like nearby Fosters Island, was practically barren of trees a century ago.

In 1953, Woodie Wheaton landed on the overgrown island with his fishing party to make lunch, and was surprised to find the derelict building of the old hermit, now dead for many years. Woodie also found a narrow channel where the woodsman had used his horses to carve a boat landing through the rocky shore. Later Woodie built a rustic table and fire pit, and the island became a regular lunch site for local fishing guides until the mid-l 990s, when someone erected a small structure and occupied the site during the summer months. From the open and vacant cabin—and the hermit having no known living heirs—Woodie removed an old rifle, a diary, and a family bible with many dates inscribed. The diary listed the number of steps (in thousands) across the ice to distant Forest City, Billy and Nan Islands, and other landmarks.

The Woodie Wheaton Land Trust has long viewed Greenland Island as a critical component of lake conservation to benefit residents and nonresidents alike. When the island came on the market in 2008, the trust acted quickly to purchase it via a mortgage loan. The next summer, the WWLT board and staff gave the island an interior makeover. Filling plastic garbage bags with cans and bottles, bent iron, and decades-old rubbish, they tidied up the grounds and transported the debris to the Danforth landfill. They also repaired the picnic table and improved the pathway on the south side.

Not often does a developed property have a chance to revert to its natural character with public access assured. For guides and their sports, the availability of a lunch spot with south wind protection near Greenland Cove is welcome indeed. For all lake users, Greenland Island is a precious oasis. WWLT is committed to permanently maintaining this scenic site for primitive picnicking and camping. The island can once again be enjoyed by all—guides who spin their stories at lunch, visitors who want to enjoy the natural setting, and local folks who wish to have a moments “away from it all.”

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