Grape Island

Submitted by Thelma Wells West.

St. Marys Oracle
February 24, 1973
Written by Dot R. Griffin


Now a tranquil suburbia, Grape Island was once a bustling little village with its own post office, railroad depot, school house, church and --yes -- even a summer resort.

In fact this 1000 acres or more of bottom land edged on one side by small wooded hills and fronting the Ohio River was a town at least 20 years before the City of St. Marys, three miles down river, came into its own.

Since the regional vocational educational center is to be built in the near future on a 24 acre Grape Island site, it seems timely that some history of this early settlement be recalled. The name Grape Island originated from the abundance of wild grapes which at one time literally festooned the Ohio River island opposite the West Virginia mainland. At one time there was a smaller island to the north with only a small channel separating the two. It was called Bat Island, obviously because it was inhabitated with numerous bats. Down through the years, silt and sand accumulated until the two islands became one long extension of land.

Early Settlers - Early settlers came from England, Germany, Ireland, Holland, Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. They were hardworking --knowledgeable in such trades as blacksmithing, husbandry, surveying, law, shoemaking, ship building, lumbering and stock-raising. Grape Island offered fertile land for farming, good pastures, stands of timber, hillside or orchards and the Ohio River for easy transportation of produce to the large cities north and south.

The Cochrans were among the earliest settlers. The original Thomas Cochran coming from Ireland in the 18th century. He took part in the Indian wars around Fort Henry (Wheeling), served in the Revolution, was captured by the Indians who wished to adopy him. (Nevertheless, they must have spoken with "forked tongue" for when Tom tried to escape, they killed him.) With all this activity he also found time to have a family. One son, Thomas followed in his father's footsteps, fighting Indians. He finally gave this up and moved to Tyler county. At one time he owned Grape Island and other land nearby. In 1811 he sold the island to JAMES BAILEY for $90. Later Edmund Holdren came into possession of the island. During the late depression years the late Hiram Carpenter (who at that time owned Grape along with some other 10 islands) planted potatoes on the island to give employment to local citizens in need of work. This was a most successful venture. The island is now owned by the Ohio Dever Land and Gravel Company.

Browse Family - In 1830 Thomas and Eliza Browse came to America from England and after some exploration bought the land along the river front extending from Raven Rock and including the tract at Grape Island. Schooled in husbandry, an erudite reader and an energetic citizen, he served as a surveyor and justice of peace and was active in promoting the formation of Pleasants County from Tyler, Ritchie and Wood counties. He settled into the log house (already on Grape) adding to the structure as his family and prosperity increased. Because the tract was so large he employed a number of men who moved their families to this area. His day-to-day journal in which he recorded the happenings, business transactions, etc. were of exceptional value to the late Robert L. Pemberton when he compiled "The History of Pleasants County."

Browse's older daughter, Eliza J., married Harry C. Creel, son of Alexander H. Creel, founder of St. Marys. The couple moved to Missouri. Upon her death in 1863 the coule's son came to Grape Island to be reared by his grandparetns. Thomas's son, Robert H. Browse, built a fine home at the Spring Hill (Colin Anderson Center). When his home was destroyed by fire, he built another mansion which was a landmark for many years. This home, too, was destroyed by fire in the late 40's. The younger daughter, Mary E. Browse, married Edmund Holdren and they continued to live on at the home place. When their only child, Dorothea, married Elgin Adkins, the couple presented the newlyweds with a fine brick home as a wedding present. This is now the Julian Stanley (Margaret Adkins) home. Mrs. Holdren stipulated in her will that the original home was to be torn down at her death and this wish was carried out. Robert Adkins, her grandson, has recently built a one-story brick home on the river front and the St. Marys Gold Club has leased another tract of the original Browse land.

Editoral Note: Next week we will continue the history of Grape Island, telling about the other early settlers and the Grape Island Postoffice.


This article was accompanied by six pictures:

(1) Shows William H. Steere maintaining road with church and school in background.


(2) "Down at the Station". William H. Steere assists his daughter Grace as she prepares to board the train for Belmont where she teaches school. Her grandfather, Theodore J. Bailey views the departure.


(3) Students in front of School - Harry Bradfield, Roy Virden, Bernard Bailey, Charles Stewart, Ray Stewart, Addison "Pete" Bradfield, Frances Reynolds and Rebecca Stewart, Eva Valentine, Miss Elizabeth LaRue (schoolmarm), Mabel Steere and Grace Steere.


(4) Bert Riggs in front of his island residence in the winter.


(5) Channel between Grape and Bat Island where in winter skates replaced boats when the channel became a ribbon of ice.


(6) The Browse Mansion, with its graceful tall columns and architectural detail, once a landmark of Pleasants County at Spring Run, burned to the ground March 1, 1949. Earlier, a frame house stood on the site of the mansion on the grounds owned by Thomas Browse, who came to this country in 1820.

After the frame dwelling belonging to Robert Henry Browse, a son, burned in 1902, legend has it that Browse built the mansion as a surprise for his wife who was on a visit to England. The mansion was used in later years by the State who remodelled it for use as a girls' dormitory for residents of the state training school at Spring Run, now the Colin Anderson Center.

The photograph was made by Earl Watson from an old glass negative, found in the attic of the Pemberton home, and is the actual size of the negative.


(I hope those who have an interest in Grape Island enjoy the above article. I love the Pleasants County page. Thelma Wells West, Dover, OH.)