Back around 1830 a fisherman first landed on Grape Island. Finding it abandoned, he and his two crew members explored the 42 acre island finding it uninhabited. The fisherman, by the name of Agirre, thought the island would be a nice place to settle and plant a vineyard. With his crew, they cleared a patch of land and over the next season erected some small shacks. Eventually the vineyard went in, fruit trees were planted and gardens established. The families made the move to the island.
The small group may have been well intended but it seems Agirre, while trying to follow in his Dad’s footsteps, was not a good farmer. While his Dad was a successful vineyard owner in the Galicia region of Spain, his son had not picked up the gene. The vineyard failed although the gardens and most fruit trees flourished. The failed attempt had earned the island it’s name, Grape Island, and it’s settlement, The Vineyard. Through the political influence of his father, Agirre managed to claim the island for the Spanish Crown and was granted him ownership and a position of autonomy under the crown.
With all this going for Agirre, the island was abandoned and it is said Agirre began a love of stiff drink and gambling. It is said some 15 years after settling on the island he gave up the island in a game of poker. The winner, Edward Dawson, took ownership of the island with an official title transfer that eventually was sent to Spain.
Dawson died without ever visiting the island but fought for the island to remain independent of Canada.
In fact, Canada tried to lay claim to the island but the Spanish claim could not be verified nor denied so government officials decided it best to not test the validity of the claim. The island remains in limbo to this day.
Grape Island would remain abandoned, reverting back to nature for decades. It was shortly after World War II that Jack Dawson decided to do something with the island. Seeking an attorney with some international law experience, he developed an association that would be responsible for platting the island with a town center approximately 650 feet by 610 feet. A water well and sewage system were put in. Lots for 22 homes would fit in the town with the original barn and a small portion of the original vineyard left for a town park. The town was aptly named “The Vineyard”. The remaining portion of the island would be public land. Once the improvements were made, the lots were offered for sale in 1948 for $1,759 US per lot.
In 1985 a fire began on the island and destroyed the 8 unoccupied homes. These homes were only occupied in summer months for a few weeks. After insurance was paid, the lots were sold to the Association that then offered them only to those interested in living on the island throughout the year. By the end of 1986 all of the lots had been sold for $8,000 US each for the 60 by 100 foot lot. At this point, Grape Island became a private island.
Unlike many such island communities, there are no services. There is no fire department or Emergency Medical Technicians. The island has no public dock or marina. There are no churches or schools. In addition, there is no government office. Homeowners must own their own boat. There is no centralized electric supply and residents must burn their trash or remove it from the island.
The only ‘so called’ community facility is a small barn where neighbors meet.
Grape Island has a rather unique society. The community grows its own vegetables. A few cows, pigs and chickens serve the local need for beef, pork, chicken, eggs and dairy products. The many fruit trees offer in season fruit. An islander has hives that produce honey. There are no vehicles except golf carts and snow mobiles on the one dirt road that runs the length of the island. Although there is a 50 foot beach access, each home backs up to the shoreline.
The island is regionally known and has a bit of mystic about it. The residents, residing in their small cottages, love the relaxed and easy pace of life. Unlike many of the offshore island communities, Grape Island does not transform into a big tourist location in summer. In fact, the many visitors during summer in the decades prior seemed to disrupt normal life. This lack of visitors means a peaceful summer on the island and the circulation of a rumor about a peculiar people who live there. If you asked a Grape Islander about the rumor, you get an answer that is something like “it works well for us”.
The local association elects 7 residents to govern the island’s 68 residents that includes 24 children under 18 years of age.
Grape Island’s Government has an annual budget of $23,843.78 US per annum. The Association’s Newsletter accounts for $21,725.00, leaving $2,118.78 to come from other sources.
GRAPE ISLAND MONEY
The Island Association issues a number of notes that circulate as a local currency. The denomination in use is 1/8 ounce of .999 silver as well as a few ‘small change‘ notes..