Joe Atello (or Attel - no one knows for sure), a Chilean in
his early thirties, arrived in our Terminous area in a sail-rigged rowboat
sometime around the 1906 earthquake. Joe told boating friends later that
he had jumped ship in San Francisco harbor, going AWOL from the Chilean navy,
after many years at sea.
With an unknown partner, he netted for sturgeon, bass and catfish on the
then-flooded Bouldin Island while establishing squatters' rights on what is now
our "island". When Joe discovered his partner was skimming profits from
the sales of fish in Lodi and Stockton Markets, he angrily demanded that the man
get out. The untrustworthy partner left, but not before destroying their
indispensible grinding wheel. The grindstone fragment became a symbol of
Joe's integrity and much later the source of our Association's name. It
can be found today permanently mounted on the deck and reproduced on our burgee.
With net-fishing banned, there was a need to augment his meager income. By
brute strength and stamina he worked with shovel and wheelbarrow to build up his
island and, most importantly, create a roadway link between the island and the
levee. He planted trees, the initial flowers and snagged floating timbers
to create the first docks which attracted early boaters from the valley and the
bay area starting in the late 20's.
But from all reports Joe was very stern about whom he would allow to dock.
He had rules which he insisted be observed or one could forget about returning.
He disliked sailboats, but loved his three dogs. Illiterate but
intelligent, he was a stickler for good conduct, warning transgressors "If you
come back, I cut your line." He kept his island immaculate and ruled it as
a patriarch. Any boaters who respected that the island was his home had no
trouble getting along with him, but those who treated his fief as a public
picnic and dumping ground were unceremoniously asked to leave and admonished not
to return. A "benevolent dictator", he was proud of his little kingdom,
reportedly taking in no more that $200 total per month from the boaters he
deigned to admit to his few docks.
By 1929, according to according to extant photos, about nine power boats
regularly docked at his island in the summer. With the onset of WWII his
regular visitors from the bay and delta vowed to return, but on July 31, 1944
Joe was stricken on the road the Terminous, died and was buried in Lodi by a few
of his friends, Grindstone founders. Following the war, many of the same
boaters returned and organized
what later became the Grindstone Joe Association. They organized the
fledgling group into a non-profit Corporation and arranged to acquire clear
title to our "island" for the sole purpose of R & R, rest and recreation.
Today, Grindstone Joe would appreciate the many improvements made on his land by
decades of Grindstoners intent on perpetuating his legacy while respecting his
appreciation for nature, the environment and human dignity.
[Memoirs of founders Tracy Harron and Ingraham Read were adapted for this 1996
account by Jo Bardet.]
Joe's grinding stone as it is today, on the GSJ party deck.