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Chalks Marina, Our Magic Portal

The portal to our magical island world starts in Fishers Landing at Chalks Marina.

I think my heartbeat doubles as soon as we see the blinking yellow light on Route 12, midway between Alex Bay and Clayton. We used to drive straight through— 16 hours from St. Louis, 12 hours from Chicago and later 14 hours from Decatur, Illinois—not willing to waste any of our precious vacation time staying in a motel or traveling at a more leisurely rate. We’d leave late in the evening, drive all night and arrive the middle of the next day.

PJs Motel is there at the blinking light at the intersection of Route 12 and Route 180. Years ago it was called Flo’s. The road is a narrow ribbon of blacktop, running beneath a canopy of trees. It’s not a long road, but it seems no matter what time of the day or night we turn onto it, we meet another car.

This is the River community of Fishers Landing. Even though it is tiny, it serves as a magic portal for not just us, but hundreds of other islanders as well. It’s been that way for decades. Before the bridge, there was a horse ferry that connected mainland New York with Wellesley Island. In the 1920s, “Captain” Clarence Fox operated a motorized ferry from this spot and later Captain Robbins. Today, at the end of the road, stand two River icons: Foxy’s Restaurant and Chalks Marina.

As of this posting, we are 34 days away from our arrival date. I can close my eyes and imagine our arrival. I can hear the crunch of the gravel as the car comes to a stop along the water’s edge. I can smell the River—fresh, crisp and sweet. We’re here!

Our boat is waiting for us in our slip at the end of the dock. We made the call weeks ago and the staff at the Chalks Marina have the boat in the water waiting for us and ready to go.

H. Chalk and Son had been around longer than my husband, Gary, has been coming to the river. Harry Chalk and his wife Hazel opened a marina here in 1945 and passed the business to their son Duane decades later.

Back in the fifties, Gary’s parents didn’t have a boat. When they arrived at the marina, they were ferried to the island in That’s Her, a 1933, 38 ft tour boat built by Captain Robbins. Sometimes, That’s Her was out picking up or delivering islanders and they would cross in the Terry (1948 22-ft Hutchinson utility), piloted by Hazel. Gary always had his fingers crossed that That’s Her would be there. He liked That’s Her better than the Terry, mostly because it was piloted by Harry. Gary loved Harry Chalk, “He reminded me of Popeye.”

Back then, Duane Chalk had been just a teen. Now he was a white haired man with bad knees, ready to retire. So you can imagine the dismay, when we learned a few years ago that H. Chalk and Son Marina was for sale. The news sent ripples though our island community. The most startling of the rumors was that Chalks might sell to a developer who would build condominiums. No more marina?


Where would we “hang our boat,” as my father-in-law used to say? Park our car? The panic prompted one Grenell couple to buy waterfront property on the mainland “just in case” they would need to build a dock to insure access to the River. Or so it was rumored.


There were other worries. Chalks was more than dock space and a place to park our car. Where would we be without Butch to fix our outboards? Lester to find that spare part we so desperately need? Where would we get that mangled prop fixed?

In May of 2009, we got the news from Duane Chalk as we pulled up to the gas pump our first week on the River. He was beaming. It was time to retire. The marina would be sold in June, 2009 to the Foster family: Robert, Lawrence and their sister, Carol J. Guiton. They weren’t newbies to the marina business. They owned another marina in Hammond down river. Robert Foster tried to assure islanders that their magical portal would remain unchanged. “The Chalks have set the bar pretty high. We are going to maintain the same quality service they offered for the past 64 years.” The marina’s name was changed, but not drastically. H. Chalk and Son was renamed Chalk’s Marina and Boat Sales.


While there was a sigh of relief that the property would remain a marina, there was still an uneasiness. Change comes slowly to islanders. Would things really stay the same? Would our boat be in the water waiting for us when we arrived spring of 2010?

As we prepare to head north this spring, there are none of those nagging concerns. Gary has already made the call to Chalks, announcing our arrival time. He’s heard from Linda that there is still ice on the river and the water level is higher than it was last spring, which is a good thing. This season as all the past seasons, our magical island adventure will start at Chalks Marina.

By Lynn E. McElfresh

Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life, This month Lynn has written two reviews.  This one is about her favorite marina at Fishers Landing and the second article introduces mural artist, Kelly Curry.   As we go to press, the McElfresh family are planning their summer 2011 on Grenell Islands.   To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn E. McElfresh.  Lynn’s bio was profiled in August 2009.

Posted in: Places, People, Sports
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Laura Terry Tenebruso
Comment by: Laura Terry Tenebruso ( )
Left at: 5:53 AM Friday, April 15, 2011
Oh how you brought back my childhood to me. Chalks has been my magic portal too--from my very first memories of the islands. We used to take a ferry from Fisher's Landing before everyone had their own speedboats, and then my father, David Terry, docked his boat at Chalks, back in the 70's when the last of the ferryboats faded. In recent years, my river clan has made dinner at "Foxy's" an annual tradition on our last night in the islands (we are 4th generation Murray Islanders) and even though I miss the "Thousand Island Mud Pie" they used to serve with a bobber on top, when I was a kid, dinner at Foxy's is always a treat... even when you have to ride back in a thunderstorm! Oh the memories. I can't wait to reach the magic portal again in the coming months. Thanks again for bringing summer back to me.
Michael Joyce
Comment by: Michael Joyce ( )
Left at: 11:07 AM Friday, April 15, 2011
Great piece of writing. Like watching an old home movie. How well I remember driving up from NYC or Philadelphia and coming over the top of McCarn's hill in Clayton and catching that first glimpse of the River, and finally getting out of the car at Mercier's and inhaling deeply. It was more than air going into your lungs, it was the Great Spirit of The River recharging your soul. Duane and Pat Chalk were a class act, they took care of their customers, and they loved the River. Thanks for sharing the memories.
Comment by: Jack ( )
Left at: 11:27 AM Friday, April 15, 2011
Unfortunately Chalks Marina isn't what it used to be. One sunny afternoon last summer, I started experiencing engine trouble near TI Park. I limped very cautiously into Chalks gas dock in the hope of having a mechanic take a look at my engine. A very unfriendly and unaccommodating employee in the parts department told me to leave the boat there and someone would take a look at it sometime "in the next two weeks"!! I can understand a busy marina, but would hope to have some help in such an urgent situation. I had never been a customer of theirs in the past and surely will never be a customer of theirs in the future.
Dorothy Topping
Comment by: Dorothy Topping ( )
Left at: 7:58 PM Saturday, April 16, 2011
Duane and I graduated from Watertown H.S. together. I share your feelings toward Chalk's Marina. Harry, Hazel, Duane and his sister Rita were part of my childhood, and even more. What a wonderful family. At age 16 I took my 11 year old brother and his friend (alone with my boyfriend who happens now to be my husband of 56 years) to a outdoor movie near A-Bay. Arriving back around 1 in the morning my boat was missing. No phones were on the island in 1949. I knocked on Harry's (Mr. Chalk to me)door. He came out, got in That's Her with my brother, his frind and Bob and me, and assured me someone had "borrowed" my boat. Sure enough on a small island close by as Harry shined his light on the island, a man came out and said he had rowed our boat to his island as he couldn't start his own. Can you imagine anyone helping out today like this?
The Muir's at The Boat Ramp
Comment by: The Muir's at The Boat Ramp ( )
Left at: 3:39 PM Sunday, April 17, 2011
Enjoy Duane Chalk's wisdom and helpfulness to this day. Always enjoy talking with him and reminiscing - he's a happy retiree now but you'll have to move fast to catch him. He's busy restoring "That's Her" - which we will enjoy seeing one day back on the river. Congratulations on his retired status and wish him great health - look forward to seeing him in a few weeks when we return to our cottage.
Duane Spears
Comment by: Duane Spears ( )
Left at: 8:41 PM Sunday, April 17, 2011
My Family have been doing business with the Marina almost since the beginning. We still own the last boat we bought off Daune a 1967 Starcraft Islander. The Marina helped us out many times over those years and is great to stop and talk with Duane in the landing we when we seem him out. I also can say I have the privilege of having been named after Duane Chalk, although I do not know if he remembers that until my Mother reminds him.