Boating in the 1000 Islands is timeless. I remember it from the boyhood vantage point of the 1960’s when I spent the summers at Calumet Island Marina, Clayton, NY, and Alexandria Bay, NY. I can still hear the sounds and see the sights in my head. I haven’t been back in maybe 14 years, but I imagine today it’s a lot like it was then. So what’s different? Who out there remembers the 1000 Islands from the 60’s and can compare it to today?
Let me take a stab at it, without the benefit of first-hand knowledge.
Obviously Calumet Island is different. From its glorious heyday complete with castle and service harbor, to the 60’s marina, to today as a private residence, Calumet has a beauty and charm all its own.
Here’s a photo from a seaplane in 1967, and you can see how many trees it had back then. The castle ruins were still plentiful and provided quite a sight-seeing adventure for my brother and I, though there was no way to get safely close. I visited in the early 2000’s and it was very clean and for the first time in my life I was able to see the turret and stairs facing the Clayton side that was completely overgrown in the 60’s. The Calumet harbor was filled with boats, so many that “finger docks” sprung out from the stone walkways to accommodate all the customers. Today none of those era remain, though a few new ones have sprouted according to photo’s I’ve seen.
Here’s a mystery and a puzzler – why was the Calumet Island Skiff House roof and the taxi boat painted orange? We called it “Calumet Orange” in our days there during the 1960’s for lack of a better term. Here’s what I think: advertising. Calumet Island was a marina back then and a business needs to attract proper attention. If you looked across the river from Clayton, there was no mistaking that orange roof! The island itself is beautiful to look at, but that glint of orange would surely draw your eye and make you ask “Why? What’s over there?” The answer was “a marina, a nice place to keep your boat”. A short while into the 60’s the marina’s small taxi boat got a hull of the same color. I suspect for the same reason. It became a matching extension to the marina at Calumet Island. What do you think? If there’s another reason you know about, it would be interesting if you’d share it.
Clayton is different. To me, one of the big differences between then and now are the coal docks. As a kid, it was so neat to see the big ships close up while they took on coal for fuel. I can still hear the very unique sound of the coal as it dropped down the long chutes into the ship’s storage areas. Watching these behemoths maneuver to the mooring and deckhands securing the steel cables to the huge pilings and cleats left indelible images in my head. I’ve seen pictures of that part of Clayton today and it has certainly been spruced up since the coal docks went away. The adjacent town docks were configured a bit differently then, and the Golden Anchor restaurant sat above the side opposite the coal docks (and as I recall, the US Customs office). Occasionally, small single-deck wooden tour boats docked next to the Golden Anchor, I believe part of the Uncle Sam Boat Tours line. And far down the other river-side of town was McCormick’s restaurant, a period photo of which can be found in the Thousand Islands Life article in the References below, as well as Rice’s Marina where my father got his minnows for our weekly fishing trips to Grindstone Island.
Alexandria Bay? Well, that was a far-away destination to me! Every few summers my family would make the voyage there from Calumet Island. I remember how neat is was to pass under the 1000 Islands Bridge as cars passed overhead, seeing a hotel near where we docked (I believe it was the Edgewood Resort), and a western-themed family spot called “Adventure Town”. They had wild west shows and a train ride that included a “real” gold robbery! (You did not want to be the kid sitting on the bag of gold when the bad guys came a’ ridin’ in!) The link I had below has gone dead, but if you’re interested in Adventure Town, you can probably find a clip on YouTube.
In this old postcard, you can see the street-side view of McCormick’s Restaurant next to the old American Boat Line tourboat office. For more information on the American Boat Line and their 1000 Islands tours, see this post I wrote.
Now it’s your turn. How does it compare? What’s still there and what isn’t? Are boat operators any better or worse today than at that earlier period of time? Has anything changed significantly in the past few decades? What’s your favorite timeless spot? Leave a comment below and share your recollections of the area both past and present. It’ll be fun!
- Adventure Town
- McCormick’s restaurant