For decades, Bald Knob Marina on the Fox River – a popular inland waterway in the region – has been the central hub for boaters in Johnsburg and the surrounding area.
Even for nonboaters, its presence has shaped the traditions of many in the area, said Susan Eckdahl, a former Bald Knob employee who worked there for 20 years. Every Fourth of July, hundreds would gather at the Bald Knob Marina to watch the fireworks show put on by the Oak Park Lounge, another icon in the region.
Bald Knob Marina, previously owned by Bill Wehrs Jr., recently was sold, however. The gathering spot for many for more than 30 years became The Boat House of Chicago as of Jan. 10.
“Bill did a great job of growing the business over 30 years and I think from our standpoint we’re looking to really do some exciting things there in the near term and in the long term to make that just a spot to be on the water,” said Rick Gasaway, chief operating officer for the Boat House.
Eckdahl, a former girlfriend of Bill Wehrs Sr., said she was surprised when she heard about the name change. She said there is a lot of history embedded within the area, and Wehrs Sr. kept the name Bald Knob when he bought it 30 years ago from the Bald Knob Resort.
“He kept it Bald Knob because people were familiar with it,” she said.
The Boat House, a family-owned boat dealership owned by CEO Kevin Code, is adding the Johnsburg marina to its list of seven locations, with four in the Midwest and three in Florida.
“The acquisition of Bald Knob Marina allows us to strengthen our position in the Midwest by giving us greater access to Illinois boaters with a premier location and strong ties to the boating community in the Chain O’ Lakes area. We’re excited to work with Bill Wehrs Jr. and the rest of the team at Bald Knob to add our competencies and develop an exciting destination point on the water,” Code said.
Executives with the Boat House were interested in buying a property directly on the water, unlike their Prairie Grove location. Bald Knob Marina’s previous owners said that with 15 lakes and 45 miles of river, their marina was in the “Key West of the Midwest.” For The Boat House, that was the ideal location for which they were searching.
“It was a good opportunity because [Bill’s] goals met our goals and we just thought in Johnsburg there, it’s just a terrific location. It will help us not only continue to expand our properties and sell our boat brands, it will allow us to offer all the services we do to some of our other locations that are on the water,” Gasaway said.
The Boat House’s owners currently are integrating a plan to merge the two locations.
For Bill Wehrs Jr., who wasn’t exactly looking to sell, the opportunity just felt right, he said. Wehrs Jr. is close to retirement age and doesn’t have any children to take over the business. When staff with The Boat House approached him with the opportunity in September, he decided it was the right time, he said.
“It was a good opportunity. The Boat House was interested, and they seemed to be the right people for our customers,” Wehrs Jr. said.
Although Wehrs Jr. is retiring, he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He will be working in Johnsburg with The Boat House of Chicago for a few years during the transition period.
“Kevin and his team have a great vision for the future of this facility, and we are eager to move forward. The Boat House provides our team with additional resources to grow while continuing to offer the service that our customers have come to expect at Bald Knob Marina. I am thrilled to have found such a strong company to take this facility and further develop what our family started, to maximize the potential,” he said.
Current customers don’t need to worry about any dramatic changes, Gasaway said. Services offered by Bald Knob Marina will continue, including mechanical, dry stack in-and-out service, winter storage and summer slip services.
“We’re just going to bring another level to that,” Gasaway said.
The Boat House of Chicago plans to add to the services currently offered. They will be bringing top brand boats to the area, as well as a boat club and water activities, including surfing school and wake boarding. For the Boat House, the changes are meant to “amp up the energy.”
“We’re incredibly excited to have this opportunity to move into the facility. We think it’s a great experience and it’s really going to help us to provide all the boaters and their families with a positive experience on the water,” Gasaway said.