Historic Detroit

Detroit Boat Club (second)

Following the Great Fire of 1848, which destroyed the Detroit Boat Club’s first boat house, the D.B.C. was not particularly active.

Many of the members had moved away from the city or were too busy rebuilding after the fire to focus much time hosting events and parties like they used to. Four years after the fire, in 1852, the Detroit Free Press asked, “What has become of the once gallant and celebrated ‘boat club’ that used to get up those delightful aquatic excursions of a few years since? Can any of our readers inform us?” Has the ‘bonny boat’ departed this breathing world?”

A year later in 1853, the Free Press shared information about a regatta held in Sandusky, Ohio, that appeared in the Sandusky Register that was inviting any organized teams on Lake Erie, Detroit and Maumee rivers to participate. The Free Press finished the blurb asking, “Have we an organized boat club among us? - That is the question. If there is, we have not have heard of its existence. If there is not, there ought to be one.”

Three years later, a group of new members answered the call. On Aug. 23, 1856, George A. Baker, James T. Baker, Warham S. Brown, Joseph M. Brown, Thomas S. Gillet, Samuel E. Pittman, B.F. Baker, F. Buttrick, Thomas Sheldon, N.G. Bostwick, An. N. Rood, H. B. Reeve and Selah V. Reeve and basically reorganized the D.B.C. from the ground up, putting the old members on an honorary list. They wrote a new club charter and elected Warham S. Brown, president; George A. Baker, vice-president, Samuel E. Pittman as secretary & treasurer; and James T. Baker, coxswain.

The six-oared Frolic, which was saved during the Great Fire of 1848, was pulled out of Capt. Jenkins’ barn and renamed the Wolverine. The boat was later stored in Edmund Brush’s boathouse at his home in nearby Grosse Pointe. The Wolverine was joined by a new six-oared barge that was purchased by the club.

They rented out space in this carpentry shop located off Atwater Street between the foot of Rivard and Hastings streets. Their boat room was located in a 5-foot space underneath the floor of the shop. The inside was whitewashed with only one door for light and entrance, which was so near the water level that wooden sawhorses were frequently required. They used a space above the carpentry shop for their dressing room and held their meetings in the office of the draughtsman of the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad. An eight-oared barge was ordered from Chris Toms of New York in September 1857 and named the Camilla. This boat was famous in the club’s history and remained with the club until it burned in an 1893 fire that destroyed that boat house, as well.

The D.B.C. rented space in this building until the fall of 1858 when they constructed a new boat house at the foot of Hastings Street. The carpentry shop was later occupied by the short-lived Spartan Boat Club from 1874 until they disbanded in 1876. The building was then purchased by the newly formed Centennial Boat Club and was occupied by them until 1877 when they built a new boathouse in between the D.B.C. and Zephyr boat houses between Joseph Campau and McDougall. The building was demolished not long after so the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee Railroad could build a new railway ferry slip.

Today it would most likely have been located somewhere within the parking lot at the corner of Rivard and Atwater streets, across from the big parking garage.