Overhead view of Harry Bennett Estate

Castle rock garden and towers

Arguably the toughest guy Detroit's auto industry ever produced, Bennett consciously burnished his macho image by firing guns indoors, shadow-boxing with visitors and by downplaying any sign of softness or sentimentality.

In 1937, he went so far as to inform Newsweek that he didn't even like flowers. Yet behind the guarded gates of his Ypsilanti estate he employed two gardeners who landscaped the property with flower-lined paths, arched walkway trellises entwined with rambling roses, stone planters brimming with multicolored vegetation, and, the focal point, a large mound garden with a spiral path filled with a lush, fragrant mixture of vivid flowers.

Visible above the garden are the castle's two towers, embellished with crenelations and gun loops and slits designed for defense against a home invasion by gangster assassins and union militants.

In later years winter snows weakened the mortar on the brick battlements, requiring their removal. The castle's second owner also leveled the mound garden.

 Castle view from river

Today most views of the Castle are obstructed by trees, but in Bennett's day the buff-colored brick home was visible from all directions on its perch overlooking the Huron River, c. 1943. 

Bennett planted a variety of shrubs and trees to beautify the original barren hillside. Several times a week neighbors heard the whir of power mowers as Bennett's gardeners cut grass from Geddes Rd south to the riverbank. 

Later owners of the estate, lacking Bennett's unlimited resources, found maintenance of the hillside unfeasible and abandoned it to the elements.

Baseball on Harsen's Island

Bennett, leaning against the fence in shorts, watches his oldest daughter Billie swat a softball delivered by pitcher Harry Kipke, the University of Michigan football coach and a member of Bennett's social circle, c. 1936.

Bennett bought secluded waterfront property at Harsen's Island on Lake St. Claire as a destination for his weekend cruises. He erected docks, a picnic area, a building with a rooftop observation deck, and a ball diamond. Ford photographers often filmed the games for Bennett, much as we take videos of family occasions today.

HB at helm of yacht

Bennett mans the helm of his steel-hulled yacht as his daughter sunbathes on the wheelhouse roof and guests move about the bow, c. 1936. Bennett invited relatives, friends, Ford customers and VIP's for weekend voyages on the Great Lakes from 1931 to 1941.

The trips, usually made in a caravan of yachts owned by his top lieutenants and friends, were family affairs; their young children and teenagers were regular passengers. Bennett stocked beer for adults, Coca-Cola for kids.

Dressed in cowboy attire, Bennett cooks steaks on an outdoor grill at his concrete "log house" on a man-made island across the Huron River from the castle, c. 1942.  The rustic single-story home, one of four on the estate, served as a gathering place for Bennett's weekend parties in the late 1930s-early 1940s.

Bennett transformed the property into a wild west dude ranch. Guests enjoyed horseback riding, rodeos, an open bar, petting zoo, swimming pool, and a large outdoor barbecue pit. Chefs from the Ford commissary catered the affairs. Beer flowed freely from kegs built into concrete trees.

Between 50 and 100 guests attended, including national heroes, sports celebrities and movie stars. Among the famous were Charles Lindbergh,Air Force Generals Emmett "Rosie" O'Donnell and Metal of Honor winner James "Jimmy" Doolittle, PGA champ Gene Sarazen, professional baseball and college football players and managers, and actors Tyrone Power, Joe E. Brown and Gene Autry, among others.

Henry Ford and his grandson Henry II attended Bennett's "roundups" on separate occasions.

 HB and family at Tiger game

Daughters Trudy and Billie join Esther Beattie, Bennett's future wife, and their father in Bennett's box on the first base line at Navin Field to watch the Detroit Tigers beat the Chicago Cubs to win the 1935 World Series. Two bodyguards provide protection from the back row of the box.

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