Harry Bennett Cabin north of Ypsilanti (photo courtesy of Bob Fox)
Recently I received an interesting email from the current owner of the property where one of Harry Bennett's old cabins still stands. It is in terrible shape and the roof is gone, but still, it's another cool Harry Bennett/Henry Ford structure made of cement but created to look like logs.
The new owner found my other stories about Harry Bennett's buildings and contacted me to see if I had information on this old cabin.
I did visit the cabin once back in the 1970s with my friend Pat Soraruf. So I had very few memories of the place. However, another friend of ours lived there for 3 years! So I found Bob Fox on Facebook. He graciously answered my questions for this post.
Retrokimmer Q&A with Bob Fox
RK: How did you find out about this cabin?
BF: New Year’s morning, 1969, after going to midnight mass and staying up all night, Pat Soraruf took me on a hike all the way from town to see this place that was hidden in a woods 1/2 mile from the nearest road. The door was open and inside there was an old couch. We built a fire in the fireplace to warm up and then fell asleep on the couch before walking back to town.
RK: What were your first thoughts when you saw the cabin?
BF: I loved the place. It was like being in a fairy tale. There were panels where the walls opened revealing hidden passages. And across the yard, the underground rooms were like the best forts a kid could ever build. It was also quiet there in the woods, making it feel like a place far -far away from all the troubles challenging teenaged life in the 60s.
RK: What were the coolest things about the cabin? Do you know when it was built?
Big Stone Fireplace
BF: The coolest thing was the architecture. The sculptured cement walls looked like logs complete with knots, bark, and growth rings. Also, the inside stonework and the woodwork (pine paneling) were top-notch. The higher one looks at the chimney over the fireplace, the bigger the stones get. Where the pine work met the stonework, the scribbled joinery was perfect. Eventually, I would learn how to do that, and I can’t ever do scribe work even now without thinking about those perfect fits at the cabin.
Floorplan by Bob Fox
RK: The worst things about living in the Cabin?
BF: The worst thing was not having electricity and running water, but those were also the things that made the place what it was. If the cabin had utilities, it wouldn’t have been available to me on my budget when I actually moved to the place 6 years later. I bought a generator, and eventually, with incredible do-it-yourself optimism, I got the well working again too.
If I did it again now, I would call a well guy and throw down the credit card. There were two brick outhouses (octagon-shaped) that had toilets that were supposed to flush automatically when you stood up. Wish I had detailed photos of those. Anyway, I would run new plastic lines to those now and get it all working as fast as I could. Even as a kid, not having an outhouse and having to go in the woods was a drag.
Floor Plan by Bob Fox
RK: What were the unique architectural features? Generator room info, sugar shack, etc. Interior. Exterior.
BF: The cabin complex was probably built in 1941—the same time as the concrete barn that is still by the road. The cabin was often referred to as (Harry) Bennett’s Hideout. The one bunker had a passive make-up air feed and the door seemed to be strategically set facing away from Detroit.
We speculated that Henry Ford had it done that way because he might have been aware of the possibility of atomic bomb development. When I was living there in the 70s, all the drains for the cabin and the bunkers still worked, as did all the underground electrical transmission lines.
I bought a generator and set it up in the generator/well bunker and the power worked in both the cabin and the other underground room; probably still works because underground power lines last a lot longer than above ground. Only the waterlines had gone bad, probably because they went so long without having water in them they rusted and disintegrated.
RK: How long were you there and what prompted you to give it up?
BF: I moved into the Cabin on August 1, 1975. I had a deal with the man who ran the horse farm and who lived in the farmhouse in the front, Tom Ewing. I did all the maintenance in exchange for having the cabin.
Things changed sometime in 1977 or 1978. There was a gas leak in Tom’s house that filled the attic. One night he turned off the kitchen light and the place exploded. There were big stories about that in the newspapers. He wasn’t killed because the place had double rafters and didn’t cave on him, even though the walls were blown out.
Ewing said that Bennett had it built that way because often it wasn’t a house bomb that would kill someone, but the house falling on them. Tom moved elsewhere and someone else took over the farm.
One day I came home and all my stuff had been stolen—tools and everything. It was more than I could recover from so I moved on. By then my father was retiring and leaving where he lived on Deep Run Farm on the south side of Ypsilanti—another amazing place, probably more amazing than the cabin really—and it had also been used and influenced by Henry Ford (as were many other places in the area). I took Deep Run Farm over in 1979 and lived there until it was turned into a shopping center in 2002.
RK: What do you think the cabin was probably used for and by whom?
BF: There were lots of rumors and speculation about how Ford and Bennett used the cabin. There are 2 little rooms with a connecting passage up inside the fireplace. A steel ladder to reach them that was hidden behind a secret opening next to one of the fireplaces. The spaces had cement block walls and were easily big enough for a couple people to hide inside.
The vents opened and everyone that knew about them thought they were probably gun ports. Behind another folding panel, there was a cocktail bar with a separate outside entrance—that bar had to be for Bennett’s boys because Henry Ford did not party.
Bob Fox 1970s in front of the Cabin
While I lived at the cabin, I kept diaries and journals. The journals have entries from other people that also lived there with me and participated in what we had going on. For instance, we didn’t have electricity most of the time, so we played a lot of acoustic music which turned into homemade music parties that we called Moon Squallors—but that’s another story.