Rezoned and Repurposed: The Shiphouse

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It’s hard not to do a double take when you see this ship beached precariously on a rocky shore on Lake Erie, emerging from a woodland forest – is that for real?

Indeed, it is. The Benson Ford was a real-world shipping vessel built in Michigan in 1924, for use by the Ford Motor Company.

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The ship actively roamed the Great Lakes hauling iron ore for over 50 years until it was decommissioned in December of 1981. At that time it was renamed the John Dykstra II in order for the original name to be used on a newer ship.

So how did it end up here?

The boat was sold for use as a barge, but the new owner had a change of heart and instead opted for a very unconventional use: a private home.

On July 3, 1986, the entire forward superstructure of the Dykstra, including the forecastle deck, was removed and transported by … barge to South Bass Island, also called Put-in-Bay. The 62’ X 59’ foot section would be initially used as a 7,000 square foot, four story, summer home for the Sullivans. The home would include the walnut paneled state rooms, dining room, galley, and passenger lounge designed by Henry Ford for his own pleasure while traversing the Great Lakes on business.

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Now the ship’s sawed-off “superstructure” sits atop a rocky cliff overlooking Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie north of Sandusky, Ohio.

In 1999, the ship was sold again and bought by a father and son duo who have used it ever since as a private residence. They quickly renamed the ship the Benson Ford and set about renovating the first floor to include a garage and massive family room. In total, the house/ship has 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms.

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She looks a little chopped-off from the back-end, but her front end and interior have been lovingly preserved.

Have a look inside…

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The Benson Ford sports original black walnut wood paneling and brass fittings…

The Shiphouse may be a private home, but it has not been in hiding since its reincarnation. No, it has been widely featured in many newspaper articles and television shows like HGTV Extreme Homes, MTV Extreme Cribs, and on the Travel Channel.

Here’s the galley kitchen:

And the captain’s table:

It may be a ship, but the bedrooms are rather large – not the tight seaman’s quarters one might imagine:

The pilot house (or bridge) is almost perfectly intact:

How awesome would it be to live here?

For more history and photographs of the Benson Ford, check out the Shiphouse website.


***Update on the St. Cloud Hotel I posted about on Wednesday:

Looks like the historic hotel has been granted a stay of execution – for now. The community has rallied together to try to buy time for funding to be found in order to save the St. Cloud. But the owners of the hotel are threatening to pull the plug at any moment if the community doesn’t basically cough up money for restoration. The private owners – a real estate investment company – are basically holding a crucial piece of local heritage hostage.

I’m also perturbed because this building is VERY close to my house and there have been no air quality impact studies done or dust abatement plans filed in the event that it is demolished.

I heard back directly from a city councilman yesterday that HLC Enterprises (who own the hotel) have not even applied for a demolition permit yet, despite the fact that they publicly floated that rumor for over 24 hours. And on HLC Enterprises’s website they released a statement Wednesday night saying they “are contemplating demolishing the building in the very near future“.

Hmmm…. something ain’t right about this. They say “very near future” but no permits have even been applied for as of yet. How is that possible? The permitting process to destroy a historic building should take months, if not years!

There’s talk of it being a publicity stunt on the part of HLC Enterprises. Not cool.

I will keep a very close eye on this and keep you posted on how things turn out!

The important thing is, it’s Friday and the St. Cloud Hotel has lived to see another day.




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