OPINION: Henry Ford’s well-appointed freighter was reduced, reused and recycled

The Benson Ford Shiphouse as it overlooks Lake Erie. Photo courtesy, Bryan Kasper

Phil Egan

Over the past 81 years the Blue Water Bridge has seen tens of thousands of vessels pass beneath it.

Each has a story; from passenger cruise ships like the Noronic and North America, to fishing boats, industrial lakers, ocean-going cargo vessels and Canadian warships.

But one of the strangest stories of any ship that’s sailed past the Imperial City belongs to the Benson Ford.

When launched in 1924, the Benson Ford and her sister ship, the Henry Ford II, were the most modern vessels on the Great Lakes. Named for Henry Ford’s grandsons, the coal and iron-ore carriers were the cornerstones of the Ford Motor Company’s lake transport system.

When the Benson Ford sailed past ship-watchers in Sarnia on her maiden voyage she was hauling coal from Toledo to Duluth, and returned with iron ore for the Ford Fort Rouge plant in Dearborn.

After 57 years of service, the freighter was retired in 1981 and sat in dry dock four year. But that’s when its second life began: not for the entire vessel but for what had been its nerve centre. An Ohio couple had the entire front bow removed, including its walnut- panelled staterooms, dining room, galley, and a passenger lounge designed by Henry Ford himself.

Welders and cutters separated and removed the forward superstructure, which was lifted by crane onto a barge. The torso-less head of the Benson Ford was then towed to South Bass Island in the western, shallow end of Lake Erie. Also known as Put-in-Bay, the Ohio maritime tourist town had been headquarters for Oliver Hazard Perry and the U.S. fleet during the War of 1812.

On the island, more cranes lifted the salvaged front onto a 30-foot promontory overlooking Lake Erie. Today, privately-owned by a gentleman named Bryan Kasper and renamed the Benson Ford Shiphouse, the vessel has been permanently “put on the rocks” at Put-in-Bay.

Kasper’s favourite spot in the home is the pilothouse, he told The Journal.

“The sun sets right in front of you. You’re probably 75 feet off the water and you just get a staggering view,” he said.

The four-level, 7,000-square-foot residence features a massive family room, five bedrooms, five full baths, a dining room, living room, reading room, galley, and, of course, the pilot house.

The Benson Ford Shiphouse has been featured on MTV’s Extreme Cribs, Home & Garden TV’s Extreme Homes, the Travel Channel, The British Daily Mirror, Ohio Magazine, the National Enquirer and others.