Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – A Floating Mansion – The Delphine

Given our proximity to Lake St. Clair, we thought it was about time we took to the water and introduced you to a floating mansion, the Delphine.


Courtesy of Grosse Pointe Historical Society

With the increased popularity of the ‘tiny home’ and the desire to downsize to around 200 sq ft, it is a poignant reminder of how times have changed. Back in 1921 the world’s largest private yacht was being completed at the Great Lakes Engineering Works, and at 267-feet long downsizing was the last thing on the mind of its new owner – Horace Dodge.*

The commission of the Delphine was the last in a long line of yachts owned by Dodge.

Prior to the launch of the Delphine he had owned a number of vessels, with many being requisitioned by the US Navy at some point in their history.

Horace Dodge’s fleet:

  • The Hornet (1) – co-owned with John Dodge – 40-feet long steam launch
  • The Hornet (2) – 1905 – co-owned with John Dodge – 96-feet long day yacht
  • The Hornet II – 1910 – co-owned with John Dodge – 99-feet long multipurpose vessel
  • Nokomis – 1913 – co-owned with John Dodge – 180-feet long cruising yacht – requisitioned by the US Navy in 1916
  • Delphine – 1914 – owned by Horace Dodge – 45-feet long launch used to commute to downtown Detroit.
  • Nokomis II – 1917 – co-owned with John Dodge – 243-feet long cruising yacht – requisitioned by the US Navy before completion.
  • Caroline – 1917 – owned by Horace Dodge, and purchased from Edward Ford, Ohio – 187-feet long – in 1919 the yacht was renamed the Delphine.
  • Anna D. – 1920 – owned by Horace Dodge – 53-feet long cruiser
  • Delphine II – 1920 – commissioned by Horace Dodge – 267-feet long private yacht

The Delphine II

Horace_Elgin_DodgeDodge commissioned his spectacular private yacht in 1920. It was designed by H.J. Gielow of New York, and built at the Great Lake Engineering Works, a shipyard in River Rouge, which Dodge would regularly visit to monitor its progress. Sadly however, Horace Dodge would not live to see the completion of the Delphine, he died on December 10, 1920.

With the yacht still under construction, Dodge’s wife Anna oversaw its completion, which finally concluded on April 2, 1921. The yacht, the largest private yacht in the world was launched to a fanfare of music and saluting whistles. It had cost over $2m to build, which is roughly $26 million today.

The yacht was enormous, consisting of 5 decks – orlop, lower, main, saloon and upper deck. As you would expect, each room was decorated superbly, and it was ultimately a mansion on the water, rivaling the interiors of many grand Grosse Pointe homes. The owner’s stateroom was an impressive 25’ x 20’ sq ft, while there were nine additional guest staterooms (14’ x 14’ sq ft) each with a private bathroom. The main deck contained a music room, card room and a passenger lounge. It is reported the ship was fitted with over 3,000 electric lights, and each room was fitted with its own telephone and a button to call the maids or porters.


Courtesy of superyachtworld.com


Courtesy of Grosse Pointe Historical Society


Courtesy of Grosse Pointe Historical Society

It is believed up to 20 guests could be accommodated on board, along with a crew of 55 – their accommodation was located in the bow.

The design of the boat provided maximum deck space in the length, and its shape was very different to many of the yachts created during that era.

Before the yacht could make its way to it’s new home to the dock behind Rose Terrace a 3,000-foot channel, 34ft wide had to be dredged from the main shipping channel to accommodate the ships 16-foot depth – its maximum depth when fully fueled.

Anna Dodge enjoyed many cruises around the Great Lakes, and regularly took it out of state. On one infamous trip to Florida in 1926, the Delphine caught fire while docked in New York City. This caused the boat to tip over onto its port side where it finally came to rest on the bottom of the Hudson River. (Anna Dodge was staying in a hotel at the time).

It was two months before the ship could be raised. The majority of the woodwork on the boat was lost, all machinery and its engines needed rebuilding, along with a major reconstruction of the original layout.

When the rebuild was complete the Delphine came back at her dock at Rose Terrace, however more drama was to follow. Research by John Polacsek states the yacht became the center of a legal dispute between Grosse Pointe Farms and the City of Grosse Pointe as to who would collect taxes on the vessel. It was deemed both cities could collect tax due to the position of the dock between the two communities, with 3.3ft of the boat located in Grosse Pointe Farms, and the remaining 31ft located within the boundary of the City of Grosse Pointe.

In 1942 the U.S Navy requisitioned the ship for use in World War II. The vessel served the Navy for 52 months, during this period she was known as the Dauntless.


The Delphine in military service, 1945, as the U.S.S. Dauntless. Courtesy of thetruthaboutcars.com

According to the Delphine website when the war ended Mrs. Dodge reportedly had to buy her yacht back, and based on research by John Polacsek she reportedly spent an additional $300,000 to make it habitable again.

The Delphine remained active on the Great Lakes until 1955, she then returned to her dock and remained moored outside of Rose Terrace, becoming quite the landmark on the lake. She left in October 1962, where she would experience more nautical adventures at the hands of many new owners.


Courtesy of Grosse Pointe Historical Society

In 1990 the Delphine made her first trip across the Atlantic and has resided in Europe ever since. Having undergone extensive renovation, she is currently for sale, existing as a thing of beauty and a testament to the exquisite design, opulence and taste of the roaring 20’s.

Click here to read the full history of the boat.

* The Detroit Motor Boat Club elected Horace Dodge as Commodore in 1913.


Written by Katie Doelle
© 2015 Higbie Maxon Agney


If you have a home or building you would like us to profile please contact Darby Moran – Darby@higbiemaxon.com – we will try and feature the property.

(For more historical information on Grosse Pointe, visit Grosse Pointe Historical Society).