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THE DODGE FAMILY AND THE GROSSE POINTES
By Michael W. Skinner
The Dodge brothers, John and Horace, were born in Niles, Michigan in 1864 and 1868, respectively. …The brothers received their first big break when the Olds plant burned in Detroit in March, 1901. The company founder, Ransom E. Olds, trying to avert a production delay sure to lead to a business failure, immediately reestablished Olds as an assembly company. The Dodges secured a contract to supply three thousand automobile transmissions.
While the brothers were busy building a firm business, their personal lives were equally busy. John was the first to marry in 1892, taking Ivy Hawkins as his wife. The union led to the birth of John’s first three children: Winifred, born in March, 1894, followed by Isabel Cleves in February, 1896, and John Duval in August, 1898. Meanwhile, Horace had married Christina Anna Thomson in July, 1896 (she was later to drop her first name). The Horace Dodges had two children: Delphine Ione born in January, 1899, and Horace, Jr. born in August, 1900.
In October, 1902, John lost his wife, Ivy, to tuberculosis. He had great difficulty maintaining his business and caring for his children following his loss. Consequently, John Dodge married a friend of his sister-in-law, Isabelle Smith, in December 1902. This marriage was concealed so well that it was not known outside the family until 1980, when John Dodge’s last surviving child died and his papers became available. John and Isabelle separated in 1905 and were divorced in 1907. Once this divorce was final he married his secretary, Matilda Rausch, in that same year.
In 1903, the Dodge brothers gambled everything, breaking the contract with Olds to build subassemblies for a new company, Ford and Malcomson. When this company was unable to make payment for parts supplied, the brother accepted ten percent of the succeeding company, Ford Motor Company, in June, 1903.
With the great success of this new association with Ford, John and Horace were able to pursue their boyhood interests. Horace built succeedingly more powerful yachts, finally ending up with the fastest speedboat on the Great Lakes, the forty-foot Hornet. To be closer to the water, he purchased land adjoining the Detroit Country Club on Jefferson Avenue near Fisher Road (later the site of the second “Rose Terrace” in Grosse Pointe Farms). Here he had Albert Kahn design the mansion he called "Rose Terrace."
John built a home at 33 East Boston Boulevard at Woodward Avenue in 1906 and, following his marriage to Matilda in 1907, he purchased 320 wooded acres near Rochester. This was the first of nine farms that he would buy in this area, eventually creating the 1400-acre Meadowbrook Farm.
In 1910, Horace and John contracted with Albert Kahn to build the 5.1-million-square-foot Dodge Main complex with the idea of building their own automobile. This dream came true in 1915 with the introduction of the Dodge Brothers motorcar. By 1916, production reached 100,000 units – catapulting Dodge Brothers to number three in the industry. By 1918, they sold their stock in the Ford Motor Company to Henry Ford.
Still residing on Boston Boulevard, John Dodge started his second family. He and Matilda had three children: Frances in 1914, Daniel George in 1917, and Anna Margaret in 1919.
The yacht Hornet proved too small for Horace's tastes, and in 1913 he commissioned Gielow and Orr to build a new 180-foot ship to be known as the Nokomis. This yacht was followed by a still larger Nokomis II in 1915 and finally the largest private yacht on the Great Lakes, the 267-foot Delphine in 1920.
In 1918, to be closer to his brother, John purchased a large site with water frontage in Grosse Pointe Farms. John intended to build the largest home in the Detroit area, with 110 rooms and 24 baths. He added a peninsula with dock to this land for his new 104-foot power cruiser.
In January, 1920, the Dodge brothers attended the New York Auto Show. While at this show, both brothers were stricken by pneumonia. Tragically, while Horace survived, John died on January 14, 1920. Horace was devastated by the loss and never recovered, following his beloved brother in death on December 10, 1920. The brothers were once again together, now in the imposing mausoleum they had built in Woodlawn Cemetery in 1913.
In 1923, Matilda Dodge sold the Boston Boulevard house and moved into a charming three-story home on Lincoln Road, just a few doors from Jefferson Avenue and her sister-in-law's "Rose Terrace." She still had not decided whether or not to complete her late husband’s dream house on Lake Shore Drive (although the greenhouse was fully operational and was eventually sold to her head gardener, Mr. DePetris).
Matilda Dodge remarried in 1925. She and her second husband, Alfred Wilson, built Meadowbrook Hall on the Rochester farm property. This house, completed in 1929, incorporated many details (windows, stonework, etc.) removed from the unfinished Lake Shore Drive mansion, surely sealing its fate. The shell of this house was finally dismantled in 1940. Today, this site is covered by homes on Harbor Hill and the man-made peninsula is the private reserve of the street’s residents.
In 1926, Anna Thomson Dodge purchased the Charles Swift house adjoining her residence, "Rose Terrace," as a gift for her son, Horace, Jr. He resided in this home, whenever he was in the Pointes, until his untimely death in 1963. After that, Mrs. Dodge’s niece, Mrs. Yvonne Ranger, owned the home until it was razed in 1985.
Also in 1926 Anna Thomson Dodge remarried. Her second husband, an actor, was Hugh Dillman. In 1930 they tore down the first "Rose Terrace" and built a second home by the same name the following year. Fashioned after a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, it was arguably the most opulent home in the Pointes. Following Mrs. Dodge's death on June 2, 1970 it stood empty until being demolished in 1976 to make way for a subdivision.
In 1922, John Dodge's first child, Winifred Dodge Gray, married Wesson Seyburn. Together, they built a French country chateau at 16800 Jefferson where Mrs. Seyburn resided until her death in 1980. This home was razed in 1981 and today is the site of the Sycamores Lane development near Jefferson and Cadieux in the City of Grosse Pointe.
While Dodge heirs maintain residences in the area, the passing of the first and second generations of the "auto" Dodges and their great estates have sadly contributed to the end of another era in the Pointes.
Rose Terrace 1 – Horace Dodge Home
Name derived from balustrade upper terrace leading to a lower terrace level extensively planted with formal rose gardens. Ornate wrought iron and limestone entry gates. Exterior of deep red limestone trimmed with light-gray granite. First floor contained extensive wood paneling, coffered ceilings, music room with an organ, living room, dining room with built in display cabinets, den, study, kitchen, pantries.
Second floor contained master suite overlooking the lake, bedrooms for children, and guest bedrooms and guest bedroom suites. Third floor contained a large playroom, sewing room, storage room, and servant bedrooms. Lower level contained a gym, vegetable cellar, laundry, workroom, room for ice machine, room for indoor drying of clothes. Rose Terrace I was completed in 1910 for $4 million.
After Horace and John’s death in 1920, the Dodge Brothers Co. was sold to Dillon, Read and Company for $146 million in 1925. Anna Dodge was considered to potentially be the richest women in the world with a daily income of $40,000. (Heritage Nov. 1986, pg. 31)
Rose Terrace II – Anna Dodge Home
Rose Terrace II was built in 1934. Rose Terrace I was razed to build the new Rose Terrace II, only the steps leading down to the terraced rose gardens remained from the original Rose Terrace I. The architect of Rose Terrace II was Horace Trumbauer.
Completed in 1934 for a cost over $7 million dollars, Rose Terrace II was considered the finest house of its kind in the U.S. It was a close but much larger copy of the Hamilton Rice estate, "Miramar" in Newport, Rhode Island, which itself was modeled after the Petit Trianon in Versaille.
Made of steel frame, reinforced concrete foundation, exterior walls of fire resistant brick covered by Indian limestone. Rose Terrace II contained 15 fireplaces, 40 sets of French doors. Elaborate wrought iron gates provided entrance to the grounds, a long circular drive led to a balustraded forecourt on the first floor, which held a series of reception rooms, formal dining room, library, breakfast room, 2 cozy sitting rooms, a 60 foot long music room (contents of music room now in the DIA). The music room contained the pipe organ from the first Rose Terrace. The first floor also featured a card room, bar room and kitchen pantry. An elevator decorated with Chinese silk panels and mirrors connected the main and second floor. The second floor could also be accessed by the large square marble staircase with wrought iron railings.
Mrs. Dodge's private suite occupied the entire right wing of the second floor. The master bath tub was made of royal porcelain enclosed in marble. There were 8 guest bedrooms and 8 baths on the second floor. Two offices and two sitting rooms were also found on this floor. The third floor held the servant quarters, including 12 maids’ rooms, an apartment with living room for the housekeeper, 6 rooms for male servants, valet room, cedar closets and pressing rooms. The lower level held a gym, kitchen, dining hall for staff, an ice cream parlor, flower room, wine cellar, and separate storage vaults for furs, rugs and silver. Rose Terrace II sat on 8.8 acres.