Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Detroit Boat Club

The Detroit Boat Club (DBC), organized on February 18, 1839, is one of the oldest boat clubs in America, and one of the oldest social organizations in Michigan. Originally formed for the purpose of establishing rowing on the Detroit River, the club eventually expanded to include other activities.

Many original club members are recognizable Detroit names: Brush, Farnsworth, Campau, Sibley, Holbrook, Williams, Kellogg and Bates. The four-oared Georgiana was the club’s first boat. The initial three DBC clubhouses were located on the Detroit shoreline until the group arranged for a lease on Belle Isle in 1890. Fire destroyed the first two facilities built on the island in 1893 and 1901.

In December 1902 a new fireproof structure, designed in the Mediterranean style, was constructed in the same location. Built on pilings driven into bedrock beneath the Detroit river, the clubhouse sits just off the shore of Belle Isle. Over time, the river around the clubhouse was filled in to create access to docks and space for a pool and band shell.

Rowing continued as the club’s predominant activity although sailing and power boating slowly became popular among many club members. Numerous crews, teams and individuals brought national championship trophies home to the Detroit Boat Club.

In 1996 the Detroit Boat Club organization moved out of Detroit, following the acquisition of the clubhouse by the City of Detroit. However, rowing activities, based in the old DBC clubhouse, carry on by the separate Detroit Boat Club Crew, supported by the Friends of Detroit Rowing. These organizations are also spearheading efforts to restore the clubhouse building, and use it as a public event space, now called the Belle Isle Boat House.



Detroit Boat Club postcard, 1915

Detroit Boat Club photograph, 1937

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