The Pagoda House was originally built for Henry Ford and his family; this would be their second home in addition to their Fair Lane estate.  However, Mrs. Clara Ford disliked this riverfront location, deeming the water current to be too swift for her children to safely navigate without fear of drowning.  The Fords then sold the property to Harry Bennett, his director of personnel, by the early 1930s.

A stable / outhouse on the Pagoda property rumored to have a tunnel running from it to the main house. It was, and still is, considered unusual in Grosse Ile for a property to be completely fenced in as this one is.

According to Harry Bennett's grandson, Skip, Mr. Ford knew Mr. Bennett well enough to be a "cover man" in earlier years.  With Mr. Ford's health failing in the early 1940s, it became harder for him to "cover" Bennett's activities (presumably), yet word of his activities were not leaked to the media, in an effort to prevent tarnishing of the Ford name.  Skip mentions that Mr. Ford could likely be as responsible for any of the legendary stories circulating Mr. Bennett and / or the Pagoda property as anyone else. 

"I grew up on the island and their were tunnels under several of the homes. They were blocked off, filled in with concrete so all the stories of people exploring them were just old wives tales! We were told they were originally used between homes on the island for slave trades and illegal liquor runs."

"Back in the mid 60's my aunt lived down the street from the Pagoda house. It was empty for 3 or 4 years. Friends of my Aunt bought the place. It was a mess, kids vandalized the house, it was in rough shape."

"The Pagoda House was built after prohibition by (Harry) Bennett, Henry Ford's thug. The tunnel is not zig-zagged , but is curved slightly. I ran a new electrical service through it a few years ago. (The) upstairs of the house is still in really good original shape. The parlor and boat house is in bad shape."
The Grosse Ile Historical Society has held walk-throughs of the Pagoda House. This is the living room; the entrance to the secret passage would be behind the shelves to the right. (Photo: Connie Clark)
It is interesting to note that the source's information somewhat disputes that which may be found on Wikipedia:  Though Mr. Ford did purchase land between West River Road and the Thorofare Canal in the late 1920s, the Pagoda house was not built until 1939, and Mr. Bennett supervised its construction, not Mr. Ford.
Other "answer sites" are even more sketchy with actual information.  According to, the Pagoda House was "a bootleggers' drop... Canadian liquor (was brought in) by boat and reloaded into truck(s) to go across (an undisclosed) bridge to avoid bridges that were covered by Customs.  They had boat livery underneath the China-styled home in (the 1920's)."  This would put the property in line with the activities of the notorious "Purple Gang" rum runners, but again, this disputes the home's actual construction date.