It all began just seven years after the end of the American Civil War when four Detroit sportsmen met in E. B. Smith’s bookstore in Downtown Detroit.
The date was May 1872. Their purpose was to form a hunting and fishing club, which they and others of the same bent might use for mutual enjoyment and comradeship. On June 4, 1872, they submitted the Articles of Association, which created the “St. Clair Fishing and Shooting Club of Detroit.”
Following the formal incorporation of the Club, these founders purchased a tract in the St. Clair Flats adjacent to Harsens Island, which in reality was little more than swampland. But it suited their purposes just fine. The fish were there for the taking and the ducks flew each fall. In short order, they had constructed – on stilts – 26 boathouses and a clubhouse at a total cost of $l,514.33.
For the first 68 years of its existence, access to the club was available only by water. By 1875, regular ferry service to the Club was available, and by 1890 you could depart from the foot of Woodward Avenue and arrive at the Club just one hour later. In 1890, the Great Lakes Steamer, Tashmoo (capable of carrying up to 4,000 passengers), began its service from Detroit to Port Huron, and the Club was one of its regular stops.
In 1902, the original Articles of Association expired and the Club was reorganized as “The Old Club.” The origins of this name are lost somewhere in the annals of history, but today the name seems more appropriate than ever.
Following that reorganization, the face of The Old Club began to rapidly undergo change. In 1912, the first tennis court was constructed, with two more courts added the following year. In 1917, the “Ritz” was built, offering sumptuous accommodations for club members who wanted overnight accommodations.
In 1924, the Grayling II Motor Launch was purchased and provided regular service to the Club from Woods Landing in Detroit. That same year, construction of The Old Club’s golf course began, but it would take three years before the full nine holes were in play. Then, in 1926, the present clubhouse and swimming pool were added.
1932 marked the 60th anniversary of The Old Club, and a national depression did nothing to dampen the festivities. The steamer, Tashmoo, provided service to The Old Club three times a day, free of charge. The weekly rate at the Ritz for two people, including all meals, was $11.00. If you didn’t want to stay overnight, breakfast was 75 cents, lunch was $1.00, and dinner was $1.75.
In 1940, it finally became possible to reach The Old Club by car when the final bridge from Harsen’s Island was completed. In 1961, the trap shooting range was added and the golf course completely redone.
Well, so much for history. Here it is the twenty first century,, and The Old Club has never been more alive and well. Today, when people ask, “Just what is The Old Club?” the response is, “That’s not an easy question to answer.”
The Old Club started as, and still remains, a Premiere Island Resort and Yacht Club , The lure of the open blue water is still one of the great assets of The Old Club, whether it is prowling the rivers and flats in search of the wily small mouth bass…or sitting on the boardwalk watching the spectacular boats pass.
And, then there are the three brand new clay tennis courts, the totally redone 9-hole golf course, the heated swimming pool, and the trap shooting range.
Of course, The Old Club is a social club. Every weekend during the summer season, there are cocktail parties and dinner dances – ranging from the black tie Commodore’s Ball to the Country and Western Night…and everything in between.
More than anything else, The Old Club is a “family” club. This definition carries two meanings: First, The Old Club is for families. Children and grandchildren are always welcome and there is even a special room in the clubhouse set aside for their activities. But, beyond this, the members of The Old Club make up a very special “family.” There is always a sense of belonging to a very special group of people who are privileged to know and associate with one another. There is always a wave of welcome, a warm smile, a handclasp, and an unspoken but always acknowledged fellowship among us all.
In the end, The Old Club is really nothing more or less than the generations of people who have come to treasure it over all the years of its existence…and continues to do so today.