Belle Isle: Statues & Monuments

27 Sep

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Belle Isle is often referred to as the Crown Jewel of Detroit’s public park system, I say it is a jewel with many facets. Originally settled by French colonists in the 18th century, Detroit city fathers purchased the island in 1879 for $200,000 from the Campau family. There is the very public side of the island; the Scott Fountain, Casino, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Conservatory, Giant Slide, and the picnic pavilions. There are also a number of areas and things that go unexplored by the average visitor. Our goal today was to drive around the island pointing out things you may not have noticed or even knew they existed; to take a walk through the nature of the island, and to share some of the 5 magnificent miles of scenic shoreline. Belle Isle provides spectacular views of the Detroit skyline, Canada, the Ambassador Bridge and a steady stream of freighter traffic.

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Statues pay tribute to important figures in business, music and literature. Johann Frederick Von Schiller who wrote “Ode to Joy” is perched upon a pedestal, book in hand, peacefully gazing at nature. A white marble bust of Dante Alighieri, Father of Italian literature stands tall and serious. James Brady founder of the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Fund holds a small child near to him. A single soldier stands at attention representing the Civil War Grand Army of of the Republic. Quite impressive is the tribute to Samuel Francis Smith, author of “America”; Art Deco in style, eagles sit perched at each corner, a flag pole reaches up toward the sky as Old Glory waves in the air.You have probably seen the large statue of a man on a horse; Major General Alpheus Sharkey Williams, the detail is exquisite. One of my favorites is “Partners”, a newsboy and his dog.

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The island is full of beautiful things; a bridge near the Casino building is just gorgeous. The sides of the bridge are incredibly ornate wrought iron bent into loops and curlicues now painted bright turquoise. The fancy carved stone columns at the ends let us know that it was built by the King Bridge Company in 1893. In another area, situated further back from the roadway rests the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon; this neo-gothic tower was designed by Clarence E Day. Stunning in design and detail, it was dedicated in 1940 to the newspaper columnist who raised most of the building fund from her readers. Today the fenced in area surrounding it looks forgotten, tall grass and weeds grow freely, still, the sound of cast bronze bells continue to ring out and delight all of those who hear it. The William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse is the only all marble lighthouse in the US; located at the east end of the island it’s owned by the city of Detroit. There’s a path that will lead you out to it, it’s a bit of a walk, but I can assure you it is worth the effort. Designed by Albert Kahn and built in the Art Deco style it’s a thing of beauty. Made of White Georgia Marble and topped off with a bronze lantern room, the light is visible up to 15 miles away on Lake St. Clair. They actually extended the eastern tip of the island 1/4 mile into the river back in 1929 just so they could build the lighthouse on this spot.

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The north east end of the island is quiet and secluded, nature has reclaimed much of it. If you’re the adventurous type there are pathways and nature trails that lead past the Blue Heron Lagoon and over to the shoreline, at one point you get a spectacular view of the open waterway leading out to Lake St Clair. Earlier in the year people from Cherry Creek and Sleeping Bear wineries proposed putting in a vineyard in this area, using the Casino building as a tasting room and sales area, we’ll see what happens…… 

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10 Responses to “Belle Isle: Statues & Monuments”

  1. ClueHunter22 July 26, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

    Is there a comprehensive list of all of the statues here, somewhere? I’m on an online search for a particular statue which ought to be on Belle Isle or quite nearby in Detroit. A list of all of the statues would sure be helpful.


    • detroitdvotion July 27, 2016 at 5:35 pm #

      Can you tell the name of the statue you are interested in? Maybe we can help you out with that.

      • ClueHunter22 July 28, 2016 at 9:04 pm #

        Hello again, I don’t know the proper name, only that a rather elderly person referred to it as “the Farmer”. I’m pretty sure that if it exists in the modern day, it pretty much has to be on Belle Isle or on the bridge approach to Belle Isle, and that probably anyone who saw it would think, “hey, that’s a statue of a farmer”.

        Hopefully it actually exists. 🙂

      • detroitdvotion July 29, 2016 at 12:12 am #

        We’ll keep an eye out and let you know what we find!

  2. Henry Golemba November 16, 2017 at 6:07 pm #

    In the park next to the conservatory, there’s a statue of an elk or other ruminant. Very beautiful. Can you tell me more about it or where to look it up? Thanks.

    • detroitdvotion November 16, 2017 at 9:44 pm #

      Hi Henry. The statue is a Leaping Gazelle, it was Marshall Frederick’s first commissioned piece known as the Levi L Barbour Memorial Fountain. You can read more about it on our post titled “Detroit…Just Wandering”. We also visited the Marshall Frederick Museum in our “Saginaw” post. I hope this helps. Thanks for stopping by DetroitDvotion!

  3. Greg Bowman March 14, 2018 at 5:48 pm #

    I admire the Art Work every time I’m on the island. Who are the crafts people who produced such magnificent pieces. Particularly the sailor and the infantryman in the first photo? I’ve read the inscriptions but there is no mention of the artist: .I’d like to see more of their work.

  4. Mike Edwartowski May 11, 2022 at 5:59 pm #

    I have several old photos of many Belle Isle sites. One in particular depicts a crowd standing around a white-ish boulder with what appears to be a sundial on top . Would anyone know what and where that monument was or might still be ? I also have photos of the digging of the grand canal.

  5. Barb Dowdy February 24, 2023 at 11:25 am #

    Could you post a picture of the back of the chair that James Scott is sitting in by the fountain. I understand there is an inscription on it.

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