Belle Isle: Statues and Monuments

11 Apr

Let’s go back to a warm, late September day in 2011 and enjoy a trip around Belle Isle.  I Wish that vineyard had come to fruition, I could use a glass right now…

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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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15 Responses to “Belle Isle: Statues and Monuments”

  1. Michael Ricketts April 11, 2020 at 5:19 pm #

    I’d love to have that eagle.

    • detroitdvotion April 11, 2020 at 5:30 pm #

      It is stunning! You’ll have to go check it out.

  2. Passport Overused April 11, 2020 at 10:50 pm #

    Great post 😁

  3. Linda Schaub April 12, 2020 at 10:50 pm #

    I must go visit Belle Isle again – every year I buy a State Park pass and have not used it yet. I am going to date myself here, but the last time I visited this venue, I walked in a “March of Dimes March for Babies” in 1973, the year I graduated from high school. Several friends from school also walked – at the head of the “pack” was the honorary spokesman, Bob Seger. My boss rides his bike there most days in the Summer. It is about a mile from our office and he goes during the day for a spin (his “spin” is over 20 miles).

    • detroitdvotion April 13, 2020 at 8:38 am #

      Oh My Gosh Linda, you must go back!! Love your story about the March of Dimes walk. The island offers a little bit of everything; nature, beautiful old architecture and splendid views of Detroit and Canada. Time to use that park pass ; )

      • Linda Schaub April 13, 2020 at 10:03 pm #

        I agree with you – use that park pass! I still have the certificate from that walk all those years ago; it is an old tattered boot and says “Order of the Battered Boot” and my name and the date. I am a saver, not a thrower. I follow the Detroit Audubon Society on Facebook – they are always going to Belle Isle and taking great pictures of birds. What am I waiting for?

      • detroitdvotion April 16, 2020 at 7:10 pm #

        I too am a saver! Lots of beauty at Belle Isle.

      • Linda Schaub April 16, 2020 at 9:52 pm #

        We both have our faults, but we know how to appreciate nature – I will try and pay it a visit once things are normal again.

      • detroitdvotion April 17, 2020 at 7:12 pm #

        You do that! Enjoy~

  4. stephen calkins April 14, 2020 at 2:38 pm #

    Renee-I have been enjoying your blog for several years, now, and have a file of all of them titled “Renee’s blog”. Today, since we are “house bound” I have been re-reading and enjoying them again. Thanks so much.Trust you and Kris are well and keeping sane. -Steve Calkins 

    • detroitdvotion April 14, 2020 at 4:53 pm #

      Steve! Great to hear from you. Glad you are ‘getting away’ through the blog. Kris and I are well. It’s a very different lifestyle right now and while we miss exploring we’re keeping busy here at home. You and Peg stay safe and stay healthy!

  5. E Garvin April 17, 2020 at 9:47 am #

    Well done. Can’t wait to vist again. Your article will be in hand to enhance our appreciation of this treasured island!!

  6. Julie July 18, 2020 at 7:40 am #

    So beautiful! Last time we were there was when Gina was 6 or 7. Definitely did not not see all of the statues and monuments. I would love to go again.

    • detroitdvotion July 19, 2020 at 9:20 am #

      Thanks Julie! It’s one of my all-time favorite places. Unfortunately some parts of the island are under water due to high water levels. Definitely worth a visit and when things return to normal you can bring Gina and her kids!

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