HISTORICAL GALLERY & FUN FACTS

FUN FACTS


When did Belle Isle become an American Territory?

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris marked the end of the Revolutionary War and established the Detroit channel as the boundary between the U.S. and Canada, making Hog Island an American Territory. The British gave up all claims to the island as the Revolutionary War ended.

 

What is unique about the lighthouse on Belle Isle?

The William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse is the only marble lighthouse in the United States. It is a white, fluted 70-foot high tower made from Georgian Marble and was first lit on April 8th, 1930.

 

Did the Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse ever have a lighthouse keeper?

No, but there was another lighthouse that stood on Belle Isle.  In 1882, a lighthouse was constructed on the east side of Belle Isle facing the Canadian shore in the middle of about 20 acres of reed filled marsh. The island was a swampy, wilderness located less than three miles from Detroit’s City Hall. The only way to get there was by boat. The light tower was a red, square, brick tower 43 feet in height featuring a fixed fourth order lens. A keeper’s dwelling was added in 1883 along with a surrounding retaining wall and a boathouse. The first keeper assigned was William Badger, but he was soon re-assigned to the Windmill Point Light. Louis Fetes was the only other keeper at Belle Isle.

 

What became of the old Belle Isle Lighthouse?

It was automated in 1929, and decommissioned in 1930 with the installation of the Livingstone Memorial Light. In 1943, the old lighthouse was demolished and replaced by “Belle Isle Lifeboat Station”, which became Coast Guard Station Belle Isle. The foundation of the old lighthouse is underneath the parking lot.

 

What collection does the Dossin Great Lakes Museum feature?

The Dossin Great Lakes Museum features one of the largest collections of model ships in the world and the bow anchor of the legendry S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. It also contains 1/3 of the Gothic Room from the Great Lakes luxury Steamer City of Detroit III, the Pilot House from the Great Lakes Freighter S.S. William Clay Ford, the Miss Pepsi Hydroplane, and in front of the building are two of Admiral Perry’s Victory Cannons from the Battle of Lake Erie. There is also an exhibit on Bob-Lo Island Amusement Park.


When did the Belle Isle Zoo close and when was it first opened?

The Belle Isle Safari Zoo closed in 2002. The Belle Isle Zoo was originally established on the island in 1895 with a deer park and a bear den. By 1909, the Detroit Zoo on Belle Isle had 150 animals in 32-acres. The Belle Isle Children’s Zoo was established in 1947 dismantled in the 1970s. In 1980, the Belle Isle Safari Zoo was opened with raised walkways expanded into the wooded area.

 

Was the floral clock on Belle Isle built by the same person as the one that was at Greenfield Village?

They are the same clock. The Floral Clock was originally located at Water Works Park (also known as Gladwin Park) on Jefferson Avenue. It was designed and built in 1893 by the superintendent of grounds at the park, Elbridge A. “Scrib” Scribner. In 1934, the clock was destined for the junk heap and rescued by Henry Ford. Henry Ford restored it and displayed it at the entrance to Greenfield Village in 1935. In 1974, the clock was placed in storage because of problems with the clock mechanism and the high cost of maintenance. In 1989, the clock was deaccessioned and returned to the City of Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department. It was moved to Belle Isle around 1990.

 

What happened to the deer that roamed Belle Isle?

The deer herd on Belle Isle had expanded to over 400 head. Many of them were sick, and they were overpopulating the island destroying many of the plants. Twenty-five of the Fallow Deer that were originally brought to the island were moved to a large pen at the Belle Isle Nature Zoo. Others were removed.

 

When was the Casino building built and who designed it?

Construction of a new casino designed by the architects Van Leyen and Schilling began in 1904 near the site of the original one. The building opened in 1908. The first casino building designed by Donaldson and Meier was completed in 1884 and was a three-story wooden structure that was destroyed by fire shortly after 1900. The site of the first casino building was near the current one.

 

When was the Belle Isle bridge built?

The current bridge to Belle Isle was opened on November 1, 1923. It is a reinforced, concrete, cantilever bridge nearly one half-mile long with 5 lanes, 2 sidewalks and 19 spans. It was first named for George Washington and, in 1942, was renamed in honor of General Douglas MacArthur. It replaced the original bridge to Belle Isle that was opened in 1889 and burned on April 27, 1915. A temporary bridge completed in 1916 was used until the new one could be completed.

 

Was there a tunnel to the island at one time?

During the 1923 construction of the bridge, a tunnel or underpass going beneath Jefferson Avenue was built providing direct access to the bridge via W. Grand Boulevard. In 1985, during the reconstruction of the Bridge, the city decided to remove the underpass and rework the bridge entrance.

 

Was there ever an amusement park on Belle Isle?

Electric Park was not located on the island but rather on both sides of its entrance to the bridge below Jefferson Avenue where Gabriel Richard Park is today. Electric Park opened in 1906 and was raised in 1928. One of the Electric Park Carousel horses was sent to Disney World.

 

Was there a submarine or tall ship located on Belle Isle?

The J.T. Wing was the last of the Great Lakes schooners. In 1948, it was situated on dry land along the water near where the Dossin Museum is and served as a maritime museum for eight years. She was condemned as unsafe due to dry rot. Police fired rounds into her rotting hull, and she burned to the ground on November 4, 1956, in front of a crowd of 6,000. In 1947, the submarine U.S.S. Tambor was located near the foot of the Belle Isle Bridge. She was used for training but was open for public tours on Saturdays. In 1958, the Tambor was scrapped. The 1926, the U.S.S. Yantic, a three-masted wooden-hulled screw gunboat built in 1864 and said to be designed as President Abraham Lincoln’s private yacht, was brought to Detroit. She was docked by the Belle Isle Bridge and open to the public for tours. On October 22, 1929, she sank where she was moored. The Yantic’s anchor and bell are at the Broadhead Naval Armory while her hull was buried in a slip behind the Armory.

 

Was there a giant stove located at the entrance to Belle Isle?

In 1926, the replicated “Garland” kitchen stove, built by the Michigan Stove Company for the 1883 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, was moved to the approach of the Belle Isle Bridge. The 25 ft. high 30 ft. long stove was hand-carved of oak and painted black and silver to replicate the nickel-plated look of the old line of ranges. In 1965, it was moved to the Michigan State Fair grounds. On August 13, 2011, the old giant stove went up in flames at the fairgrounds after being struck by lightning.

 

What building was vandalized in the 1970’s prompting Channel 7 News Hawk, Jerry Stanecki to embark on an expedition to replace one of the lost exhibits?

The gar tank in the Belle Isle Aquarium was vandalized when soap was thrown in the tank killing all of the fish. Jerry Stanecki answered the public’s outcry for this senseless act by leading a group of professionals down to the Mississippi River to catch gars to replace those that were lost. His trip was a success and can be viewed on YouTube.
 

Belle Isle Conservancy | 300 River Place Drive, Suite 2800, Detroit, MI 48207 | 313.331.7760 | info@belleisleconservancy.org

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