Belle Isle is an island park in Detroit, Michigan. At just under 1,000 acres, it is the largest park in the country to cover a complete island, and this island is the third largest island in the Detroit River. The 2.42 square mile island is home to a number of recreational spots managed by the Detroit Recreation Department, including the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory and a small golf course.
Belle Isle was originally colonized by French settlers in the 1700s and was at one point a private estate. Once known as Hog Island, the island got its current name in 1845. In the 1880s, at the height of the movement to beautify urban landscapes with formally planned parks, Belle Isle was landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted, a well-known urban landscaper, was also the designer of Central Park and the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.
Between the time that the island was landscaped and the mid-1900s, a number of buildings and structures were added to the island. In 1887, architects John Donaldson and Henry Meier designed and built a Queen Anne style casino building on the west end of the island. When the casino was destroyed by fire, the city chose Albert Kahn to design its replacement. The Renaissance style brick and terra cotta building was built in 1908, and is still used for weddings and events today. Kahn also designed and built the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, the oldest public conservatory in the country.
For years, Belle Isle was home to a herd of fallow deer, a children's zoo and an aquarium, but the city closed the animal facilities due to budget problems. The island still offers many recreational opportunities.
Belle Isle is connected to the city of Detroit by the MacArthur Bridge. It is home to a number of leisure and entertainment amenities. They include the Detroit Botanical Gardens and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, which houses one of the country's most extensive collections of orchids. In addition, it is home to the a yacht club, a boat club, a municipal golf course, a Coast Guard post, and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. There is a half-mile long swimming beach, and a Nature Center, as well as several miles of hiking trails, including wheelchair accessible hiking trails. Visitors to the island can also take advantage of picnic tables, a playground, baseball fields, basketball courts and tennis courts. Finally, the island is the site of a street race circuit that hosts races in the IndyCar Series and the ALMS.
The James Scott Fountain located on Belle Isle was designed by New York architect Cass Gilbert. The fountain was built in 1925 with a special bequest from infamous gambler, James Scott, who left $500,000 to the city with instructions to use the money to build a fountain on Belle Isle. There was only one condition - that a life-size statue of the donor be built beside the new fountain. The statue of James Scott sits in a chair facing beside the fountain, looking out toward the city. Belle Isle Park is open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Admission is free.
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