The James A. Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle is an iconic symbol in Detroit and another example of how far the city has come in recent years. Shut off in 2011 for lack of funds (and possibly even the victim of scrappers who stole copper pipes), the fountain was turned on again in 2013. The crystal clear water is beautiful and provides welcomed mist on hot summer days.
This weekend Danny and I spent the afternoon on Detroit’s crown jewel. Belle Isle is a 982 acre island located in the Detroit River and has been a popular destination for metro Detroiters for over 150 years. When I reintroduced myself to the city in college it was my go-to place to take visitors. Like everything else in Detroit, Belle Isle has changed a lot over the years. The biggest change is that it is no longer operated by the city government. In a controversial move State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources
took over management of the park in a 30 year lease in 2013. Detroit’s financial troubles left few resources to manage the island but the state has committed itself to renovating and maintaining the public space. From what I saw this weekend they are doing a great job.
There are countless free activities to do on Belle Isle and it is easy to make a day of it. I tend to keep to the southern tip of the island but next time we go I will insist we explore the north end. As usual the island was buzzing with activity: family reunions, picnics, bikers, runners, boaters, fishers, swimmers and three public events.
The Casino captured my heart the moment I saw it several years ago. It’s not a gambling facility and never has been. It’s a beautiful event center built in 1908. I had hoped to get married in the building but it was closed for renovation in 2012.
One of the events on the island this weekend was the 110th anniversary of the Belle Isle Aquarium. Another Albert Kahn building, it is one of the oldest aquariums in the country. It’s a small aquarium with a few dozens tanks of various sizes and not all of them are currently occupied. In 2005 the City of Detroit closed the aquarium for financial reasons but with public support it reopened in 2012 under the operation of the Belle Isle Conservancy. I expect all the tanks will be used in the future and in the meantime it’s a nice place to visit. The gift shop alone is super cute and filled with wonderful Detroit souvenirs and everyday items.
Another Belle Isle site that recently received upgrades is the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. This maritime museum literally allows you to walk into history. The stained glass windows are part of the restructured gentleman’s lounge of the City of Detroit III, a steam ship that operated for the first half of the 20th century. A pleasant surprise we discovered was the new interactive exhibits for kids. From canoes to jet boats the museum now has modern education and entertaining space for kids. In addition to other exhibits, you can also step aboard a Great Lakes freighter, S.S. William Clay Ford, and look out on to the Detroit River.
Tomorrow I’ll post about my favorite location on Belle Isle but for now I’ll end things with a fun historical note. The James A. Scott Memorial Fountain was built to honor James Scott who was apparently a notoriously horrible person (specifically a ‘vindictive, scurrilous, misanthrope’ who liked to intimidate business competitors). He died in 1910 and left his fortune to the city with the understanding that it erect a monument in his honor. Many city leaders and residents objected the plan and felt that it was a cruel joke that he would be immortalized on the city’s crown jewel. In a timeless tale of money talks, the fountain was completed in 1925 and included the stipulated life-size statue of Scott which reads:
“For the enjoyment of the people and for the adornment of his native city
James Scott bequitead to Detroit his fortune to be used in the construction of this foundation erected MCMXXIII
From the good deed of one comes benefit to many”
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