Belle Isle is a 982-acre island park in the Detroit River, between the United States mainland and Canada. Belle Isle is the largest city-owned island park in the United States and is the third largest island in the Detroit River. It is connected to mainland Detroit by the MacArthur Bridge.
One interesting story told about the island is part of Motor City history. It is said that one night in 1908 Byron Carter of Cartercar stopped to help a stranded motorist on Belle Isle. When he cranked her Cadillac, it kicked back and broke his jaw. Complications from the injury turned into pneumonia and he died. The incident motivated Henry Leland, founder of Cadillac Motors to state that “The Cadillac car will kill no more men if we can help it” and to hire Charles Kettering, who established Delco and developed the electric self-starter.
The 85-foot Neo-Gothic carillon cost nearly $59,000 when it was built. The tower was designed by Clarence E. Day, brother-in-law of James E. Scripps, the publisher of the Detroit News. The builder was Harlow A. Amsbary. Nancy Brown was the pen name of a Detroit News columnist who wrote the Experience Column from 1919 to January of 1942. Her real name was Annie Louise Brown.
The concept of the Peace Carillon came from a reader. In 1934, Nancy Brown promoted the idea in her column. It was built by readers who sent in nickels and dimes through Brown’s fundraiser and dedicated in 1940.
Construction began in 1902 on the Aquarium and Horticultural Building, as it was called then. The two buildings, designed by famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn, opened on August 18, 1904, and were originally joined where one could walk between the two structures without leaving the building.
The Belle Isle Aquarium is the oldest aquarium in the country. In 2005, the city of Detroit announced that the Aquarium was to be closed due to lean economic times for the city. The building remained closed to the public until the Belle Isle Conservancy reopened it on September 15, 2012.
Belle Isle is the embodiment of what it is to live in Michigan, spending summers on the water. Beach goers and picnickers abound on Belle Isle in the summer. Signs of family reunions, birthday parties, and get-togethers are everywhere, parking is plentiful and all types of water activities available to those that visit the island.