Belle Isle is a 982-acre island park in the Detroit River, between the United States mainland and Canada. Owned by the City of Detroit, it is managed as a state park by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources through a 30-year lease initiated in 2013. Belle Isle is the largest city-owned island park in the United States. It is connected to mainland Detroit by the MacArthur Bridge. The park includes an Conservatory, James Scott Memorial Fountain, William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse, the Belle Isle Aquarium, the 1908 Belle Isle Casino building that is not an actual gambling facility. The island also has a golf course, a nature center, wheelchair accessible nature trail, fishing piers, playgrounds, picnic shelters, and handball, tennis and basketball courts, baseball fields, and cricket pitch. The Detroit Yacht Club building dates to 1923 and still houses an active private sailing club also offers swimming and other country club amenities.
The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is a botanical garden and greenhouse. It opened in 1904 and covers 13 acres. In 1953 it was named in honor of Anna Scripps Whitcomb, who left her 600-plant orchid collection to the city. Thanks to her gift and subsequent donations, the conservatory is now home to one of the largest municipally-owned orchid collections in the United States. Beautifully landscaped with perennial and annual gardens the conservatory building is over an acre. The central dome is 85 feet high and has a palm house in the dome. There are tropical plants of financial importance such as bananas, oranges, coffee and sugar cane. There are extensive collections of ferns, cacti and succulents also a continuous display of blooming plants.
Nancy Brown Peace Carillon is another site to see on the island. Brown was a favorite writer for the Detroit News. In 1936, her readers proposed erecting a tower to commemorate the Sunrise Service on Belle Isle that Brown had initiated in 1934.
Located on the east end of the island, the William Livingstone Memorial Light is the only marble lighthouse in the United States.
The Scott Memorial Fountain is on the southern tip of Belle Isle. Scott was left a sizable fortune by his father who invested in Detroit real estate. According to contemporaries, Scott was a scoundrel who gambled, womanized and told off-color stories. He was also vindictive and made many enemies.
Scott died in 1910 with no heirs or colleagues and he bequeathed his estate of $200,000 to the City of Detroit with the condition that the fountain include a life-sized statue of him.A debate ensue. The cities community and religious leaders were against accepting the money believing a person with the this kind of reputation should not be immortalized in the city The cities political leaders wanted to accept the money believing that the city shouldn't insult any of its people by refusing the offer. While the debate raged,
Scott's fortune continued to grow and by the time construction commenced it topped $1 million. The fountain was finished in 1925 and cost $500,000. The fountain is 510 feet across, and its central fountain could spray water 125 feet into the air. It has 109 water outlets in the shape of dolphins, turtles, lions and human figures. Around the bottom of the fountain, 16 separate reliefs depict life in the early days of Detroit on the James Scott Memorial Fountain.
The back of the statue says: “For the enjoyment of the people and for the adornment of his native city. James Scott bequeathed to Detroit his fortune to be used in the construction of this fountain. Erected MCMXXIII. From the good deed of one comes benefit to many.”
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