Pewabic's Belle Isle Connection

Posted by Frances Ma on

Belle Isle is one of our favorite places to visit on a bright sunny day! We miss driving over on our lunch breaks to stroll through Detroit’s 982-acre island. Not unlike Pewabic, Belle Isle Park is a historic nonprofit and cultural resource enjoyed by Detroiters and visitors of the city for generations. 

This beloved state park is home to the nation’s oldest aquarium––Belle Isle Aquarium as well as Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Belle Isle Nature Center, and the James Scott Memorial Fountain. The legendary Scott Fountain was once inlaid with Pewabic tile, a story for another post! Today we are focusing on the lesser known Pewabic tile installation found on one of Belle Isle’s many bridges.

Early photo of the Belle Isle Bridge adorned with Pewabic tile built circa 1913 

The bridge is located on Oakway Trail across Sylvan Creek and was built in 1913. The tiles along the length of the concrete bridge also adorn the end posts and parapet cap. It’s modest design was conceived by William Buck Stratton—the architect of our pottery building and later husband to Mary Chase Perry Stratton—featuring a mix of terra cotta and green glazed 2x6, 4x4 and 3x3 tiles.


Current day detail of Pewabic tile work on Belle Isle Bridge 

The bridge’s BIC registration form for the National Register of Historic Places, United States Department of the Interior states, “The solid concrete side wall/parapet, with broad square-plan end post at each end, on either side has a rough texture, inlaid with (Pewabic) colored glazed tile patterns along the parapet cap, on a raised central “keystone” and in panels on the sides of the end post. The end posts and the stylized projecting “keystones” both angle outward toward the top.  The concrete abutments are flanked by concrete wing walls, which also are adorned with individual glazed tiles at the end.”

Details of end post and keystone tile work

Our affinity and strong historical ties to Belle Isle have inspired many of our decorative tile designs over the years. We are neighbors, afterall! The very first addition to our Postcard Series collection in 2015 depicts the MacArthur Bridge that connects Detroit to Belle Isle.

Belle Isle Bridge Postcard Tiles –– hand painted (left) and two-tone (right)

Belle Isle State Park has lived through and faced tough times in the past. During the Great Depression, Belle Isle acted as a sanctuary and a gathering place. It has continued to be a place for us to regroup and escape from the business of life. We encourage you to explore the ways we can all help preserve this crucial public park for years to come. Visit Belle Isle’s donation page here

Belle Isle Aquarium tile (left) and Ironwork tile (right)

Belle Isle Fountain Tile (left) and Belle Isle Conservatory Tile (right)

While the conservatory and aquarium are closed through May 28 to help ensure the safety of the community, we still have mementos to remind us of what makes Detroit so special. We look forward to planning trips to these destinations in the future, and are hopeful about the city we call home.

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  • I have many treasured memories of times on Belle Isle. On hot evenings we would go over to sit by the water and cool off. There were rides in a “carriage” pulled by a pony. The aquarium and seeing all the beautiful flowers, the annual picnic and games competition held by the Catholic Order of Foresters, and on and on. As a family our ties were strong as my mother grew up walking distance to the island and my father worked at the Detroit Boat Club in the 30s and 40s as the manager. My mother talked about dressing up my older brother as a toddler on Sunday and taking the bus to have dinner with with father at the club. I missed that as my father had moved to working at Chrysler by the time I arrived. Belle Isle is a Detroit jewel. I am delighted that it is in the midst of a renewed life.

    Maureen Comer on
  • I visited Belle Isle for the first time in 2019 after hearing so much about its history from my parents who were native Detroiters. My great grandfather owned the contracting business that built Water Works Park and many fire stations and houses throughout Detroit and my dad hung out at the Detroit yacht club. It is wonderful to see Belle Isle coming back to life. I enjoyed visiting the aquarium and the conservatory, both of which have been beautifully restored.

    Robyn Riley on
  • I was born and raised in Detroit. My father was a plumber for the city of Detroit. One of my wedding photos is of me sitting on the lap of Mr Scott on Scott’s fountain on Belle Isle. I just put Pewabic tiles as a black splash in my new kitchen. Detroit is the greatest city!!!

    Barbara Doss, née DeMay on
  • Belle Isle, with its aquarium, conservatory, & natural splendor, is such a great resource, physically & educationally Many a Sunday my Mom took us seven children to Belle Isle. We rented the pony carts, enjoyed the exotic plants & flowers in the conservatory, and marveled over the fish & reptiles in the Aquarium. Today my brother is a vetanarian, who specializes in fish & reptiles, thanks to his early exposure to the oldest free aquarium in the US.

    Donnie Bettes on
  • Oh you are so right…..Belle Isle has always been detroits treasure! My Parents started taking my brothers and I to Belle Isle when iI was 5 years old. So beautiful it was the flowersand landscape pristine!! My Dads friend Hank was a police officer on a horse …we thought that was so cool…we would visit with him and his horse in awe….A few times a summer we drive to Belle Isle from s.c.s. and picnic every summer..ive taken my grandaughter there…so she knows the treaures of our great city!! Thanks to our mayor now..there is new hope for the Great city of Detroit and its future….so much wonderful history here….my parent and the wonderful stories they told going to school and growing up in Detroit!!! So wonderful!!! Ive recently crossed off one of my bucket list items….pewabic Pottery…u must visit!!! Another historical place..i loved it!!!pottery isbeautiful…there is something for everyone there!!! Such a thrill knowing Martha Stewart had made a visit here!!! And she even talked about it on tv…..makes me proud of the things Detroit offers…….Diane Dicristofaro Fowlds

    Diane Fowlds on
  • My paternal grandfather helped build a fountain on Belle Isle and somewhere in my home packed with other mementos is a picture of the crew in front of the fountain.

    Julie Ireland on
  • Belle Isle has always had a special place in my heart. My father was one of the builders of the Belle Isle Fountain. I was proud to show my children what their grandfather helped build.

    Ernest Turmel on
  • I was born in Detroit in 1940. I have a lot of memories of visits to Bell Isle. Our parents took us there often. It was 7miles from our home. My brother and l could ride our bikes for canoeing or visits to the gardens and aquarium. I moved to E Lansing & MSU. My son and I came for the Detour Cycling event 2 years ago. The park is beautiful again. Merci.

    Leon Martin on
  • I plan to check out that bridge as soon as I can! What treasures this city has hiding in plain sight!

    Patrick Roybal on
  • I plan to check out that bridge as soon as I can! What treasures this city has hiding in plain sight!

    Patrick Roybal on

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