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 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.
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.