Belle Isle Park

Situated between the US and Canada, located within the Detroit River, is the recently renovated, island park named Belle Isle. It is currently managed as a state park by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) through a 30-year lease from the city of Detroit. At nearly 1000 acres, it is the largest city-owned park in the United States!

Belle Isle Conservatory
Belle Isle Conservatory

Today, the Island is home to an Aquarium, a Conservatory, a Nature Zoo, the James Scott Memorial Fountain, the world’s only marble lighthouse, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, a Coast Guard Station, a municipal golf course, and numerous monuments.

Belle Isle Aquarium
Aquarium Entrance

Frederick Law Olmsted, the “father of American Landscape Architecture” created the original design for the park in the 1880’s. Unfortunately, due to creative differences, only some of his plans were executed before his resignation. The aquarium and conservatory were both designed by famous Detroit architect Albert Kahn in the early 1900’s. The Memorial Fountain was completed in 1925 and designed by Cass Gilbert , another leading American architect of the time.

While researching the park, I came across an interesting bit of automotive history:

In 1908, a young gentleman stopped to help a stranded driver on the Belle Isle bridge. As he was cranking the starter on her Cadillac, the car kicked back, breaking his jaw. He passed away due to complications from the trauma. His death was the impetus for the creation of the automatic self-starter customary on all vehicles today.

We visited the park over the summer spending most of our time in the beautiful Conservatory. Here you can see some of the unique plants and trees found inside.

Cranbrook Home & Gardens

One of the many outings our family enjoys during the summer months is to visit the nearby Cranbrook House and Gardens in Bloomfield Hills. Cranbrook is the oldest Metropolitan Detroit historic manor dating back over 100 years. It was built by Ellen and George Booth. Ellen was the eldest daughter of James Scripts, founder of the Detroit News and George was the owner of a successful iron-working company in Windsor, Ontario. The couple wed in 1887 and initially lived in the city of Detroit. The following year, George joined his father-in-law as an executive in the Scripps family publishing empire which did business throughout the entire Mid-west.

Rear View of Cranbrook House

Over time the couple accumulated much wealth by investing in other Michigan-run newspapers. Together with his brothers, George went on to establish the Booth Publishing Company, the most extensive and profitable in Michigan history. The Booths longed for a large country estate to raise their five children and in 1907 they broke ground on the 174-acre property in Bloomfield Hills. Booths’ long-term friend and noted Detroit architect, Albert Kahn, designed the English Arts and Crafts Style estate. Even after the Booths moved in, building continued adding many terraces, wings, outbuildings, gardens, and walking paths until the early 1920’s.

Backyard View of Cranbrook House
Backyard View of Cranbrook House
Viewing Pond
Viewing Pond Behind House

Booth personally commissioned tapestries, wood carvings, furniture, metalwork, glass work, fine bindings and other decorative items from leading American and European artisans and crafts firms for the house. He also acquired several important works of art by old masters for the residence.

Once their home was complete, they turned their attention to giving back to the community and established the Brookside School for children, the Cranbrook School for boys, the Kingswood School for girls, Christ Church Cranbrook, the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and the Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Together these make up one of the most exclusive and beautiful educational campus’ in the Midwest. For more information regarding the house click here: Cranbrook House and Gardens. For information regarding the schools click here: Cranbrook School.

Drone View of Cranbrook Christ Church
Drone View of Cranbrook Christ Church