Monday, May 11, 2015

Reader sends rare photos of Belle Isle Bridge's dedication in 1923

Posted By on Mon, May 11, 2015 at 1:40 PM


Following a tangent in our research for our story on Belle Isle suicides, we wrote a blog about Ford Motor Company engineer Edward Gray’s plans for a crossing to Belle Isle that involved building up the Scott MIddle Ground into an island connecting two causeways.

This rang a bell for reader Paul Rentz, who wrote us: "My grandfather worked for Edward Gray during that time. He first came to Detroit at Gray’s request in 1910 and stayed until 1919 when he returned to Pennsylvania."

He continues: "My other grandfather’s family spent lots of time on Belle Isle in the '20s and later — living just blocks from the bridge’s entrance." This resulted in a trove of photos of the island park and the bridge to it. Rentz was kind enough to send along some scans of them and allow us to run them online. (Click on the photos for high-resolution versions.)

click image Rentz tells us, "With the new bridge in foreground almost complete, the temporary bridge can be seen behind it."
  • Rentz tells us, "With the new bridge in foreground almost complete, the temporary bridge can be seen behind it."

Our own research has revealed that the temporary bridge was a perpetual problem to those living in earshot of it. Automotive traffic on the wooden span created a racket that irritated neighbors, as this summary of a joke by Will Rogers demonstrates.
  • Our own research has revealed that the temporary bridge was a perpetual problem to those living in earshot of it. Automotive traffic on the wooden span created a racket that irritated neighbors, as this summary of a joke by Will Rogers demonstrates.

click image On Nov. 1, 1923. Acting Mayor John C. Lodge opened the span to traffic, and Council President James Vernor led a crowd of 2,000 across  the 2,356-foot-long bridge on the unseasonably cold autumn day.
  • On Nov. 1, 1923. Acting Mayor John C. Lodge opened the span to traffic, and Council President James Vernor led a crowd of 2,000 across the 2,356-foot-long bridge on the unseasonably cold autumn day.

click image Judging by Rentz's family's photos, the procession was led by an honor guard and a marching band.
  • Judging by Rentz's family's photos, the procession was led by an honor guard and a marching band.

click image Rentz comments, "In situations like this, how in the world did anyone hear?"
  • Rentz comments, "In situations like this, how in the world did anyone hear?"

For this last photo, Rentz tells us that the woman with the big hat is likely Anne Campbell. Her reading, as reprinted in The Detroit News, was:

"They call us a commercial town—
We rush so madly up and down.
Our smoke is black against the skies,
We build too close sometimes to see
The thwarted grass, the reaching tree,
And loveliness we brush aside
To make a place for pomp and pride.
But even we can pause to rear
A bridge of noble beauty here,
A monument that will endure;
In days of change, one thing that's sure
Eyes that are weary now of schemes
Will smile to see our bridge of dreams.
And hearts that span this magic mile
Will lighter grow on fair Belle Isle."

Side note: "The billboard at right reads: Detroit Jewel Ranges — They Bake Better."

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