One of the fun things about the Internet is finding things that give you a window that lets you see in on the past. One of those windows are postcards.
These samples are from the Detroit Publishing Company and are, according to the New York Public Library, now public domain. Digitized just last year, there’s a plethora of great images from Detroit that we’re going to share in the coming weeks.
Belle Isle is one of Detroit’s jewels. Whether it’s kayaking around it, enjoying the canals in it, or just enjoying a Faygo and some Better Mades watching people go down the giant slide, it’s one of our favorite attractions.
Let’s step into our time machine and take a look at Detroit’s Belle Isle near the turn of the century with these cool postcards. One could only imagine what the people who sent us would write to us if they could.
1. The Belle Isle Casino
This is an image of at the time, newly-built Belle Isle Casino. Designed by the famed architect Albert Kahn, it still stands today. That’s a miracle in a city that has lost a lot of the architecture from the 1900s. Completed in 1908, this image, if accurate in depiction, shows that there was promenade at the back of the building, where now it’s all grass up to what would seem to be a smaller pond today. The building is used for everything from weddings to temporary media headquarters for the Detroit Grand Prix. Records indicate this image is from 1908 or 1909.
2. Life’s A Beach
This looks to be out front of the second bath house built on Belle Isle from 1909. It could handle 1000 bathers, it is said. It was replaced by a very humdrum block structure. See the bathers? At the time, it wasn’t considered appropriate to take your shirt off at the beach. My, how things have changed! After all, a survey from the 1880s show that Belle Isle even had a hotel on it. Imagine how cool it would be to stay on the island and have the Detroit skyline as your backdrop.
3. You Can Still Go To The Aquarium
The Belle Isle Aquarium, until a short shutdown a few years ago, was the oldest continuously running aquarium in the United States.
4. See The Fish In 1908
It still stands today, and although they’re still restocking the displays (and looking for sponsors) you can visit and see quite a few fish, frogs and other water life. The iconic green tile has stood the test of time.
5. Canal Time
It’s clear that canoeing was one of the more popular pastimes back in the day. You can do it again today, but there’s still more work to do to the island to make it closer to what it was after years of disinvestment.
6. Bridging Across The Water, 1902
7. The Detroit Boat Club, 1905
This still stands today, but it needs a lot of work for it to stay standing. Various plans have been floated for the facility.
8. Under The Bridge Of Greenery, 1903
9. The Central Avenue On Belle Isle Wasn’t Intended To Be For Cars
If you’ve ever driven down Central Avenue and wondered why there’s a giant statue that doesn’t respect modern traffic lanes in the middle, there’s a reason why. It was never intended to be a road for cars — as you can see from this 1902-03 postcard, it was a long, paving stone promenade meant to enjoy your weekends without the use of a motor vehicle.
10. The Stone Bridge
Imagine enjoying a picnic next to this scene. In this 1907 postcard, an early automobile appears.
11. Steamers Off The Belle Isle Light
The Detroit River had all manner of ships in it, including steamers, as illustrated in this gem from the turn of the century.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this little journey through part of Detroit’s past. If you like it, share it!