Belle Isle Park

Belle Isle Richmond

VAMONDE Richmond
Written By VAMONDE Richmond

Belle Isle Park

Belle Isle is a small island in the city of Richmond, Virginia. The island lies within the James River, and it serves as a city park. It is accessible to pedestrian and bicycle traffic via a suspension footbridge that runs under the Robert E. Lee Bridge from the northern shore or via a wooden bridge from the southern shore. Except when the water level of the James is high, it is also reachable by foot from the southern shore via easy boulder-hopping. From Belle Isle, one can see Hollywood Cemetery, the old Tredegar Iron Works, and Richmond City's skyline. Belle Isle has many bike trails around the island and has a small cliff used for rock climbing instruction.

History

Belle Isle was originally known as Broad Rock Island. It was first explored by Captain John Smith in 1607! After this initial exploration, the island contained a nail factory and a fishery. During the 1860s, the island was inhabited by a village complete with a school, church, and general store.

The island served as a prison for Union soldiers during the American Civil War. Between 1862 and 1865, the island was home to about 30,000 POWs and as many as 1,000 died, though these accounts vary. The Battle of Walkerton was the result of a failed Union attempt to free these prisoners. In 1864, Peter DeWitt, Assistant Surgeon at Jarvis Hospital, Baltimore, received a number of prisoners recently released from the Prisoner of War camp at Belle Isle. He described the "great majority" of the patients as being:

"In a semi-state of nudity...laboring under such diseases as chronic diarrhoea, phthisis pulmonalis, scurvy, frost bites, general debility, caused by starvation, neglect and exposure. Many of them had partially lost their reason, forgetting even the date of their capture, and everything connected with their antecedent history. They resemble, in many respect, patients laboring under cretinism. They were filthy in the extreme, covered in vermin...nearly all were extremely emaciated; so much so that they had to be cared for even like infants."

After the war, the land became the site of a new power plant, built and operated by the Virginia Electric Power Company. The power plant operated on the island between 1904 and 1963.

Park Today

Belle Isle was formally made into a park in 1973. Belle Isle offers the opportunity to view wildlife in its natural habitat, at a location only a few minutes from the heart of the city. Songbirds, ducks, cormorants and blue herons are a common sight. Squirrels, other small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles also inhabit the island. Belle Isle is a great place for people with a love for the outdoors. Popular activities include walking the trails, swimming in the James River, rock jumping, sunbathing, birdwatching, kayaking in the James, and boulder-top picnicking only feet away from fierce rapids. The island also offers many old and ruined buildings, among other run-down sites along the trails.

Information sourced from Wikipedia. Cover image by Morgan Riley and sourced from Wikipedia (Creative Commons).

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Belle Isle Park

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