Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Belle Isle Police Station

Designed to complement the natural landscape, the Belle Isle Police Station was created as a temporary jail - albeit a lovely one – by the architects George Mason and Zacharias Rice. It was constructed in 1893, in the style of a fieldstone farmhouse with a red shingle roof. Created long before motorized traffic was allowed on the island, its grand doors allow for easy passage of police horses. The Detroit Free Press reported on May 9, 1897, that “the rooms are prettily furnished,” but “very few offenses are committed on the island, and there is little real need of such a place.” It served as a house for the Detroit police’s sergeant and his men, as well as a “sort of hospital for those who may meet with accident,” as a matron was on staff – one named Emma Nehls in 1897. It wasn’t always a cushy assignment; on November 11, 1907, the Detroit Free Press reported that “The island has become a favorite spot for the desperately inclined person who has tired of the battles against adverse fortune.” In the crowds that thronged to the island to escape the pollution of the city, the police were on the lookout for pick-pockets, swimmers in over their heads, as well as skaters who were literally on thin ice, and in 1917 they had to track down a Lady Amherst pheasant that was stolen from the Belle Isle Zoo. In 1913, the police consigned a truck full of confiscated weapons into the Detroit River off Belle Isle. Any relaxation the police may have enjoyed ended with the advent of automobile. Later, the rise of the Prohibition era required the island police to chase down rumrunners smuggling alcohol from Canada. After years of having no direct communication with Detroit’s main police department, in 1928 radio operators broadcast for the first time on a dedicated frequency from this station. “Reduced response times and increased arrest rates quickly made radio dispatching standard police practice nationwide.” (State of Michigan Historic Marker 0529a) Beginning in 1921, Belle Isle was the site for many years of an annual track and field meet, pitting the city’s police, fire and post office employees against each other. Many other competitions followed, and in more recent years the police have overseen the large crowds gathered for regattas, hydroplane races, and The Grand Prix. Beginning in 2014, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’s (DNR) conversation officers and the Michigan State Police have assumed responsibility for patrolling the island. The future use of the police station has yet to be determined.



Police in car in front of Belle Isle Police Station Belle Isle Police Station, with women in front Belle Isle Police Station; four officers with bicycles and one in automobile