The American Indians first called the Belle Isle “Swan Island”. When the French first settled the island, they called it “Hog Island”. They let their hogs graze on the island and did not have to worry about them wandering away. The hogs also ate snakes that were once abundant on the island.
In late 1700’s and early 1800’s, Belle Isle was the site of many duels. If you had a major beef with someone, you both would go out to Belle Isle with your pistols- then stand back to back, walk twelve paces, turn and fire. Argument over!
On July 4th, 1845, a group of Detroiters rowed out to what was still called “Hog Island” and in a ceremony that included pouring water on the ground, declared that from that moment on the island would be called “Belle Isle” in honor of the youngest daughter of Lewis Cass, the Territorial Governor of Michigan.
There have been three bridges to Belle Isle. The first opened in in 1889 and burned down 26 years later. There was a temporary bridge stood in place until 1923 when the current bridge was constructed. The current bridge is named after General Douglas MacArthur.
Today Belle Isle Park is home to the Belle Isle Aquarium, the Belle Isle Conservatory, the Belle Isle Nature Center, the James Scott Memorial Fountain, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, a municipal golf course, a half-mile (800 m) swimming beach, and numerous other monuments and attractions. It is also the site of a United States Coast Guard station. The Detroit Yacht Club is located on an adjacent island, connected to Belle Isle by a bridge.
In 1992, Belle Isle hosted the first Grand Prix Indy Car race on the island. The race was won by racing legend Bobby Rahal. Since then, the race has been held annually with a few breaks due to economic crisis of 2008 and the recent global pandemic. The Detroit Grand Prix promoted by Detroit business and racing icon Rodger Penske has poured millions of dollars into improvements on Belle Island over the years.