One of several historic bridges located on Belle Isle
Park, this bridge is listed as a concrete slab in the Historic Bridge
Inventory and a concrete rigid-frame in the National Bridge Inventory.
This bridge is a simple structure type that has been
embellished with architectural and decorative treatment in the form of a
unique railing design. The railing that includes concrete posts and colored
tiles inset into the concrete.
The single-span, concrete-slab Oakway Road Bridge
Crosses over the Canoe Stream in a forest area near the east end of
Belle Isle. The skewed structure has concrete parapet railings. Each
railing is interrupted by three vertical posts which rise above the
projecting coping. The posts are decorated with teal and orange tile
arranged in geometric patterns. The tile might have been produced by
Pewabic Pottery, which was founded in 1904; in 1908, the pottery moved
to 10125 East Jefferson Avenue, not far from the bridge between the
mainland and Belle Isle. Although some of the tiles are damaged,
graffiti covers part of the bridge, the historical integrity of the
design remains good.
The city of Detroit purchased Belle Isle, a
707-acre island in the Detroit River, in September 1879. By 1940, fill
had expanded its size to nearly 1,000 acres. According to local
historian Clarence M. Burton, it was originally "an unimproved area,
abounding in native forests, sloughs, swales and was very unattractive."
The city hired prominent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead for
$7,000 per year to plan and oversee improvements. His layout included a
central driveway, Central Avenue, and the canal that meanders around the
island. Oakway Road extends from Central Avenue. The bridge dates from a
period which produced a number of important amenities on Belle Isle,
including the conservatory, the aquarium, the casino and Scott Fountain.
As part of this significant early twentieth-century development
campaign, the Oakway Road Bridge contributes to the Belle Isle National
Register historic district.
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