Once a Factory, Once a Prison, Now It’s Belle Isle

James River

This island in the middle of the James River in Richmond, Va., once housed the Old Dominion Iron and Nail Works, producing nails, wire and horseshoes beginning in the early 19th century. During the civil war the island was used as a prison for captured Union soldiers. In 1863, there were 10,000 soldiers being held here. In the early 20th century the Virginia Railway and Power company operated a hydroelectric plant on the site.

Be the mid-20th century, the island and the river itself were in a state that was all too familiar for rivers that ran through industrial areas. It was severely polluted with few healthy fish or other wildlife and access to the river was prohibited.

Today, Belle Isle is the most popular part of the James River Park system. It offers hiking and biking trails, sunbathing on the rocks, a skate park, a granite wall for rock climbing and a wheelchair-accessible fishing pond. But mostly the beautiful island has returned to its natural state. Mother Nature has erased the vestiges of jailer and industrialist alike.

Belle Isle map
footbridge across James River
Footbridge to Belle Isle
Footbridge to Belle Isle
Remains of Belle Isle factory
Remains of the Belle Isle Milling and Slitting Manufactory, in operation from approximately 1815-1900
Ironworks storage shed
Storage shed used by the Old Dominion Iron and Nail Company
Belle Isle hiking trail
Hollywood Rapids
The Hollywood Rapids are named after the Hollywood Cemetery, visible on the opposite side of the river.
Belle Isle hydroelectric plant
The hydroelectric plant
Belle Isle
Headgate cleaner
This headgate cleaner strained the water flowing into the plant.
Belle Isle
This entry was posted in History, Travel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Once a Factory, Once a Prison, Now It’s Belle Isle

  1. Nice to have a park with a bit of history so close to the city.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Donna Janke says:

    Belle Isle, like its name suggests, seems like a beautiful spot to spend some time. So nice to hear that it’s returned to its natural state.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Kelly MacKay says:

    I’m so glad it’s been cleaned up and restored to a healthy ecosystem

    Liked by 1 person

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