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.