Belle Isle, Richmond, VA

Belle Isle Marker

Belle Isle is part of the James River Park System in Richmond. It is a cool 54 acre island in the middle of the river, accessible via a pedestrian footbridge on the north shore suspended below the concrete vehicle bridge above, a wooden pedestrian bridge on the south shore, or by rock hopping from the south shore – when the water is low. The river was running pretty high the day we visited. The rapids were really churning. The island has bike trails, walking paths, and a dedicated mountain bike course with berms and bends. It was a chilly, but beautiful afternoon when we made our way over to the island.


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The walkway to the island gave us some pretty views of the river as we crossed over.

Richmond_Belle_Isle IMG_20151203_144250_editedThe Richmond skyline was highlighted here, too.

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It was the perfect time of day for a few shadow pictures!

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The island has several abandoned buildings, including a power plant, iron foundry and milling plant, as well as the remains of a granite quarry and a Civil War prison camp for Union soldiers. Slaves worked the iron foundry and milling plant before and during the Civil War. Commemorative plaques tell the story of most of these sights, including detailing the deaths of about a thousand of the soldiers imprisoned here from deprivation and starvation. Definitely creepy and sad.

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The abandoned Virginia Electric power plant is the creepy-coolest of all, with empty windows, graffiti, and some remaining equipment, rusting away poetically.

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This island park is such a neat thing to find in the middle of Richmond, but its history and crumbling buildings dating back to the 1800s definitely gave me the feeling of a past not forgotten, but disregarded, with fitness-minded yupsters jogging or walking past history all day, making deals or planning dinner on their smart phones.

It’s a pretty park with a dark history.

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