Belle Island Park Water Feature

Located in Detroit, Michigan, the James Scott Memorial Fountain was designed by Cass Gilbert and Herbert Adams. The fountain was placed at the west end of Belle Island Park at it's completion in 1925, costing $500,000. The Park was actually designed by Frederick Law Olmstead between 1882-1884, being expanded and modified thereafter. The fountain features a lower bowl that is 510 feet in diameter with a central spray reaching 125 feet. The fountain was built in honor of the controversial James Scott because he left $200,000 to the city of Detroit especially for a fountain to be in tribute to him.

Scott, according to contemporaries, was left a fortune by his father who had invested well in Detroit real estate. Scott actually gambled a lot, and told many off-color stories. He was described as vindictive and a misanthrope who tried to bully and intimidate his competitors, and if this failed, he filed suit against them. These may all be reasons why, when he passed away in 1910, having no heirs, he left his estate to the City of Detroit. The only condition was that a life sized statue of him be included with the fountain. Some arguments say that his will actually orders the statue to be the pinnacle of the fountain.

What made this so controversial was that the city religious and community leaders thought it was inappropriate to accept this bequeathal because of his reputation. They felt it was immoral to have such a man immortalized in the city. However, even with these staunch complaints, the Mayor, Philip Breitmeyer and the City Council President, David Heineman, urged the community to accept the gift because there was no need to insult any of the cities citizens by refusing such a generous offer.

As this debate continued to be a hot issue for the city, the Scott fortune continued to grow, topping $1 million. The final design for the fountain actually placed the statue in an inconspicuous spot behind the fountain. The fountain design called for an amphitheater, a lagoon, and a bridge from the mainland to Belle Island. The work to expand the island began in 1917. The fountain construction began in 1921, and was completed in 1925. It was created in white marble, rising from a marble terrace with bas-reliefs adorning the panels. There are sculpted lions, dolphins, turtles, and the head of Neptune that all spout water. The steps that lead from the fountain imitate those of the Bethesda fountain in New York City.