Thursday, June 16, 2011

Belle Isle - 1965

I have to admit, I was surprised by the amount of industry still active on Belle Isle in this picture from October of 1965. So many amazing things about this photo: The Phillip Morris billboard/sign, the old bridge, all the buildings, the two working dams that essentially create new islands that don't exist today, and an actual working hydroelectric power plant (that used to supply the power for Richmond's trolley cars), long before neglect left it literally falling down on itself.

Click the photo below for the high resolution image.

Photo courtesy of VCU Libraries


  1. So cool! Those extra little islands are hard to imagine today. I can remember crawling on some of the rocks over there as a kid, but I would have loved to explore it back then.

  2. That long tin building was there in the late 70s, early 80s. We used to explore over there all the time. That power station (?) by the dam on the lower left was abandoned by then.

  3. What's just right of center that resembles a sign in the outfield of a baseball diamond? Is that just a billboard for passing cars?

  4. The Phillip Morris billboard was impressive from the Lee Bridge, but it paled in comparison to its predecessor, the Climax Beverage sign. Both of these had to be viewed at night to get the real experience. With absolutely no lighting behind the sign, these dazzling mid-river attractions commanded your attention at night as they appeared to float in the darkness. Both used animation by lights against a background of complete isolation to entertain passing motorists. The Climax Ginger Ale sign used lights to simulate the bubbles in their infamously strong signature beverage. My cousin always referred to it as battery acid :) It was made by the Home Brewing Company here in Richmond...makers of Richbrau Beer. During prohibition, they went into non-alcoholic beverage making.

    The later Phillip Morris sign shown in the photo used a pattern of lights going on and off for one word at a time, then a furious flickering of the lights made the words Phillip Morris come alive with activity. The repeating patterns were timed so as to present the show several times to bridge crossers. Notice how the trees had to be cut out of the field of view. I have later photos of the old Lee Bridge after the sign was removed, and the bald area shown here had begun to fill in with trees.

    Also on the hilltop, the WANT radio tower can be seen, as well as Old Dominion's cement water holding pool, built for their employees years before the original Lee Bridge was there.

  5. Thanks W.W. for all the info! And I've always wondered what that old cement "pool" was at the top of Belle Isle.