scottfount

James Scott Memorial Fountain

Image: James Scott Memorial Fountain, photo courtesy of Michigan Radio, http://michiganradio.org/post/detroits-belle-isle-cusp-becoming-michigans-newest-state-park

Click here to see all narratives about Belle Isle

Click here for more information about Belle Isle’s architectural features

Click here to see resources for further reading on Belle Isle

When James Scott died in 1910 and left half a million dollars to the city of Detroit in his will, controversy erupted amongst local citizens. Scott, who inherited most of his money from his father and earned even more still from shrewd real estate deals, bequeathed the money so that the city could build a beautiful fountain on Belle Isle. The city decided on a fountain on the southern tip of Belle Isle. A competition was held, with Professor Eugene Duquesne at the helm, to gather potential designs for the fountain. The goal was to make this fountain “the crown of Belle Isle” and took much inspiration from Versailles.

It became a major issue when it was revealed that his stipulation was to also erect a giant statue of himself in the middle of the fountain. People took to different sides of this issue. Some believed that it was a very nice gesture and a great opportunity to beautify the city. Still others disagreed. A portion of them objected, so they said, because it was basically buying the honor and cheapening the overall honor of the fountain. The religious leaders felt that it set a poor example for the youth – you don’t have to earn respect because you can just buy it. In a similar fashion, others said they disagreed because there was no democratic notion behind it. The citizens had no say in who their city was honoring.

While many of these people contested that it was not a personal matter, many people believe that such a fuss was made over the fountain because the people just plain did not like the guy. He had very few friends and barely spoke to anyone. He inherited his fortune and was deemed lazy and spoiled. The money he made for himself was always at the expense of someone else. He never married and was considered a womanizer. James Scott gambled and drank and was just generally disliked by all his fellow citizens. After several years being locked in debate, the fountain was unveiled in 1925 and has since become known as “Jim Scott’s Last Joke”.

This goal to make the city a beautiful place stems from the City Beautiful movement. After the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the country was impressed with the style and architecture of the city, and many tried to emulate that in their own towns. It was a pushback against industrialization. As many of the cities became heavy with industry, Detroit was no different. Factories were popping up everywhere. Laborers were needed to work at these factories and overcrowding became an issue. Sanitation declined and crime increased. Social unrest became a real concern and the City Beautiful Movement sought to combat this. The thought was that by making the city a beautiful place to be, people could see what a crime-free and peaceful city could look like. The architecture was mostly white and very detailed. The James Scott Memorial Fountain is very reminiscent of this, being all white with ornate carvings.

  • “Urges Prizes for Designs of Fountain,” Detroit, MI Free Press, November 15, 1913, 3.
  • Encyclopedia of Urban Studies, s.v. “City Beautiful Movement,”http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412971973.n55 (accessed March 9, 2014).

Click here to see all narratives about Belle Isle

Click here for more information about Belle Isle’s architectural features

Click here to see resources for further reading on Belle Isle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>