Belle Isle/Wingfield Park

Surrounded by the waters of the Truckee River, the small natural island now known as Wingfield Park has long been considered a leisurely oasis, offering visitors an escape from fast-paced city life in the heart of downtown Reno. The island was purchased sometime before 1909 by attorney Lewis Hinckley, who cleared out the underbrush, carved walkways out of the natural stands of wild rose bushes, willows, cottonwoods, and poplars, and planted a large sloping lawn on one side of the island, naming it Belle Isle.

Beginning in 1911, Hinkley promoted the "beautiful island" as a pleasure resort that featured a dance hall, a 700-seat open air theater, small boat rentals, and later in 1912, a roller skating rink. To facilitate swimming and boating around the island, the river was partially dammed to raise the water level. Guests reached the park using a narrow footbridge on the north bank of the river.

Belle Isle hosted a wide variety of events including boxing matches and carnivals, some featuring ferris wheels, snake charmers, and other attractions. Strings of electric wires provided lighting and allowed guests to enjoy regular Saturday dances and the latest motion pictures, accompanied by a live orchestra. In early July 1911, a portion of the park was converted into a runway for famed aviation pioneer Eugene Ely to take off from and land.

Around 1916, the resort's owners filed for bankruptcy and the property was taken over by the Reno National Bank. Soon thereafter, the Reno Businessmen's Association began improvements to make it a permanent amusement park. Influential Nevada banker and mining entrepreneur George Wingfield purchased the property in 1920 and immediately deeded it to the city with no strings attached. The city council acknowledged the generous donation by naming the island “Wingfield Park.”

Because of the park’s unique location within the Truckee River, the potential for flooding has been an issue. Damages inflicted by the flood of 1928 were repaired with the financial support of Wingfield, who was commended by the city for his efforts to restore "the city's finest beauty spot." The Reno Municipal Christmas Tree was planted there in 1925, and stood until at least the mid-1980s. An amphitheater now regularly hosts live performances of all kinds. In all incarnations, the park has remained a popular attraction in Reno and an ideal location for leisurely activities.

Images

Belle Isle, ca. 1911

Belle Isle, ca. 1911

Visiting carnivals often installed temporary ferris wheels and other amusement rides on Belle Isle. The wooden footbridge to the island can be seen on the left. Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Belle Isle advertisement, 1911

Belle Isle advertisement, 1911

An advertisement promotes the wide range of entertainments offered by a visiting carnival and country fair on Belle Isle in July 1911. Image courtesy of Reno Evening Gazette View File Details Page

Electric lights, ca. 1911

Electric lights, ca. 1911

Arches of electric lights lent an air of fantasy to evenings at Belle Isle. Image courtesy of Dick Dreiling View File Details Page

Boating at Belle Isle

Boating at Belle Isle

One of the main attractions of Belle Isle was its location in the midst of the Truckee River, a perfect site for leisurely rowing. Image Courtesy of Dick Dreiling View File Details Page

Winter hibernation, 1916

Winter hibernation, 1916

The resort closed for the winter, but its buildings still stood, patiently awaiting summer's return. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Covered in snow, 1916

Covered in snow, 1916

Some of Reno's finer homes can be glimpsed on the bluff high above the resort, closed for the winter in 1916. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Belle Isle map, 1918

Belle Isle map, 1918

A Sanborn fire insurance map from 1918 shows the layout of wooden structures erected on Belle Isle, including a pavilion, dance hall, theatre, and concession booths. Image courtesy of Mary B. Ansari Map Library, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Wingfield Park, ca. 1932

Wingfield Park, ca. 1932

The view looking northward along Arlington Avenue through Wingfield Park shows a peaceful and tree-lined oasis, with the El Cortez Hotel in the distance. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Tennis Match, ca. 1935

Tennis Match, ca. 1935

Numerous spectators take in a tennis match under the trees at Wingfield Park around 1935. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Wingfield Park, ca. 1939

Wingfield Park, ca. 1939

Generations have strolled through the grounds of Wingfield Park, in the center of Reno. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Verdant landscape

Verdant landscape

An undated postcard shows the carefully tended landscaping on the banks of the Truckee River, looking toward Wingfield Park. Image courtesy of Steve Ellison View File Details Page

Amphitheater, 2002

Amphitheater, 2002

The park's amphitheater was named the Wingfield Park Glenn Little Amphitheater in 2013, after a beloved longtime Reno Municipal Band performer and director. Photo by Max Chapman View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Nicholas Caparso and The Reno Historical Team, “Belle Isle/Wingfield Park,” Reno Historical, accessed May 30, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/39.
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