Wingfield Park

Belle Isle

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 “George 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.