Nancy Brown Peace Carillon
Location Name: Nancy Brown Peace Carillon (Detroit, Michigan)
Location Type: Memorial
Year Completed: 1940
Architect(s): Clarence E. Day
The Nancy Brown Peace Carillon is a little known and often underappreciated attraction in Detroit’s Belle Isle Park. Though most Detroiters may not recall the significance of the tower’s namesake or even know it exists, this remarkable memorial and musical attraction continues to chime every thirty minutes to the infrequent passersby. The tower’s story begins with that of Annie Louise Brown; a noted Detroit News columnist whose women’s column debuted in 1919 under the nom de plume Nancy Brown. Brown’s readership soon gained her popularity in the newspaper world. In response to a readers’ suggestion, Brown organized a religious sunrise service on Belle Isle. The 1934 event drew a crowd of over 30,000 and became an annual event. The next year attendance grew to over 50,000.
In 1936, readers proposed erecting a tower on Belle Isle to commemorate the services. The project was taken on by the Detroit News and Clarence E. Day was enlisted to design the memorial tower. The cornerstone of the 85-foot Neo-Gothic tower was laid on 13 December 1939. Atop the tower is a 49 bell carillon; one of only a dozen carillons in the state of Michigan. The tower was dedicated at the seventh annual sunrise service on 16 June 1940. In front of a crowd of over 50,000 attendees, Nancy Brown revealed her true identity for the first time in her columns’ 21 year run. On 08 January 1942 Brown published her farewell column and went into retirement.
As memory of Brown’s columns faded, so apparently has appreciation for the memorial carillon. In 1970 the bells went silent after vandals knocked out the stained glass windows atop the tower; pigeons found a home in the tower and destroyed the mechanism that played the bells. Though the carillon has since been restored, hard times have led to budget cuts and the city has been unable to keep up the grounds around the tower. Today the tower is surrounded by a fence prohibiting access and the area in and around the tower is litter strewn. Despite the often shameful condition of the grounds, the carillon operates through a computer controlled mechanism every half hour. Hopefully the city, perhaps with the help of the Belle Isle will be able to bring this gem back to its former glory before any irreversible damage takes place.Sources