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Bygones of Monroe:

Historic Sisters Island Changes

Sisters Island, whose years of silence were broken recently by workmen removing dead elms and other debris, is an intriguing landmark in the history of early Monroe.

Purchased by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in 1886, the island of about three acres in the River Raisin across from St. Mary Academy or W. Elm Ave. also is known as the Isle of Patmos.

The present effort in clearing the island is a contribution to the city's attempt to control Dutch elm disease.

The island originally was part of the estate of Jacques LaSalle, a French fur trader. Two Indian villages were the future Monroe when he settled here.

The island's low undergrowth later concealed refugees who fled across the ice from the LaSalle farm the night of the battle of the River Raisin.

Antoine LaSalle had possession in 1807. At his death, Robert Clark received the island portion of his property in settlement for a debt. It was sold at auction in 1844 and was purchased by Wedworth Wadsworth.

The stately rows of elms which once encircled the isle were planted by Mr. Wadsworth who made it into one of the prettiest sites in the county. The weeping willows on the east and a border of thorn bushes filled with wild grape vines are living testimony to his horticultural design.

According to an early newspaper account, Edward Pinkus, a piccolo player in Monroe to teach music at the Young Ladies Seminary, turned it into a resort for townspeople.

This dapper little man, always dressed in the latest fashion, operated a popular confectionery ship in town. He fell in love and when refused by the lady, took his piccolo, cakes and ornaments and moved to the picturesque cottage he had built on the island. He called it Belle Isle as a tribute to his lost love.

Mr. Pinkus made the purchase in 1852 and built the first foot bridge between the isle and the mainland.

Ice cream, lemonade and other confections were sold in his shop and a corps of musicians nightly played tunes popular in the 1850s. Its location made a pleasant walk for the young people of ante bellum days dressed in flowery silk gowns with hoop skirts and pretty Shaker bonnets. After acquiring a fortune, he retired to Philadelphia.

William Kirchmaier operated the shop for a time. With beautifully tended gardens, it served as a center for informal gatherings and frequent dances. Music with German charm was played.

Charles Diehl was the owner in 1858 and in 1869, it was deeded to Magdalena Diehl. This is the first entry where an abstract to the title of the land now held by the sisters refers to the land as the Isle of Patmos, the name of a Greek island where St. John the evangelist died.

Previous references are made to "the island in the River Raisin immediately above the mill dam of the Monroe City Mill."

The atmosphere of the island took on a more serious tone when it became the home of a Zion Lutheran minister and his family.

A new bridge replaced the old swing bridge and the island was renovated after it was purchased by the sisters. Here in pleasant weather, they took their daily walks until the bridge, weakened by the pounding of winter ice packs, became unsafe.

The old building was demolished in about 1914 and some thought was given to making it a recreation area for the new school built for boys and later known as the Hall of the Divine Child. The plan was abandoned and the island has remained unused about 70 years.

(Monroe Evening News, Thursday March 12, 1964.)



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