Fort Belle Fontaine
Fort Belle Fontaine (1805-1826) - First established in 1805 by Lt. Colonel Jacob Kingsbury, 1st U.S. Infantry as Cantonment Belle Fontaine. Named after a local pure water cave spring. Moved in 1811 and renamed Fort Belle Fontaine. Abandoned in 1826.
Cantonment Belle Fontaine (1805-1810)
The original Cantonment Belle Fontaine was built on the low south bank of the Missouri River at the mouth of Cold Creek by three companies of the 1st U.S. Infantry under Lt. Colonel Jacob Kingsbury. The original post included an "Indian Factory" or government operated trading post but that was function was transferred to Fort Osage and Fort Madison (1) by 1808. As the only military post in the new Louisiana Territory, Fort Belle Fontaine served as a jumping off point for many explorers and expeditions into the new territory including the Lewis and Clark expedition and two of Zebulon Pike's expeditions.
Building the post on the low bank proved to be a mistake and by 1809 the post was in bad shape and the garrison was plagued by disease. Lt. Colonel Daniel Bissell assumed command in 1809 and began moving the post to the bluff above the bank.
Fort Belle Fontaine (1811-1828)
The move to the new Fort Belle Fontaine was complete in 1811 and the new post included 30 buildings, several block houses, a rectangular palisade and what would become Fort Belle Fontaine Arsenal. The post continued to host explorations into the new territory and increasing numbers of settlers. The post's role in the War of 1812 was limited but the post mounted several operations against the British and served as an arsenal and supply point for the area. By 1826 the isolation and deterioration of the post lead to the decision to build a new post and separate arsenal closer to St. Louis. The military garrison at Fort Belle Fontaine helped to build the new post in St. Louis in 1826. The new post was named Jefferson Barracks after former President Thomas Jefferson who died 4 Jul 1826. The new St. Louis Arsenal was completed in 1827 south of St Louis. Fort Belle Fontaine was abandoned in 1826 but continued as a storage depot and arsenal for military supplies until 1834.
The City of St. Louis acquired the old fort property in 1913 and built a multi-structure detention home and training school for boys on the property. In 1986, the County of St. Louis assumed control of most of the property that made up the boys home and it became the Missouri Hills Home for boys and girls managed by the Missouri Division of Youth Services.
In the 1930’s the Work Progress Administration (WPA) worked at the Missouri Hills Home to enhance the home and build a visitor attraction. The centerpiece of the project was a “Grand Staircase” that rose from the riverbank below the bluff to the top of the bluff where Fort Belle Fontaine stood. The WPA also constructed a trail along the base of bluff that went by the Grand Staircase and the original spring. They also built restrooms and picnic facilities. Much of that infrastructure still exists but in poor condition. Unfortunately the WPA project did not include the restoration of the fort itself and nothing remains of the original fort except one small building which is said to be built from old fort foundation materials.
Today the fort site coexists with the park site, the youth home and the WPA works.
Location: Fort Bellefontaine County Park, North St. Louis County, Missouri.
Maps & Images
Lat: 38.827748 Long: -90.213989
- Roberts, Robert B., Encyclopedia of Historic Forts: The Military, Pioneer, and Trading Posts of the United States, Macmillan, New York, 1988, 10th printing, ISBN 0-02-926880-X, page 453-454
- North American Forts - Fort Bellefontaine
- Fort Belle Fontaine Park
- "Old Fort Belle Fontaine" — J. Ill. S. H. S. 4:334‑339 (1911)
Visited: 26 Jun 2010