History of County Parks

INFORMATION from St. Louis County Parks website http://www.stlouisco.com/ParksandRecreation/ParkPages/FortBelleFontaine

American Indian “Factory”
Established in 1805 on the south, low-lying bank of the Missouri River, near the confluence of the Mississippi River, Belle Fontaine was the first U.S. military post located in the newly acquired Louisiana Territory.

Originally called Cantonment Belle Fontaine, it served as an American Indian “factory” or trading post for local Sac, Fox and other American Indian tribes. General James Wilkinson, first governor of the Louisiana Territory and military commander, selected the site. Buildings at the site were erected by three companies of the First Infantry under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Kingsbury.

The factory was removed from Fort Belle Fontaine in 1808, with part of the trade goods sent to Fort Osage on the Missouri River (near today’s Kansas City) and the remainder shipped up the Mississippi River to Fort Madison in Iowa.

Early Expectations
From its early days, the Belle Fontaine site served as the launching or stopover point for a number of expeditions to the far reaches of the American West. Among those explorers was pioneering military officer Zebulon Pike. His trips up the Mississippi in 1805 and along the Missouri River in 1806 both left from Cantonment Belle Fontaine.

Captains Lewis and Clark, on the final night of their famous Corps of Discovery expedition, also stayed at the site on September 22, 1806.

Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Bissell
In 1809, command was given to Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Bissell. Originally from Connecticut, Bissell had previously been the commanding officer at Fort Massac, now a State Park located at Metropolis, Illinois. He found Belle Fontaine’s buildings in disrepair and the garrison in ill health. He also recognized the strategic danger of the site being located at the bottom of a high bluff. In 1810, he received permission to relocated the post to higher ground. Thirty buildings of hewn logs on stone foundations were erected along with blockhouses and palisades in a rectangle at the top of the Missouri River bluffs, a task completed in 1811.

Later Expeditions
Lt. Zebulon Montgomery Pike returned to Fort Belle Fontaine from his Mississippi headwaters expedition of 1805-6 in May 1805 after exploring the eastern portion of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. The Zebulon Montgomery Pike SW Expedition, 1806-7, equipped at and left Fort Belle Fontaine on July 15, 1806. See www.zebulonpike.org for more information on the SW Expedition and to further explore the southwest portion of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.

The 1818 Yellowstone Expedition and the scientific expedition of Stephen Long shoved off from the shores of this U.S. military oasis.

Fort Belle Fontaine soon became a command and supply center for a number of new frontier posts, such as Forts Snelling, Atkinson, Crawford, Armstrong, Smith and Clark.

Replaced by Jefferson Barracks
In 1826, Fort Belle Fontaine was abandoned by the U.S. Army and replaced by Jefferson Barracks (1826-1946) in present south St. Louis County. Colonel Henry Atkinson, the last commanding officer of Fort Belle Fontaine, selected the site for the new post. A detachment to guard military stores was left behind under the command of John Whistler, the grandfather of the painter James McNeill Whistler.

One small stone structure, possibly made from stone dug up from Foundations of the old fort’s buildings, remains.