History of the Site

HISTORY OF THE SITE

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 their return, also stayed at the site on September 22, 1806, the final night of their famous ‘Corp of Discovery’ expedition.

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 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
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.

Works Progress Administration (WPA)

In the 1900’s the site became Bellefontaine Farms owned by the City of St. Louis. Boys were sent to live at the Farms and were quartered in cottages. In the 1930’s President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration. This was a work program funded by the government to put people to work after the great depression. From 1936 to 1940 workers built many limestone structures on the site to enhance the estate and attract visitors to the picturesque landscape of the Missouri River. Bath houses, a patio, outdoor living room and barbeque pits were built with stone from the nearby quarry.

The most spectacular accomplishment of this project is the Grand Staircase leading from the top of the bluffs to the flat lands along the Missouri River. Eleanor Roosevelt visited Bellefontaine Farms in 1939. The purpose of her visit was to pay tribute to the men and women who successfully completed the WPA project.

Park History
The land was purchased by the St. Louis County Department of Public Works with funds from the 1955 Bond Issue. The area at that time was named Wade Site Landfill. The land was transferred to the St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation in 1971 and was renamed Fort Bellefontaine County Park. The park was named after Fort Bellefontaine which was the first military post west of the Mississippi River. The park at one time was a rock quarry and then a landfill.

Ten acres of the park were leased to Organic Resources Management Inc. (ORMI) in 1993, which established the Fort Bellefontaine Compost Center. The lease was renewed for 15 years beginning April 2001. Effective March 7, 2001, the St. Louis County Department of Planning issued a Conditional Use Permit (C.U.P.), which includes numerous requirements for review of development plans and requires the Planning Commission to conduct a public hearing at five year intervals “with regard to the overall operation and term limit of this facility,” at which time “the Commission may choose to not renew the C.U.P.”