The first United States military installation
in Louisiana Territory, this frontier military post was located on the south
bank of the Missouri
River near its confluence with the
Mississippi River After the
a treaty was made between the United States and the
Sac and Fox
tribe in November, 1804, which allowed the the building of a fur trading post of
the United States Government. The fort took its name from a nearby spring named
"Belle Fontaine" which means "beautiful fountain" in French.
The trading post served as a starting point for many
expeditions to the American West. The site of the fort was
Lewis and Clark's
first campsite after they left Camp River Dubois in 1804 and the site of the
fort where they spent their last night on their return trip in 1806.
use of the fort as a trading post was discontinued after 1808, and from 1809 to
1826 it served as a United States Military Fort. Originally called Cantonment
Belle Fontaine. More buildings were erected by three companies of the First
Infantry under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Kingsbury.
The original fort was located on the flood plain
below the bluff, but was abandoned in 1810 when the river shifted to the South.
Today, the original fort's site would be located in the middle of the river. A
second fort was built on the flat ground atop the bluff.
From about 1809 to 1815, the fort served as the
headquarters of the Department of Louisiana, and was the regional Army
headquarters during the War of 1812. Its sister forts were Fort Osage along the
Missouri River near present-day Kansas City, which
controlled trade with western Indians;
and Fort Madison, Iowa, which controlled trade of the Upper Mississippi River.
By 1825 the post was beginning to deteriorate and
due to the changing military needs of the region, the War Department decided to
abandon the location. In 1826, the soldiers were relocated to Jefferson
Barracks, the new military post south of
However, a small contingent of soldiers were left at the fort to protect
the arsenal facility and supply munitions for Jefferson Barracks until the
St. Louis Arsenal
was completed in 1828. Afterwards, Fort Belle Fontaine was permanently
By the early 20th Century, a log cabin that was
thought to have been soldiers quarters continued to stand, but, is gone today.
In the late 1930's, the grounds below the bluff became a popular summer retreat
and in 1936, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built a grand limestone
staircase down from the bluff, as well as a number of other structures. Today
the "Grand Staircase," and other picnic facilities built at the time, still
The site was purchased by St. Louis County in 1986
and is now known as the Fort Belle Fontaine Park. The original sites of the Corps campsite and the
first Fort Belle Fontaine site have long been destroyed by shifts in the
Missouri River channel. However, interpretive
markers along a hiking trail designate points of interest. Today, only one small
stone structure, possibly made from stone dug up from
Foundations of the old fortís buildings, remains. The park is the site of several annual events including the Fort
Belle Fontaine Historic Encampment and Black Powder Shoot in September.
Fort Bellefontaine Park is located along the
Missouri River in north St. Louis County. From I-270 take the
Bellefontaine Road exit and follow Bellefontaine Road north until it ends
at the guard gate at the Missouri Hills Home where visitors must sign in before
proceeding to the park.
Fort Belle Fontaine Park
13002 Bellefontaine Road