Located north of Downtown St. Louis near the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is Fort Belle Fontaine. The fort was the first to be established west of the Mississippi River after the government acquired the Louisiana Territory between 1803 and 1804. The fort also served as a preliminary jumping off point for many of the expeditions into the then unexplored American west. Fort Belle Fontaine was first used as a fur trading post, then converted into a military fort for the remainder of its life. In the years after its closing, the Missouri River would shift and cover the original site of the fort. In response to that, Fort Belle Fontaine Park was established under the care of the St. Louis Parks division. There is no fee to visit and the park is open from 8 am until one half hour after sunset. The Red Roof Inn of Westport and the Holiday Inn Hotel-Alton are two hotels nearest the fort.
Fort Belle Fontaine was built in 1805 near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Although it started off as a Spanish post, it was soon in the hands of the American government and began life as a fur trading post and jumping off point for many of the expeditions into the American West. In 1808, the military took control and operated the fort until 1829. During this time, Fort Belle Fontaine would serve as the headquarters for the Department of Louisiana and as the Army headquarters for the region during the War of 1812. By 1825, Fort Belle Fontaine was falling into disrepair and it was decided to move the fort’s troops out and to the recently built Jefferson Barracks. The fort would sit unused until 1913 when part of the grounds became “Bellefontaine Farms,” a detention farm that would later be known as the Missouri Hills Home for Boys.
In the 1980s, developers became interested in the land for residential use. Not wanting to see a historic site get turned into a residential area, the Fort Belle Fontaine Historical Society convinced St. Louis County to buy the land and preserve it as a county level park. Today, the Fort Belle Fontaine Historic Site and St. Louis County preserve this important yet little known part of St. Louis history. The site features a hiking trail with interpretive markers that designate points of interest about the important role the Fort played in American history. The fort is also home several annual events including the Fort Belle Fontaine Historic Encampment and a Black Powder Shoot. Although off the beaten path, Fort Belle Fontaine is an important part of St. Louis history and should not be forgotten.