Fort Belle Fontaine

stone stairs leading up to a stone fort
Fort Belle Fontaine

Quick Facts
Saint Louis, Missouri
National Register of Historic Places

Lewis and Clark NHT Visitor Centers and Museums

Visitor Centers (shown in orange), High Potential Historic Sites (shown in black), and Pivotal Places (shown in green) along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail

Fort Belle Fontaine is about 20 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri.  Built in 1805 under the direction of Lt. Col. Jacob Kingsbury, the fort was the first U.S. military installation west of the Mississippi River.  The trading fort was an important gathering place for officers and enlisted men; Native peoples; and French, Spanish and American settlers, trappers, and traders.  

The original site of the Corps campsite and the first Fort Belle Fontaine have been destroyed by shifts in the Missouri River channel. The grounds below the bluff became a popular summer retreat during the late 1930s and in 1936 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built a grand limestone staircase down from the bluff along with a number of other structures. Today, Fort Belle Fontaine Park is a 305-acre park of St. Louis County. 

Fort Belle Fontaine is a High Potential Historic Site on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

The expedition first camped on an island opposite Coldwater Creek on May 14, 1804. During 1805, Canton­ment Belle Fontaine was built on the south bank of the Missouri River at the mouth of Coldwater Creek by companies of the 1st U.S. Infantry under Lt. Colonel Jacob Kingsbury. The expedition visited the new fort on their return journey. On September 22, 1806, Ordway wrote that “towards evening we arived at Bell foun­tain a Fort or cantonement on South Side which was built since we ascended the Missouri & a handsome place. we moovd. a short distance below and Camped, the Company of Artillery who lay at this fort fired 17 Rounds with the field peaces the most of our party was Quartered in the Canonment.” The next day they returned to St. Louis.

The original cantonment housed a government-operated trading post (or factory), until that function was transferred to Fort Osage and Fort Madison in 1808. By 1809, the post had deteriorated and relocation to a new site above a bluff began. The new Fort Belle Fontaine, completed in 1811, included 30 buildings, several blockhouses, a rectangular palisade, and an arsenal. In 1826, the second fort was abandoned and replaced by Jefferson Barracks, a new post located in St. Louis. The City of St. Louis acquired the Fort Belle Fontaine property in 1913 and built a detention home and training school for boys. In the 1930s the Work Progress Administration (WPA) built a “grand staircase” of stone steps from the riverbank to the top of the bluff, as well as trails and facilities. Now a St. Louis County park, Fort Belle Fontaine is listed on the National Register as an archeological site.

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Last updated: October 5, 2020