Urban settlement has caused the discovery of the North American continent and the exploration of its various areas. Many important events have taken place that eventually had their effects on what is now the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors. This urban settlement was established in North St. Louis County in the mid 1800s.
The Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River was ceded by France to Spain in the year 1762 and this is where the history of Bellefontaine Neighbors has its real start. The Spanish military authorities in Madrid looked at their available maps and decided to construct forts on either side of the mouth of the Missouri River. They felt that this would strengthen their hold on this area and discourage intruders from the east from entering.
A Captain Rios was dispatched to this area and he constructed the forts as best he could, although the banks of the Missouri River at this point were mostly swamps and quicksand. Captain Rios sent glowing reports of his activities back to Madrid in spite of the fact there were really no invaders to fight. In reality, the Spanish soldiers lived in two entirely different places while they were here. A number of them lived around a lake near the mouth of the Missouri River and this area is still known by the name Spanish Pond or Spanish Lake. The rest of the soldiers stayed at Fort San Carlos, at that time just on the outskirts of the little town of St. Louis, near where we now find Fourth and Walnut Streets.
Spain, in the year 1800, ceded the area west of the Mississippi River back to France. The then rapidly growing United States looked upon this transaction as one of great importance and, as a result of transactions with Napoleon, the ruler of France, the Louisiana Territory was purchased by the United States in 1803.
In November of 1804, a treaty was made with the Sac and Fox Indians. One part of this treaty provided that a trading post would be located by the government where it would be convenient for these tribes. General Wilkinson selected a spot on the south bank of Missouri River, about four miles west of where it joins the Mississippi River. This location had several natural advantages. It was on the low ground near to the river and nearby Cold Water Creek provided a safe and convenient place for small boats and canoes to be moored safely. A large clear water spring nearby furnished a supply of fresh water for the garrison. This spring had long been called ≥la belle fontaine≈ by the early French.
In the spring of 1805 a Colonel Kingsbury, with a body of troops, was ordered from Fort Milchilimackinac to the spot selected by General Wilkinson. Colonel Kingsbury≠s orders were to construct a cantonment for troops and trading place for the Indians. By the winter of 1805, the soldiers had built log cabins for the officers and an Indian Agent, a trading house, a bakery, a blacksmith shop and a row of huts for the enlisted soldiers.
General Daniel Bissell, commander of Fort Massac on the Ohio River, was made military commander of that part of the territory which is now Illinois and Missouri and he moved to Fort Bellefontaine where he served as commander for several years.
A trail led from Fort Bellefontaine to about where Sixth and Franklin Streets are now in the City of St. Louis. This trail evolved through the years into what is now known as Bellefontaine Road.
In 1808, the Indian trade was transferred to Fort Osage further up the Missouri River and to Fort Madison further up the Mississippi River and Fort Bellefontaine remained only as a cantonment for troops. In the spring of 1810, a flood swept over the low lying fort and the main channel of the river moved over to traverse the original location of the fort. It was then decided to rebuild the fort on the nearby bluffs but this caused it to lose all of its original advantages and now made it difficult to reach from St. Louis. By 1834, the troops were moved to a new and better location named Jefferson Barracks and Fort Bellefontaine was abandoned and allowed to revert to its original condition.
Following the departure of the soldiers from Fort Bellefontaine, the surrounding land was divided up into many land grants.
Land ownership of what is today the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors has made up of land grants issued by the Spanish, French and American officials. The lands granted were of quite large size and the original owners of what is now Bellefontaine Neighbors numbered about ten. Daniel Bissell returned to this area after his retirement and purchased land through public land sales. His original home is now a St. Louis County museum. Dr. James W. Gibson, a native of Scotland, joined the landowners of this area in 1832. His home was known as "Forest Home". His son, Dr. James E. Gibson later bought the woods adjoining "Forest Home" and built his home "Tanglewood" on Chambers Road in 1880.
It is interesting to note that of the original owners only two names are locally familiar today. Another landowner was Ellen St. Cyr, who had an original French land grant. The name St. Cyr is the name of one of the more prominent streets located in Bellefontaine Neighbors today and one of the subdivisions in the community is known as St. Cyr Hills. The name Bissell Hills has been given to the largest subdivision in Bellefontaine Neighbors.
Some farming was carried on, with the main crops being maize and wheat. Enough cotton and tobacco was grown to supply each individual's need and each family usually had their own small garden. The early settlers had no market for surplus crops and this was probably a strong reason for farms of several hundreds of acres having only four or five acres under cultivation. Some few farm animals, such as milk cows, hogs, and sheep were raised usually few in number and they were pretty much left to fend for themselves in the finding of food.
As the years passed by, the area became more and more under cultivation and the grain crops, corn and wheat became more prominent. Eventually, corn became about the only crop raised and this continued until the corn shocks were replaced by homes during the 1950's. In the interim in the early 1900's, some truck farming was carried out to a limited degree, but the difficulties connected with converting this to cash were many. Usually, these were of a rather perishable nature and the difficulty of a trip to the St. Louis market is hard for us to imagine today. As much of the produce as possible was gathered late in the evening and was loaded in the farm wagon. Early the next morning, the more perishable produce was gathered as soon after daylight as possible, and the trip to St. Louis was started. This trip would take the greater part of the day, if not the entire day. Late that evening and the next morning, the farmer would attempt to sell his produce as soon as possible, knowing that the return trip home would consume most of that day. If he spent too much time either selling or shopping in the stores, his return home would be accomplished only long after night had fallen. It is rather difficult for us today to think in these terms when the entire trip can now be accomplished in less than an hour.
From the original rather large land grants, the complexion of land ownership turned towards smaller and smaller farms, and this continued until about 1950. With the coming of the building boom after World War II, this area, which had remained rather dormant as far as population increases are concerned, suddenly found itself being transformed into an area of individual residences, when the first sub-dividers looked upon this area. An area which for many years had only a few residents, suddenly found it was the residential area for many. Six major building areas arose within the city limits of Bellefontaine Neighbors. Locally, these are known as Old Bissell, New Bissell, Plat 14, Belcrest, St. Cyr Hills and Hathaway Hills.
By 1950, the year in which Bellefontaine Neighbors was incorporated as a fourth class city, the population had grown to 766 people. Bellefontaine Neighbors at that time had 18 streets, one public school, and one church.
The one church in Bellefontaine Neighbors in 1950 was the Bellefontaine Methodist Church. This church has a recorded history dating back to the year 1854 when the original church building was erected on land donated by James R. Bissell, son of General Daniel Bissell. Bricks for the building were made from clay found on the land, fashioned by hand and burned on the site. Trees felled for the clearing were used for the fuel. The entire congregation, together with their slaves, worked on the building. The architectural plans for the building cost $10.00 and the total cost of the building was $2,313.61. A place, a gallery in the church, was provided for the seating of the slaves who wished to attend the services although there is no indication that any ever became members.
Although the Bellefontaine Methodist Church make no claims to dating beyond 1854, it is believed that the original group of Methodists from which this church formalized, had met and held meetings even previous to the time of the Louisiana Purchase. A John Clark preached to the Methodists in what is now the northern part of St. Louis County around the year 1800. A group of Methodists is said to have held meetings in the home of one of its members in 1805, just east of where Bellefontaine Road is now located. It is also indicated that a Miss Piggott was married to a Mr. Patterson in the year 1806 and this is thought to be the first Protestant marriage held west of the Mississippi River. John Clark was a resident of Illinois and, as a Methodist preacher, risked imprisonment or worse for conduction services while this area was under the control of the Spanish. Spain had decreed that only those of the Catholic faith, or those who promised to attend Catholic services and to raise their children in the Catholic faith, could enter the area and settle there. When John Clark asked permission to conduct Protestant services of Delassus, the Spanish governor, he was warned of the consequences of his proposed action. But, evidently, a bond grew between the two men, for it is told that when John Clark crossed the river to hold services, and his tour usually lasted two or three weeks, it would be several days before Delassus received word of it. Delassus would usually wait a few days and then send a soldier to Clark warning him that he had three days to remove himself from the area. By the time he would receive the warning, Clark was usually about ready to return to his home in Illinois anyway. As this went on repeatedly over a period of several years, and as Clark was never arrested, we can see that a feeling of mutual respect must have existed between the two men.
From the year 1950 to the year 1960, Bellefontaine Neighbors experienced a period of very rapid population growth, the 766 people in 1950 having increased to 13,650 people by 1960.
This rapid influx of people brought with it many changes and one measure of this was the growth of the churches within the community. The Bellefontaine Methodist Church experienced new vigor and growth and was joined by no less than six new churches. Taking the lead in the building of two new churches in Bellefontaine Neighbors was the Catholic Church. St. Jerome's Catholic Church was located in the northern part of the city, Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church was located on the southern part of the city. Almost centrally located in the city of Bellefontaine Neighbors is the Bellefontaine Neighbors Baptist Church. Located at the junction of Chambers Road and Lewis and Clark Blvd., is Grace Lutheran Chapel. Frieden's Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1952 purchased the plantation-type home built in 1880 by Dr. James H. Gibson together with 3.6 acres of land on which they built their church building while preserving the old home. Located in our city, the Church of the Nazarene, on Bellefontaine Rd. near its intersection with Chambers Road, has since moved away. In the 1970's Rev. Eddie Guinn build the Northside Pentecostal Church on Shepley Dr., now known as Northside Family Worship Center.
Schools also have kept pace with the population increase. From the one elementary school in 1950, we now have four elementary schools, and one senior high school within the city limits. The schools are Gibson Elementary, Danforth Elementary, Grace Lutheran, Stormin Academy and Riverview Gardens Senior High School.
The city administration of Bellefontaine Neighbors started with the County Court appointing A. W. Schnur as Mayor in 1950. The city was incorporated June 19, 1950, and the first meeting was held in his home on June 24, 1950. The meeting places for the City Hall began with the first meeting in the home of Miss Edna Long's residence, 10030 Bellefontaine Road in August of 1950. Riverview High School, 9301 Bellefontaine Road, June 1951, 9505 Bellefontaine Road, February 1956 (burned December 1958); 9517 Bellefontaine Road, January-February, 1959; Hathaway Shopping Center, 9306 Highway 67, February-August 1959; 1240 Duenke Drive, August, 1959 to October, 1960, and 9641 Bellefontaine Road.
The city was first divided into three wards and later on a fourth ward was added. The city has a Mayor-Aldermen form of government. The Mayor and Aldermen are elected to four year terms. Elections are held on the first Tuesday in April.
Mayors of the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors
General Daniel Bissell