Fort Belle Fountaine Park

Grand Staircase at Belle Fountaine

Yesterday, we visited Fort Belle Fontaine Park, a Saint Louis County Park. It is located on a bluff, a few miles upstream of the confluence, along the western bank of the Missouri River, in extreme north county. Long before this place was a park, it was the site of the first US military installation west of the Mississippi River. The fort was established in 1805. Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery expedition (1804-1806) spent the first night of their expedition on an island opposite the site of the park and their last night two years later at the fort, which had been established in their absence. The fort stood until 1826, when it was replaced by Jefferson Barracks, in south Saint Louis, along the Mississippi River. Fort Belle Fontaine was an important gathering place in the wilderness for military men, Native Americans and settlers heading west. Nothing remains of the original fort; in fact, its site is now situated in the middle of the shifting river. During the Depression the WPA constructed the pictured grand staircase, a bath house to facilitate swimming in the Missouri River during Saint Louis’s long hot summers and a youth correctional institution. We descended the staircase, which remain in remarkably good shape. The roofless ruins of bath house did not fare so well. The youth correctional institution is still a going concern. In fact, we had to check-in at the gate to the park with a guard. By outward appearance the correctional institution looks more like a small rural college than a prison. Walking around, we saw some state workers, but no identifiable inmates, but this dual nature of the park left me with a creepy vibe during our visit.

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