La Belle Fontaine

It must have been like an oasis in the desert.

To travelers along the old Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail, its cool and bountiful waters were surely a sight for sore eyes and parched throats.

The old trail, which connected the two largest French settlements in the Illinois country, crossed many streams and passed through many settlements.  There must have been something special about this place, a place that was called Bellefontaine (or, “beautiful fountain.”)

Situated a half a mile south of Waterloo in Monroe County, Bellefontaine sat near the midpoint of the journey from Kaskaskia to Cahokia.  This site was known to the Native American tribes and the French long before it was a settlement.  It was a place of refreshment, but a temporary one.

Fountain Creek Bridge, a short distance west of Bellefontaine.

After the Revolutionary War, the soldiers who fought with George Rogers Clark against the British in the area in 1778 remembered it.  They remembered their marches with Clark along the old trail and just how beautiful the area around the spring was.

Military land grants in hand, these veterans began to settle in and around Bellefontaine.  Veterans and their families from the East settled, starting some of the earliest “American” settlements in southwestern Illinois.  The Smiths, Moores, Watts, Rutherfords, Whitesides, Pulliams, Ogles, and Lemens began settlements and soon spread eastward beyond the bluffs.

One of the most poetically named communities was called New Design.  It was called this by James Lemen because he intended to pursue a “new design” for living, far from his birthplace in South Carolina.  He had a new design, an idea to form a settlement and carve a life out of the territory. New Design soon became an first-stop, a place where migrants could settle temporarily until they set out down the river or into the interior.

New Design and Bellefontaine would eventually become Waterloo, and the Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail fell off of maps and eventually became a part of State Road 3 in this area.

Two houses remain from the active days of the trail; the site of the spring is now deep within the woods.

Still, if one wanders the quiet streets of Waterloo, one can imagine the weary traveler approaching the Peterstown House or the Bellefontaine House and anxiously anticipating the refreshment (including water from Bellefontaine) would bring.

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