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Home / Browse / Bellefonte (Boone County)
Latitude and Longitude:
0.667 square miles (2010 Census)
454 (2010 Census)
July 17, 1872
Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:
Bellefonte is a town in Boone County on U.S. Highway 62/65 a few miles southeast of Harrison (Boone County). Bellefonte served as the first temporary county seat of Boone County and was nearly chosen as the permanent county seat, but Harrison surpassed it by a few votes.
The first white settler at the site that would become Bellefonte was John Simms, who purchased eighty acres of land from the U.S. government in 1854. The land included a productive spring of fresh water. Simms was later joined by the Freeland, Laffoon, and Williams families.
Two stores and a saloon were built, and reportedly the men of the community chose to name their settlement for the spring. One of them supposedly said that “belle fonte” is Latin for “beautiful spring.” (In truth, the French “belle fontaine” comes closer than any Latin expression for a spring.) A post office was established in the settlement in 1848, but it was called Hussaw until 1852 and then bore the name Mount Pleasant until 1871. According to the 1860 census, the community included a Baptist minister, two physicians, an attorney, eight blacksmiths, eight merchants, a tanner, a wagon maker, two masons, and two carpenters. The settlement was known as a market for cattle raised in the Ozark Mountains.
Area residents disagreed with each other about the secession of Arkansas from the United States at the start of the Civil War; some men from the area served in the Confederate army, others in the Federal forces. Many bands of guerrillas took advantage of the war to engage in lawless activities unrelated to either side of the war. The Twenty-Seventh Arkansas Confederate Infantry camped at Bellefonte in October 1862. A Federal scouting expedition centered around Bellefonte from March 28 to April 1, 1864, but it accomplished little. After the war, the Reconstruction legislature created Boone County in 1869. The initial county government was formed in Bellefonte, and community leaders hoped that it would remain the county seat.
In a close vote, Boone County voters in 1869 instead chose to locate the county seat in Harrison. Bellefonte at this time has been described as “a hotbed of ex-Confederate/Democratic sentiment.” The promoters of the new city of Harrison—led by former Union general Marcus LaRue Harrison and local businessman Henry W. Fick—carried the election, and the newly elected county government met in Fick’s log store in Harrison. The post office at Bellefonte changed its name from Mount Pleasant in 1871, and the town was incorporated in 1872.
By this time, the town had dozens of businesses, including a drugstore, a millinery shop, a livery stable, two saloons, a cotton gin and flour mill, and several other establishments, including a leather factory that manufactured saddles, bridles, and shoes. It also had an academy called North Arkansas College (not associated with the later school of the same name). A grade school was built, which was also used on Sundays by Baptist and Presbyterian congregations and during the week as a Masonic lodge.
In 1878, African American Moses Kirkendall was hanged for allegedly attempting to rape a white woman.
Fourteen buildings, including the academy, were destroyed by a fire in 1882. This fire slowed the growth of the town, which allowed its incorporation to lapse until reincorporating in the 1960s. A new elementary school was built, with the older structure converted to a barn. The Baptists and Presbyterians built a Union church, and a Methodist church was also built. A canning factory opened around the end of the nineteenth century.
In 1901, the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad (M&NA) completed a rail line through Bellefonte. A railroad depot was built, a hotel opened, and business increased at the cotton gin and flour mill. The school building burned down in 1901 and was again replaced. Another fire in 1912 destroyed the hotel and several stores and residences. The town failed to grow due to these setbacks. Several small school districts were consolidated into the Bellefonte school district during the 1920s. In 1929, several new homes were built, and a man-made lake was constructed near the spring for which Bellefonte was named. In 1936, a lumber mill was built in Bellefonte. With the construction of U.S. Highways 62 and 65, automobile traffic increased through the area.
The railroad ceased operating around the beginning of the 1960s, and the Bellefonte post office was closed in 1965. The school district was consolidated into the Valley Springs School District. Nevertheless, voters in Bellefonte chose to reincorporate as a town.
In the twenty-first century, the Baptist and Methodist congregations remain in Bellefonte, and a Church of Christ and an Apostolic church are located along the highway south of the town. Several businesses are also located along the highway both north and south of town, especially where Highways 62 and 65 divide a few miles south of Bellefonte. The town has its own fire department.
The railroad depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.
For additional information:
Boone County Historical and Railroad Society. History of Boone County, Arkansas. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 1998.
Stark, Virginia Louise. “The History of Bellefonte.” Boone County Historian 6 (1983): 235–236.
Butler Center for Arkansas Studies
Last Updated 2/6/2019
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