In front of Bellefontaine House, at 700 Church Street in Old Waterloo, a historical plaque indicates that “La Belle Fontaine” (The Beautiful Fountain) was one of the first settlements in what is now the State of Illinois. It is in the vicinity of this well preserved early American house, built at another time, that the colonization of Waterloo began in the Illinois Country of New France.
Waterloo’s inception did not start with a fort like in Peoria in 1680, nor a religious mission like in Cahokia in 1699, nor a trading post like in Cape Girardeau in 1733, but a source of drinking water issuing from the ground. Indeed, the community takes its name from a nearby spring that the users of the King’s Highway named “La Belle Fontaine”. After the 1763 Treaty of Paris following the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France, the name was changed to “Bellefontaine”. Later, with the 1783 Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolutionary War, the community adopted “Waterloo” as its final name.
On the King’s Highway
The site of La Belle Fontaine on the height of a natural elevation of the Mississippi riverbank was ideal for establishing a colony on account of the fact that the river’s low-lying grounds were often submerged by floodwaters, particularly in the spring. Moreover, for practical reasons it was important for the small French-speaking colony to be close to Fort de Chartres, the region’s government house. The first residential homes of Waterloo in the sunny Illinois Country were erected at the beginning of the 18th century.
One of the rare remains of the authentic King’s Highway can be seen from the lawn of Bellefontaine House (operated by the Monroe County Historical Society) looking south toward the trees of Breezy Hill Cemetery. The ground exposes the ruts of the numerous carriages drawn by horses which circulated in both directions on the King’s Highway in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The historic and delightful roads of Monroe County are dotted with pretty stone bridges spanning the many streams in the area. The King’s Highway (the main thoroughfare) has given birth to a multitude of picturesque side roads that are to be discovered, photographed or painted. About 100 arch bridges have been built in the county, where the local stone quarries are abundant, embellishing the Kaskaskia – Cahokia Trail.