Belle Prairie, French for beautiful meadow, was surveyed in the fall of
1788 under the direction of Return Johnathan Meigs, Sr. Cabins were constructed
and in early April of 1789, families began living in Belpre, the second
permanent American settlement in the territory north and west of the Ohio
River. The Ohio Territory was opened to expansion following the passage
of the Northwest Territory Ordinance of 1787.
The New England farmers who had served their country in the Revolutionary
War, formed the Ohio Company and purchased land in the Ohio country. Those
that settled Belpre chose this place to make their homes because it was
adaptive to agriculture. They were anxious to establish farms and orchards,
build a new town, raise families and develop this new country for which
they had fought to unite.
Education being very important to these early Belpre residents, the community
hired Bathsheba Rouse to teach their children. She was later hired by
the Ohio Company to continue teaching when the families had to take refuge
during the Indian uprising, 1791-95. The fortification at Belpre was called
In 1791 a Floating Mill was constructed by Capt Johnathan Devol in the
Ohio River making the task of grinding grains much easier. In 1795 the
Putnam family began lending their books, and subscription shares were
purchased in what became “The Belpre Farmers Library.”
Many settlers flowed over the rivers into Ohio’s first frontier,
bringing their dreams for a better life. Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett,
a wealthy aristocratic couple from Ireland, came to the area in 1798 to
purchase an island and build a mansion. The site of Blennerhassett Island
became nationally famous when Aaron Burr visited in 1805. Controversy
clouded Burr’s mysterious expedition to the Southwest. The Blennerhassett
Mansion has been restored and is a major tourist attraction in the area.
The village of Belpre grew like other small communities – roads,
larger homes, bridges, family businesses, schools, and churches. Plantings
and harvests, famines and floods, oil boom, steamboats, then railroads
helped shape the character of the people. Through the trying times of
the Civil War, the danger of the Underground Railroad, the great depression,
more wars, Belpre has endured.
Evolving from an agrarian society and truck farms into manufacturing and
chemical industries, the principals of those first settlers remain. People
living daily routines, building one generation on another, developing
from year to year a community anyone would be proud to live in.