Bellevue (French for "beautiful view") is a city in Sarpy County, Nebraska, United States. The population was 50,137 at the 2010 census. Eight miles south of Omaha, Bellevue is part of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area. Originally settled in the 1830s, Bellevue was incorporated in 1855 and is the oldest continuous town in Nebraska. The Nebraska State Legislature has credited the town as being the second oldest settlement in Nebraska. It was once the seat of government in Nebraska.
Settlement of what became Bellevue began when a fur trading post was built in 1822 by Joshua Pilcher, then president of the Missouri Fur Company based in St. Louis. The post was later known as Fontenelle's Post after being run by Lucien Fontenelle, a fur trader who purchased it in 1828 to represent the American Fur Company. The Post served as a central trading point with local Omaha, Otoe, Missouri and Pawnee tribes. Early French Canadian trappers named the area Belle Vue because of the beauty of the view from the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River.
With the decline in the fur trade, in 1832 Fontenelle sold the post to the US government to be used for the Missouri River Indian Agency (also called the Bellevue Agency). When Baptist missionaries Moses and Eliza Merrill arrived in 1833, the US Indian agent let them stay temporarily at the post.
In 1835 the Merrills moved with the Otoe about eight miles to the west, where they established what was known as the Otoe or Moses Merrill Mission. Fontenelle's Post was abandoned about 1839-1842. In 1839 the Steamboat Pirate sank on the Missouri near Bellevue. In the 1830s a log cabin was built at present-day 805 Hancock Street, that still stands today.
Colonel Peter Sarpy, a French Creole fur trader who also was based in St. Louis, established a trading post across the river from Bellevue in what became Iowa. It chiefly supplied the expeditions of European and United States settlers bound for Oregon and later, California's Gold Rush. About 1846, Sarpy also set up a ferry between Bellevue and St. Mary's, Iowa. By the 1850s, one of his ferries ran by steam. Bellevue was also a location of Mormon settlement around 1850.
As a prominent businessman, Sarpy was active in community affairs in Bellevue. He helped plat and organize the town. In addition, he platted Decatur. The Nebraska legislature named Sarpy County after him in appreciation.
Ideally situated on the Missouri River with access to the Platte River Valley, Bellevue continued to grow. The community became a hub for transfer of manufactured goods from the East and furs from the West. From the 1840s until the 1850s, Bellevue prospered.
With the decline of the fur trade, Bellevue changed during the decade of the 1850s to a more mixed economy. As eastern Nebraska was opened to European-American settlement in 1854 after the US gained cession of the Omaha people's lands in the Treaty of 1854, Bellevue experienced a building boom. The First Presbyterian Church, a bank, a hotel, and dozens of private homes were among the new structures built. The boom was short-lived, however. The expansion accompanied a belief that the city was to be selected as the capital of the Nebraska Territory. Since the city was the oldest and most widely known settlement in the territory, Bellevue residents were optimistic. The new territorial governor, Francis Burt, had already moved into a residence in Bellevue. Shortly after arriving, Governor Burt died.
His successor T.B. Cuming selected a new upstart community as the territorial capital — Omaha, to the north on the Missouri River. This became the center of economic development.
The second half of the century witnessed Bellevue's slip into relative obscurity. While Omaha grew from a few hundred in population in 1855 to 104,000 in 1890, Bellevue's numbers continued to slide until the city was near extinction. In 1876, the county seat was transferred to Papillion, to the west.
In the 1890s, the city's offer of inexpensive land brought Fort Crook to the Bellevue area. The fort provided impetus to Bellevue's population growth in the future. In 1966, Bellevue College (now Bellevue University) was established.
From the 1880s to 1940, Bellevue's population grew minimally, from around 500 to not more than 1200 in 1940. The small growth was primarily due to the improved transportation access to Omaha, which allowed for easier commuting for workers.
Offutt Air Force Base
Fort Crook, later named and redesigned as Offutt Air Force Base, spurred Bellevue's largest growth. Offutt became home to the huge Martin bomber plant during World War II and, shortly after the war, housed the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command. It attracted thousands of workers, both civilian and military, who made Bellevue their home. Bellevue's population grew from less than 1200 in 1940 to almost 4000 in 1950 and then almost 9000 ten years later. A decade later, Bellevue's population again more than doubled, to more than 20,000.
The Martin Bomber Plant was the site of manufacture for the historically significant Enola Gay and Bockscar, the planes used by the US to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, respectively, ending the Pacific war.
The first divided highway in Nebraska was built from the south Omaha city limits to Offutt Air Force Base. Today known as Fort Crook Road, it was finished December 8, 1941, the day after the attacks at Pearl Harbor.
Bellevue's growth today is primarily due to an expanding economy in the civilian sector. The Kennedy Freeway, a limited-access highway linked to the Interstate Highway System, has stimulated a new building boom. Commercial, industrial, and residential construction are all expanding. During the 1990s, the city's population grew by 47.5%. Economic and population growth has continued since the turn of the 20th to 21st century.
Bellevue is the site of Fontenelle Forest, of privately owned forestland with of hiking trails, with views of the Missouri River and the surrounding area. It includes the site of Fontenelle's Post. Haworth Park at the Missouri River is also a popular tourist attraction, featuring the start of a walking trail that stretches many miles across Bellevue.
The eagerly anticipated Bellevue Medical Center opened on May 17, 2010. The hospital is located at the corner of Highway 370 and 25th Street.
Bellevue's current mayor is Rita Sanders.