Bellevue is a city in Sarpy County, Nebraska, United States. The population was 44,382 at the 2000 census. South of Omaha, Bellevue is part of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area. Incorporated in 1855, it is the oldest city in Nebraska.It is the third-largest city in the state, just ahead of Grand Island. Tribal territory of the OtoeSettlement 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 trader who purchased it in 1828 representing 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.
Fontenelle sold the post in 1832 to the US Government for the Missouri River Indian Agency (also called the Bellevue Agency). By this time the fur trade had declined greatly. When the first Baptist missionaries, Moses and Eliza Merrill, arrived in 1833, the Indian agent let them stay at the post temporarily. They moved about eight miles to the west with the Otoe in 1835, where they established what was known as the Otoe or Moses Merrill Mission. Fontenelle’s Post was abandoned about 1839-1842.
Colonel Peter Sarpy, a trader and Louisiana Creole, 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. He later became active in community affairs in Bellevue and helped plat and organize the town, as well as platting Decatur. The legislature named Sarpy County after him for his service in community organizing.
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. With the opening of eastern Nebraska to settlement in 1854, Bellevue experienced a building boom, with the erection of the First Presbyterian Church, a bank, a hotel, and dozens of private homes.
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.
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, 10 miles (16 km) to the west. In the 1880s, Bellevue College (now Bellevue University) was established. In the 1890s, the city’s offer of inexpensive land brought Fort Crook to the Bellevue area. Both organizations provided an insurance against extinction. It would be the fort, however, that would cause the biggest impetus to Bellevue’s population in the future.
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.