Belton, Texas, (population 16,263) located in the center of the state, was established as the county seat of Bell County in 1850. Belton is surrounded by many natural resources. It sits on the edge of the limestone hills of the Balcones Escarpment, with the fertile soils of the Blackland Prairie off to the east. The Leon River forms Belton’s northern border, the Lampasas River snakes by the southern side, and Nolan Creek meanders through the center of town.
With its central location in the state and natural resources, Belton was a well-established trade center when the Civil War drained the city and county of more than a thousand men. Belton managed to endure the challenges faced by Southern towns during the war years and rebuilt its economy at the war’s close. The community boomed in the post-war period by capitalizing on its resources. For thousands of cowboys driving herds of cattle through Texas, Belton was a favorite stop on the Chisholm Trail—halfway between the Rio Grande Valley and the Red River, with ample water for livestock. With an array of merchants and merchandise, Belton was the perfect place to stock up for the next leg of the ride.
Belton’s early prosperity and post-war boom left a mark on the city that is apparent today. Early merchants built beautiful homes that stand today. A restored 1885 Renaissance Revival courthouse, designed by architect Jasper N. Preston and constructed from limestone quarried in Bell County, rises up from the downtown square. Baylor Female College, chartered by the Republic of Texas in 1845, moved to Belton in 1885. Now known as the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, it is a co-ed institution. The recently renovated 1905 Carnegie Library houses the Bell County Museum, chronicling and preserving the county’s historical heritage.
In order to encourage, promote, and support the economic vitality of downtown Belton, the city of Belton, along with the Downtown Belton Merchants Association, hosts Belton Market Days, a revival of First Monday trade days. The Belton Market Days take place on the third Saturday of each month in the National Register listed downtown Belton Commercial Historic District. During Market Days, customers can purchase locally grown produce at the Farmer’s Market, enjoy local entertainment, and visit and support local businesses. Interpretive signage helps educate local citizens and visitors about Belton’s history.
A current project is the restoration and enhancement of the South Belton Cemetery, the oldest local landmark. A partnership between the city and Sons of Confederate Veterans has created a brochure about the historical points of interest in the cemetery, and will ensure it remains an asset to Belton’s heritage tourism efforts.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2009.