What today is the Columbus-Belmont State Park was first settled in the 1670s and named Iron Banks, due to the iron sediments along the banks of the Mississippi River. It actually first changed names in an attempt to have the nation's capital (which had recently burnt down during a British attack) to western Kentucky. While Columbus grew successfully, it never did become the national's capital and only regained national attention during the Civil War. Both military sides, ignoring Kentucky's neutrality, wished to take the strategic location to gain control of the Mississippi River, eventually turning the little town of Belmont into the most fortified city in America. Every step of Columbus-Belmont Park will take the visitor through the places where past people and soldiers lived, died, and fought.
On September 1, 1861, General Ulysses S. Grant moved in an attempt gain control of the high ground surrounding Columbus. Instead, however, Confederate General Leonidas Polk, who had been with his troops in Tennessee, moved more swiftly and took control of the area, establishing a camp on the Missouri-side of the river in Belmont.
Both Confederate and Union forces ignored and violated Kentucky's stated neutrality, forcing Kentucky into choosing a side. Kentucky chose the Union side in response to the heavy military action in its state.
From their location in Columbus, the Confederates had gained a highly strategic position, looking down on the Mississippi River and able to stop Union boats from advancing, using a designated chain across the river. To protect their position, the Confederates set up 140 siege guns and began fortifying the walls surrounding the camp. By the time they were finished, Columbus had become the most fortified city in America.
Further attempts to attack Columbus by Union troops failed miserably. Only when all surrounding areas had been taken by the Union, thus leaving Columbus isolated, was General Polk ordered to retreat, thus, in effect, handing Columbus to the Union. With the taking of Columbus, the Union now gained control of the Mississippi, cutting the Confederacy in two.
After the war, Columbus continued to both prosper and suffer at the hands of the Mississippi River. The Flood of 1927 devastated the town but also exposed the long-forgotten giant chain, once used to stop Union boats from moving along the Mississippi River.
In 1934, the federal government accepted the 160 acres as a state park and assisted in setting up the camp site. Today visitors can see the well-preserved fortifications, a large piece of the Mississippi River chain, and a huge Civil War-era anchor. In addition, there is an antebellum house, which has been turned into a museum, that at one point served as a Confederate hospital.