Belton was platted in 1850 with the name of Nolandville. It was given its current name in 1851, named after Texas' governor, Peter Hansborough Bell. As the county seat of the like-named Bell County, the town seemed destined for growth. In 1868, Martha McWhirter, a prominent figure in Belton's nonsectarian Union Sunday School, created the only Texas women's communes of the 1800s. Thomas W. Cochran of H.M Cook and
Company, which later became Cochran, Blair and Potts, once threatened fisticuffs against Martha McWhirter in the middle of East Central Avenue, yelling her down and telling her that if she wished to live like a man, then by God she should be prepared to fight like one in the streets. 15 of her fellow commune members ran out into the street behind her with pitchforks and other farm implements. Mr. Cochran was humiliated and forced to back down, and remained a mortal enemy of McWhirter from that moment on, and forced the commune to flee to Maryland in 1899 when he refused to sell dry goods to the commune's hotel, Central Hotel. The 1880s marked the town's brightest age, with the building of the courthouse, Baylor Female College buildings, and a "railroad war" in which, by 1881, Belton was bypassed by the railroad which built Temple as the local junction and depot town. In 1913 the city experienced a major flood, leading to the naming of Yettie Polk Park, for Mrs. Yettie Tobler Polk, one of those who died. The town began to thrive again following the creation of Fort Hood in 1942.
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