August 7 – 13, 2020Vol. 22, No. 9

Where in the World are the Belgrades?

by Esther J. Perne

There are nine Belgrades in the world, ranging from Belgrade, Serbia with more people than the entire state of Maine to Belgrade, Texas — billed as a ghost town.

There are seven Belgrades in the United States: five that were founded in the 1800s, four that are in states that begin with M (Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Missouri), three that were built because of railroad lines, two that are on rivers, and one that may be just an historic building.

Although the other Old World Belgrade, in Belgium (population 4,756), had connections to Austria's royal house of Hapsburg and was named Belgrade in 1718 to commemorate the Austrian empire's conquest of the Serbian city, the towns named Belgrade in the developing New World had far less direct links to the "Balkan jewel" and certainly a lot less age.

Belgrade, Serbia (population 1.398 million) on the Sava and Dunav Rivers, from which originates the name Belgrade for all the other towns, dates back to 7000 BC when it was a Neolithic settlement and to 4,800 BC when the prehistoric town of Vinca was established.

According to historical accounts, the Celts founded Belgrade in the 3rd century BC; it subsequently became a Roman settlement called Singidunum; in 878 the Slovene name Beligrad, meaning "white city" was first used; the city became the capital of Serbia in 1405. It had previously been under Serbian rule in 1284. And, it became again the capital of an independent state of Serbia in 2006.

Although the original Belgrade allegedly changed its name 15 times throughout its history — often to assume designations given by a ruling country — in terms of development under any name the port city thrived, prospered and was rebuilt after the destruction of many wars.

It was the commercial success of the Serbian river location that apparently prompted Belgrade, Texas (population 750), established in 1839 near the Sabine River to adopt the name in hopes it, too, would become a successful river port — a hope which lasted only until the 1880s when river transportation declined due to the expansion of railroads.

Railroads also brought expansion to the name Belgrade. Belgrade, Missouri (population 913), established in 1867, is said to have been named Belgrade to honor Serbian railroad workers or investors. Belgrade, Montana (population 7,389), established in 1881, adopted its name as an expression of appreciation to the Serbian investors who helped finance a portion of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Belgrade, Minnesota (population 773), established in 1881, took the name Belgrade when the railroad was constructed in 1886 and "became one of the little oases strung along the railroad tracks from Minneapolis."

The naming of Belgrade, Nebraska (population 126), established in 1889 has an interesting connection to Belgrade Maine. When the Union Pacific reached that point, the story goes, the town was called Belgrade because the surveyor of the town site named it for his home town in Maine.

Belgrade, Maine (population 3,189; almost double that in the summer), which was founded in 1796, long before the other Belgrades in the United States, got its name due to the European travels of a John V. Davis who attended one (or maybe all) of the five town meetings needed to start the new town and suggested the name. There is no evidence that the popularity of using European capitals and countries as a source of town names in Maine influenced the selection, but it does give the town a certain niche among its capital-named neighbors.

Of all the Belgrades, Belgrade, North Carolina, founded about 1797, is perhaps the most obscure. It has not been included in past census counts so there is no population information for the community.

What does count is that a few towns named Belgrade are scattered across the country and that the one in Maine is the heart of a renowned vacation region.

Webmaster's Note: In 2009, Serbian filmmaker Miodrag Kolaric, who comes from the original Belgrade, visited four of the Belgrades described in this article and made a 76-minute documentary, Finding Belgrade, which was shown at the 2010 Maine International Film Festival. One can watch the film in low-resolution but with subtitles in English on the director's YouTube channel.