Fort Monroe National Monument

Fort Monroe National Monument

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“It has often been said that America’s national parks are her crown jewels and, today, that legacy has grown yet richer through the inclusion of Fort Monroe.  Now, future generations will be able to explore this unique site and gain an understanding of the history that unfolded here,” James Lighthizer, President of the Civil War Trust

Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, is an urban national park site which honors more than 400 years of history at the site and America’s road from Civil War to Civil Rights, which began more than 150 years ago.

The November 1, 2011 designation of Fort Monroe National Monument was the first time President Obama used the Antiquities Act. The Fort Monroe National Monument boundary of 325-acres includes historic fortifications and the North Beach area and is managed by the U.S. Park Service.

Fort Monroe has a storied history in the defense of our Nation and the struggle for freedom. In the 1600’s, the present-day Fort Monroe was the landing site of the first enslaved people brought to North America. Two hundred years later, in 1861, Fort Monroe was the site of Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler’s landmark “contraband decision,” whereby escaped slaves who reached Union lines would be deemed contraband of war and not returned to their masters, earning it the nichname“Freedom’s Fortress” and laying the groundwork for President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Thus, Old Point Comfort marks both the beginning and end of slavery in our Nation.

The star-shaped stone and brick fort has been a bastion of defense of the Chesapeake Bay, a stronghold of the Union Army surrounded by the Confederacy, a place of freedom for the enslaved, and the imprisonment site of Chief Blackhawk and the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.  Fort Monroe served as an embarkation point for U.S. forces in the Seminole Wars, suppression of Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Black Hawk War, Mexican War, and Civil War.  It served as the U.S. Army’s Coastal Defense Artillery School during the 19th and 20th centuries, and most recently, as headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

Fort Monroe was the third oldest United States Army post in continuous active service until its closure in September 2011. The majority of the Fort Monroe peninsula was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Special events have come to the area because it is a new national park unit. For example, 12,000 people visited just for the three-day Tall Ships event, and the fort was just chosen for a television pilot that has started filming. This is expected to bring $50 million to the area.

The Fort Monroe National Monument, managed by the U.S. Park Service, was the first national monument designated in the Commonwealth of Virginia through the use of the Antiquities Act.

Public Input

The efforts to preserve and protect Fort Monroe began shortly after the Base Realignment Alignment Closure Commission announcement in 2005 that the military base at Fort Monroe was scheduled to be closed. Local advocates started a campaign to have the site designated as a National Park. Unfortunately, despite strong local support, there was little momentum and political will to move this legislation through Congress.

Advocates worked with Hampton Mayor Molly Ward and members of the congressional delegation calling for either a National Park or a National Monument designated under the Antiquities Act.

Hampton Mayor Molly Ward became an outspoken champion for the area. U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) toured the area in the spring 2011with members of the press. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also visited the area, meeting with 150 supporters.

Approximately 700 people attend two public meetings with Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service to express support for either a National Park or a National Monument designation. In addition, more than 2,000 public comments in support of a national park of monument were sent to the Interior Department.

In addition to support from residents and elected officials, a broad coalition of African American and  preservation organizations,  including the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc., the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Civil War Trust, Contraband Historical Society, Norfolk Historical Society and Preservation Virginia all expressed support for a designation.