Fortress Monroe
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 4, 2011) -- President Barack Obama Tuesday signed a proclamation designating historic Fort Monroe, Va., as a national monument under the National Park Service.

Under the plan, the National Park Service will operate 57 percent of the installation's land, including a moat-encircled fortress with casemate walls and gun batteries along Chesapeake Bay. Other buildings on the 565 acres will be leased as warehouses, offices or shops while 174 housing units on post will be rented to both military and civilian families.

It's all part of the reuse plan designed by the Fort Monroe Authority, a state of Virginia entity designated to develop the property under 2005 Base Realignment and Closure legislation.

"Today isn't just about preserving a national landmark, it's about helping to create jobs and grow the local economy," said the president as he signed the proclamation designating Fort Monroe a national monument.

U.S. national monuments include the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, Fort Sumter and dozens of other historic landmarks.

Fort Monroe was built in 1819, after the British sailed up Chesapeake Bay and burned the nation's capitol during the War of 1812. The unique seven-sided casemate fortress was designed by Gen. Simon Bernard, once aide to Napoleon Bonaparte. Lt. Robert E. Lee was among the young engineers who eventually worked on the project and personally supervised construction of the moat.

Later, the fort played a prominent part in the Civil War, helping keep much of the coast under Union control. President Abraham Lincoln personally launched the Union's attack on Norfolk from inside Fort Monroe's walls.

During the course of the war, more than 10,000 escaped slaves were temporarily sheltered on Fort Monroe, and it became the site of a Freeman's Cemetery.

"The stories of Fort Monroe National Monument are as diverse as the nation itself," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, as he appointed 20-year Park Service veteran Kirsten Talken-Spaulding as superintendent of the new park.

Although the superintendent assumes her responsibilities immediately, typically it takes up to three years for such a national park to be fully functional, said an official of the Fort Monroe authority.

The Fort Monroe Authority is now running the installation, although the land has not officially been handed over to the state of Virginia yet. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command vacated Fort Monroe prior to Sept. 15 as required by BRAC, but the Army is still cleaning up the property, according to a development authority official, who added that she expects the land will be officially transferred in early 2012.

There are 170 historic buildings on Fort Monroe and the post includes eight miles of waterfront, 3.2 miles of beaches on the Chesapeake Bay and a 332-slip marina. It includes the Chamberlin Hotel, an early coastal vacation destination, now being used primarily as a senior citizens assisted living facility.

About 2.5 million square feet of warehouse and office space on Fort Monroe include a building leased by the city of Hampton to be used as a police academy.

The fort also includes the casemate museum, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held prisoner after the Civil War. And it includes a number of preserved coastal artillery batteries from the World War I era.

The president designated Fort Monroe a national monument under authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906. It was first used that year by President Theodore Roosevelt to designate Devil's Tower in Wyoming as the first national monument. Since then, the act has been used by 14 presidents to protect natural and historic lands such as the Grand Canyon and Ellis Island.

This was the first time Obama has used his authority under the Antiquities Act, according to a White House release.

Related Links:

Fort Monroe handoff to preserve history, military housing Human Interest News

Fort Monroe Authority

National Park Service