For almost 200 years, the U.S. Army was a good steward of Fort Monroe, but the transition to its new civilian use requires intensive planning to ensure that the fort is carefully preserved and skillfully adapted. The Fort Monroe Authority is leading the way. On November 1, 2011, President Barack Obama named the fort a National Monument – a key strategy to preserve the fortress with the National Park Service.
Fort Monroe has long been recognized for its military heritage associated with Robert E. Lee (who helped build the fort) and Jefferson Davis (who was imprisoned there following the war). But the fort has an underappreciated heritage related to the origins and ending of slavery in America. In 1619, the first slave ship to arrive in the English-speaking New World deposited its cargo of enslaved human beings where Fort Monroe now stands. In 1861, as the Civil War raged, Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker, and James Townsend – enslaved African Americans – sought protection at Fort Monroe, a Union stronghold. Union General Benjamin Butler declared them “contraband” of war. As word spread of the freedom seekers at Fort Monroe, more than 500,000 enslaved people followed in the footsteps of Mallory, Baker, and Townsend, leading to one of our nation’s most extraordinary – and until now, overlooked – chapters, and heralding the end of slavery in America.
- Prepare and implement detailed plans for conserving Fort Monroe’s outstanding scenic, natural, architectural, and cultural assets.
- Encourage sustainable economic development strategies so that Fort Monroe remains a vital community where people live, work, and visit.
Written by Rob Nieweg, Project Manager
The Fort Monroe Authority is deep in the process of preparing a new master plan for Fort Monroe. Ultimately, the Authority’s master plan will guide the future reuse of 245 acres and many historic structures at Fort Monroe. (The National Park Service has jurisdiction over the remaining 325 acres, which make up the Fort Monroe National Monument.)
Throughout this work, the National Trust has maintained regular contact with the Fort Monroe Authority, National Park Service, and a set of dedicated non-governmental groups interested in the future of Freedom’s Fortress. The National Trust continues to advocate for preservation through regular correspondence, conference calls, and public meetings.
In late September 2012, Sasaki Associates released a set of five alternative concepts for public review: http://www.sasaki.com/Open/CommunityMeeting_Sept_2012.pdf In response, the National Trust sent a detailed comment letter to the Fort Monroe Authority: http://www.preservationnation.org/travel-and-sites/sites/southern-region/additional-resources/Fort-Monroe-National-Trust-letter-to-Fort-Monroe-Authority-12-12-12.pdf Our letter commends the Fort Monroe Authority for the strong emphasis on adapting each of the Fort’s historic structures for productive new uses. That is one critical measure of success.
The National Trust also published an op-ed in the Daily Press about Sasaki’s progress on the Fort Monroe master plan: http://articles.dailypress.com/2012-12-11/news/dp-new-oped-brown-1212-2012/211_1_wherry-quarter-fort-monroe-authority-historic-buildings. Our op-ed welcomed the concept for a Crescent Park that would secure a buffer zone around the moat and fortress. We also urged interested members of the public to share their ideas at the Fort Monroe Master Plan interactive website, another way to be heard on this critical preservation issue: http://ideas.fmauthority.com/
My next update will address the new material released by Sasaki in March 2013.
Written by Rob Nieweg, Project Manager
Earlier this year, the Fort Monroe Authority hired Sasaki Associates, Inc. to prepare a master plan for the portion of Fort Monroe that is under the Authority’s jurisdiction. The Fort Monroe Authority’s area of the 570-acre historic site includes some of the fortress’s most important historic resources.
In a nutshell, Sasaki Associates is a Boston-based, interdisciplinary planning and design firm. Sasaki’s high-profile projects stretch around the world, including planning for historic places like the Charleston, South Carolina waterfront and the Presidio of San Francisco, as well as master planning for many university campuses, from the University of Maine to Portland State University. Sasaki was selected by the Fort Monroe Authority on the recommendation of a panel that included the grassroots Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park.
Since Sasaki was hired, the firm was awarded the American Planning Association’s National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Firm. The American Planning Association wrote: “Sakaki Associates, Inc. has a history of regenerating communities with its unique collaboration of engineers, architects, and planners. … The firm’s planning process is based on the value of strong ideas, critical inquiry and exploration, and board public engagement.”
To inform its work at Fort Monroe, Sasaki is collecting public input about the future of Fort Monroe online. Take a moment to share your opinions on their interactive website.
Written by Rob Nieweg, Project Manager
In November 2011, President Obama created a new National Monument at Fort Monroe. Today, thanks to the president, 325 acres of the historic site are the responsibility of the National Park Service, while the remaining 245 acres (and most of the historic structures) are the responsibility of the Fort Monroe Authority. The National Trust and its membership campaigned for President Obama’s National Monument proclamation, and we strongly support the innovative partnership forming between the Fort Monroe Authority and the National Park Service to preserve this important place.
Now, the National Park Service is preparing a “foundation document,” a new long-term plan to guide their management of the National Monument. To engage the interested public, the National Park Service hosted an open house in April 2012 and has solicited public comments about Fort Monroe. In May 2012, they asked:
- What is most important about the Fort Monroe National Monument?
- What are the greatest threats to the Fort Monroe National Monument?
- How have you used Fort Monroe in the past? What uses would you like to see at Fort Monroe?
- What should the American people know about Fort Monroe? What are its most important stories?
Click here to read the National Trust’s answers. A draft foundation document will likely be ready for public review and comment in early winter 2013. We’re watching closely and asking for new opportunities to consult with the National Park Service as the agency prepares its draft.
What’s at stake? The National Park Service’s plan is critical to the future of the National Monument, of course, but the foundation document will also help shape many key aspects of the Fort Monroe Authority’s own master plan. All of this land-use planning is interconnected and very political. For example, on August 8, 2012, the Hampton City Council weighed in by unanimously resolving to only support new development in the controversial Wherry Quarter that is “complementary to the National Park Service plans” for the National Monument. The Wherry Quarter is located within the Fort Monroe Authority's jurisdiction, and some have argued that no development should be permitted there.
Click here for press coverage of the city council’s resolution, which sends an important message to both the National Park Service and the Fort Monroe Authority. This resolution, which seems to support some level of new development in the Wherry Quarter for “tourism, hospitality, recreation, and open space concepts,” also begins to answer the much-debated question of what sort of new development, if any, would be considered appropriate within the Wherry Quarter.
Written by Robert Nieweg, Project Manager
The National Trust and many others envision Fort Monroe as an economically self-sustaining and well-preserved historic place where people will be welcome to live, learn, work, and visit – a vital, new community utilizing a storied historic site. That’s our vision for this public place.
For seven years, the National Trust has pressed decision makers to carefully protect historic resources and to strictly limit new development at Fort Monroe. Some parts of Fort Monroe, like the Historic Village zone, are not suited for much in the way of new development. Instead, we’ve urged planners to look first to the North Gate area, a largely undeveloped zone of storage buildings and parking lots, for potential space to create first-rate new architecture which is compatible with Fort Monroe’s historic character. See here for our April 2012 Daily Press op-ed, “A Vision for Fort Monroe.”
However, the first priority at Fort Monroe must be to repurpose each of the 180 historic structures within the 570-acre National Historic Landmark district. Virtually all of the historic structures are under the stewardship of the Commonwealth’s Fort Monroe Authority, and are not part of the National Park Service’s 325-acre National Monument, which was designated by President Obama in November 2011. To its credit, the Authority is making progress on this front, and approximately 55% of rentable housing already is leased for new uses.
On August 3, 2012, The Virginian-Pilot published the National Trust’s new opinion piece, “The Economic Power of Preservation.” See here for the full text. As you’ll see, the National Trust’s focus is on a pair of time-tested preservation tools – the federal and Virginia historic rehabilitation tax credits. In my experience, tax credit work saves historic places. And, as our op-ed observes, the 180 historic structures should be the “building blocks of a new future for Fort Monroe.” Many of the fort’s historic buildings would be wonderful candidates for rehabilitation and adaptive reuse incentivized by the tax credits. That means careful change to meet modern needs.
Today, the onus is on Sasaki Associates, the Authority’s consultant, to propose a draft master plan for Fort Monroe’s future. The federal and state historic tax credits are just one way to realize the vision and implement the master plan, but they are indispensable tools.
William E. Lowry on December 14, 2012
I was a member of the CONARC Band at Ft. Monroe from c. 1970 to 1972. I played French Horn and I'm trying to see if there might be photos of the band at that time. Any information you might share would be most welcome. email@example.com.
Elisa on October 13, 2012
My husband and I visited Fort Monroe this afternoon. I also think it's a treasure that has fortunately been declared a national monument. I see a lot of potential to develop it into a national park in the future as it has so many ammenities. I too believe the land can be utilized for many uses for the public appreciation of history as well as outdoor recreation.
Emma on September 25, 2012
I love Fort Monroe, it is my favorite place to walk, jog, handout with my grandsons and enjoy the outdoor concerts. I am always seeing something amazing there, such as dolphins, giant turtles, super large tankers, submarines, birds feeding and just the beauty of it. I would love to see a more extensive area of upscale hotels
Rob Nieweg, Arlington, VA on June 09, 2012
When I was a boy, my grandfather and I would sit along the seawall to watch oceangoing vessels pass Fort Monroe. He was a maritime engineer who had sailed around the world. We now know that he made port in Norfolk in January 1915 on the Membland, a cargo ship torpedoed in February 1915 on the North Sea. Today, I lead the National Trust team that is working, with many partners, to preserve the National Historic Landmark. I’ve met many people with personal connections to the fortress, including those descended from the ten thousand women, men, and children who emancipated themselves at Fort Monroe. Everyone should visit.
Audrey P. Davis, Washington, DC on June 08, 2012
As a child, my father would drive to Fort Monroe and tell me about my great, great, grandfather William Roscoe Davis. In 1861, William R. Davis was one of the first contrabands to arrive at Fort Monroe, and he became superintendent of Contrabands. Fort Monroe is a beautiful site, and a place to contemplate issues regarding freedom, race and identity. My job involves preserving a contraband site in Alexandria, Va. My Contraband heritage inspires me daily.