Make Fort Monroe a National Monument

Craig here.  I ran a post talking about the disposition of Fort Monroe last month on my blog.   The Army finally leaves Fort Monroe in September of this year.  That’s BRAC in action.  At that time, ownership reverts to the state of Virginia.  While Virginia has the option to develop the site as a state park or recreation area, the simple fact is the state does not have the money (and is short on the manpower) to maintain the facilities.

Another option is to sell off the fort for commercial development.  Such has already happened to the Chamberlin Hotel along the waterfront.  And certainly a number of developers have their eye on the beachfront.

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Chamberlin Hotel

However, after nearly two centuries of Army activities, there’s a lot of… well… stuff… left behind.  And I’m not just talking about buildings – debris and waste.  Although cleanup began years ago, likely the job won’t be complete for some time.  Generally, since the “flower-power” days, as at most installations, the Army has been a good steward of the land.  But regardless of the century in which the chemicals were originally spilled, the US Army gets the bill.  That cost was estimated around $200 million in 2008.

Since Fort Monroe served, from the 1830s onward, as a testing ground for all sorts of weapons, the debris left behind is substantial.  Recently crews located this large siege rifle dating to the Civil War era.

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Burst 4.5inch Siege Rifle from the Civil War Era

And that’s not all.  Survey teams have located unexploded ordnance to include cannon shells.  But all that debris is an indicator of activity.  And much of that activity is associated with historical events.   Fort Monroe offers history at every step.

With that in mind, the National Trust for Historic Preservation recently opened discussions about the disposition of Fort Monroe. Last month the trust’s president urged President Obama to use the Antiquities Act and make Fort Monroe a national monument.  The trust continues to lobby in that direction, and has placed emphasis on the fort’s role in emancipation during the Civil War.

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Freedom's Fortress and "Contraband of War"

Rightfully so.  That aspect of the fort’s past is certainly more important in the broader context of our nation’s history.  But as an “Army” guy, I’d also mention the role the fort has played in the history of the service.  Fort Monroe was THE training base for a number of decades.  And I’m not just talking about TRADOC (headquartered there from 1973 onward).  Prior to the Civil War artillerists trained at Fort Monroe.  That continued well into the 20th century.  Arguably Fort Monroe is a better place to showcase the Army’s history than the museum planned near Fort Belvoir (although I must concede, the later will attract more tourists).

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Walls and Moat of Old Fort Monroe

While I’m certainly the first to step forward and oppose expanding the government where it ought not be, I am very much in favor of bringing in the government were it ought to be.  In my opinion, this is a case of the later.  Fort Monroe should be part of the National Park system.

4 thoughts on “Make Fort Monroe a National Monument”

  1. In reality, National PArks, and National Forests not carved from the public domain are not constitutional. I would certainly support a constitutional amendment making National Parks constitutional. I have trouble with the equivalent in National Forests, however.

    1. This confuses me. I don’t understand how the Constitution prohibits National Parks and Forests. In any case, since Fort Monroe was a military installation, it is public domain, even if public access had been restricted or controlled.

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