Fort Monroe is a former military station in Hampton, Virginia. Located on the southern edge of the Virginia Peninsula, it was the perfect spot for naval operations during the last two centuries. Though the site is now decommissioned, it still stands as a popular tourist attraction for its history. Its facilities, including 170 historic buildings, span 565 acres. This land also holds about 200 acres of natural resources, such as an 8-mile waterfront, 3.2 miles of beach along the Chesapeake Bay, and 85 acres of wetlands. The weather at the base can be described as hot in the summer and mild in the winter. Its close proximity to bodies of water gives it high humidity and contributes to the subtropical climate. The base is frequently visited by beach vacationers in the area.
The founding of Jamestown by John Smith and colonists of the VA Company are well known. However, a lesser-known discovery that came with it was the land at Old Pointe Comfort. This location was thought to have had strategic placement for coastal defense. The facility built in 1609 was known as Fort Algernourne, but soon burnt down in 1612 and was replaced by Fort George, also known as "The Fort at Old Pointe Comfort."
Fort George, too, was destined for destruction. This time, a hurricane tore down the masonry, but wooden buildings were able to be salvaged for further use. The construction of a new fort at the site began in 1822 with the plan developed by President James Monroe, after whom the facility was named. Fort Monroe took around 20 years to build with the time-consuming creation of a moat to conceal the base.
The site's involvement in battle started 2 years before the post's completion with the 1832 Black Hawk War. After construction was finished, the base was known as the "Gibraltar of Chesapeake Bay" and held the most powerful artillery of its time. About 30 years later came Fort Monroe's utilization during the American Civil War. After Virginia's secession in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln had Fort Monroe reinforced by Union forces in order to brace against Confederate forces.
Following the famous "Fort Monroe Doctrine" that deemed escaped male slaves past Union lines unable to be returned to bondage, several slaves fleed to Union lines around Fort Monroe. This usage of the fort ultimately led to its reputation as "Freedom's Fortress."
Much of the fort's history revolves around the intense effort to maintain control of Hampton Roads in order to keep up with naval support for the Union. This goal was achieved during the events of the Civil War, as well as the 1st and 2nd World Wars, which helped establish the site as a powerful naval defense.
During the twentieth century, Fort Monroe gradually improved their technologies and also added the Coastal Artillery School with the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps. However, the base's 2005 BRAC closure proposition was carried out in 2011, which transferred most of its functions to nearby Fort Eustis.
Redevelopment possibilities at the location included a potential boarding school on the land within the surrounding moat, but that letter of intent has now expired. The Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority (FMFADA) has taken action to plan environmental engineering, structural engineering, housing market analysis, commercial/retail analysis, public relations/marketing, and tourism management at the site. Since its designation as a National Historic Landmark, much of the planning has been based upon historical preservation.
Things to do at Fort Monroe
- Fort Monroe Casemate Museum
- Virginia War Museum
- Hermitage Museum and Gardens
- Fort Monroe National Monument
- Virginia Air & Space Center
- Naval Station Norfolk
Parks and Zoos
- Sandy Bottom Nature Park
- Buckroe Beach and Park
- Virginia Zoo
- Virginia Beach
- SailTime Virginia Beach
- Bull Island Brewing Co.
- CineBistro at Penninsula Town Center
If you are staying in Hampton to visit the historical site at Fort Monroe, there are several hotels available. The Bay Inn offers affordable and highly-rated lodging and sits only 4.9 miles from Fort Monroe's Casemate Museum, but if you wish to browse other options, click here.
Operating Hours and Seasons
Park grounds are open from 5am-midnight daily. Admission is free and the site is wheelchair friendly. Hours of the museum are as follows:
Regular business hours: 10:30am-4:30pm
Seasons/Holidays: Oct.-April (open Tues-Sun), May-Sept (open daily), Closed on Thanksgiving, Dec. 24-25, and Jan. 1
For directions from various locations, click here.
For a map of the area, click here.