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.
The Fort Monroe Authority has achieved an important milestone. On October 24, 2013, the Authority’s Board of Trustees approved the master plan prepared by Sasaki Associates. Now the master plan goes to Richmond for Governor McDonnell’s final approval. Click here to review Sasaki’s presentation to the Board of Trustees.
Kathleen Kilpatrick, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, wrote a strong letter supporting approval of the master plan. Ms. Kilpatrick has been an essential leader in the 8-year effort to preserve and protect historic Fort Monroe following the Army’s decision to vacate the military post. Her letter explains the layers of preservation-based protections now in place for historic resources at Fort Monroe. Click here to review the programmatic agreement, memorandum of understanding, and design standards which protect Fort Monroe.
The National Trust supported approval of the Authority’s master plan. Our letter and testimony during the October 24 public meeting noted the importance of moving forward to rehabilitate and utilize the 180 historic structures within the National Historic Landmark site.
On September 26, 2013, the Planning Advisory Group to the Fort Monroe Authority voted to recommend approval of the draft Master Plan for the re-development of Fort Monroe. The National Trust participated in this important public meeting and provided comments that urged the Fort Monroe Authority to resolve outstanding issues surrounding the master plan in order to finalize and approve the plan.
For eight years, the National Trust has been committed to advising key decision makers on the importance of protecting the historic resources at Fort Monroe and to ensuring that any new development there will be strictly limited and compatible with the fort’s historic character. It is our mission to see that Fort Monroe becomes a vibrant and self-sustaining new community. That’s the best way to preserve Fort Monroe for the future. And, we believe that the draft Master Plan is on the right track.
So, what happens next?
Up next, the draft Master Plan will be reviewed by the Fort Monroe Authority’s Finance Committee on October 10. This committee is focused on ensuring that Fort Monroe achieves economic independence. We will continue to keep you updated on the master plan as it moves toward final approval by the Fort Monroe Authority and, ultimately, the Governor of Virginia.
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. 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. 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.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.