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Fort Monroe, Virginia: a Section 106 Success Story

The ACHP was delighted to learn that President Barack Obama created the Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia on November 1, 2011.

But there’s a story behind the story, a quiet but important chapter in the fort’s long and illustrious history that highlights how the National Historic Preservation Act continues to make the United States of America a richer and more vibrant nation. Although much of the historic core of Fort Monroe now will be in National Park Service stewardship, there are many more stewards involved and there is much more information behind the saga of the newest National Monument and its immediate environs.

Fort Monroe, Aerial Shot, 2004

As the designation was made, Fort Monroe, Virginia, was in the final stages of moving from centuries of U.S. Army stewardship into the care of the Fort Monroe Authority, Commonwealth of Virginia thanks to praiseworthy efforts under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

The Army and the Fort Monroe Authority with assistance from the Virginia State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) have drafted protocols, as prescribed by the Programmatic Agreement, for site management stipulations that will safeguard the National Historic Landmark (NHL) and provide for public involvement in its fate and future. Fort Monroe will long serve to inspire and educate Americans and international visitors while serving the needs of the region where it is located.

This was accomplished through a well-conceived and executed Section 106 process that began when the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) legislation mandated the closure of Fort Monroe. Planning for the Section 106 consultation process began almost immediately following the BRAC announcement.

Encompassing approximately 570 acres, including the only moat-encircled active Army facility, the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse, the former Chamberlin Hotel, and 189 other historic properties, the closure of Fort Monroe posed a considerable challenge for the Army. Recognized as a historic “crown jewel” in the Army inventory, many local and national groups with interests ranging from history to natural resources and proponents for the fort’s future use, participated in the Section 106 process. 

In order to identify as many interested consulting parties as early in the process as possible, the Army set about contacting primary stakeholders, such as the Virginia SHPO, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the ACHP, and federally recognized Indian tribes with a cultural affiliation to the Hampton, Virginia, area.  The Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service, participated because the fort is an NHL. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the leading national preservation non-profit organization, played an active role in the favorable outcome. So did a local church. In all, almost 40 consulting parties helped guide the process to become the preservation success story it is today.

The Army and the Virginia SHPO established an open and inclusive process to reach as many organizations as possible. The Army held a series of informational meetings that took place over several years in Washington, D.C.; Richmond; Hampton; and Norfolk to give members of the public multiple opportunities to review the process, provide comments, and interact with members of the team.

With the President’s announcement, Fort Monroe National Monument becomes the 396th unit of the National Park System. The agreements forged through Section 106 will guarantee the appropriate use and maintenance of this rare American fort.  

Fort Monroe witnessed and played roles in some of the epochal events of American history.  As Fort Monroe it dates to 1819, originally constructed as part of a proposed chain of forts stretching from Florida to Maine after the War of 1812 demonstrated the need for coastal defenses. But it was built on the site of an earlier fort. The unique seven-sided fort surrounded by a moat covered 63 acres when initially completed. It was then the largest fort in the United States, and larger than any fort in Europe that did not enclose a town. 

The Civil War added a rich layer of history to Fort Monroe. One of a few key United States forts not seized by Confederate States of America (CSA), the fort helped hold much of the area’s coastline under U.S. control. From its walls the epic fight between the C.S.S. Virginia and the U.S.S. Monitor was witnessed. On May 23, 1861, three escaped slaves were given refuge by Fort Monroe commander Major General Benjamin Butler. Making policy on the spot, he declared them to be “contraband of war” and refused to return them to Confederate masters. By war’s end, more than 10,000 enslaved persons had been sheltered by the fort. Additionally, CSA President Jefferson Davis was held captive there for more than two years after the war ended.

See www.fmauthority.com/about/history.php for more Fort Monroe history.

To read a status report on the Section 106 process when it was in motion, see a Spring 2007 Case Digest report at www.achp.gov/docs/case_spring_07small.pdf

And to better understand how important this effort was deemed by the national historic preservation community, read the news release issued in April 2010 when the ACHP presented the Army and its key partners the Chairman’s Award for Federal Achievement in Historic Preservation:  www.achp.gov/docs/Awards%20Release%20Fort%20Monroe.pdf

Last updated: November 01, 2011

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