Fort Monroe, also know as the “Freedom Fortress”, located in Hampton, VA has been part of American history from the Native American presence to the civil war as a safe place for escaped slaves seeking freedom, to the twenty-first century as the base for the US Army Artillery School. Visitors to this park get to experience its rich history as well as see the historic preservation that is on-going.
Several presidents have visited Fort Monroe throughout it’s history beginning with it’s construction in 1819. Andrew Jackson was the first to visit in the summers of 1829, 1831, 1833, and 1834 during his presidency. Abraham Lincoln visited in 1862 where he helped plan the attack on Norfolk, VA. He later visited a second time in 1865 for a peace conference. Harry S Truman was the last to visit. He visited several times from 1960 to 1962 to see his nephew General Louis W. Truman.
Women have always been part of Fort Monroe beginning even before its construction, beginning in 1749. Many of the women who lived here were officer’s wives and daughters but there were also several servants who lived with strict rules about their comings and goings. By the time that World War II came about, women were serving in the Army as nurses, truck drivers and draftsman at Fort Monroe.
The Old Point Comfort Lighthouse was built and in operation by 1775. The lighthouse was captured by the British briefly during the War of 1812 and was used as an observation tower. Over the years at Fort Monroe the lighthouse has gone through several renovations and is now used as beacon for boats in the Chesapeake Bay.
Fort Monroe often was a sought-after haven for escaped slaves.
Things to Do
Fort Monroe Casemate Museum- The museum is located within the stone fort itself. It recounts the Fort Monroe military history, beginning with Fort Algernourne, which was the first fortification built before Fort Monroe in 1609 and chronicling all the way up to the most recent command at Fort Monroe. An interesting exhibit in the museum displays where then prisoner of war Jefferson Davis was held for a short period of time after the Civil War. A decision was made in 1861 to allow those seeking freedom sanctuary which gave Fort Monroe the nickname of “Freedom Fortress." Even those who were enslaved were given refuge during the war, in one instance, a general gave three enslaved men care and shelter, and they called it "Contraband of War."
Chesapeake Bay- The Fort Monroe NM Athletics group offers many opportunities for visitors and staff alike to walk, jog, or ride bikes along the 4 miles of the Chesapeake Bay seawall. The Peninsula YMCA Summer Camp gives lessons in kayaking on the bay. Beaches on the bay offer clean, litter-free places for visitors to swim and sun bathe. Various hiking places are available for hikers in the area.
Fort Wool in Hampton Virginia- This is another historic fort built in 1819, located in Hampton, VA. It fulfilled key roles in the Civil War and both World Wars, seeing the battle of the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. While not accessible by car, it is a stop on the Miss Hampton II Harbor Tour and private boats can dock seasonally at the fort.
Downtown Hampton- During the 17th and 18th centuries Hampton was a stop for cargo ships on the journey from Virginia to England where goods such as teas, spices, tools, and dressmaking materials were unloaded. Three hundred years later, the renovated beachfront district which includes the original 17th century harbor, is home to several shops, pubs, restaurants, art galleries, marinas, and a beachfront park for visitors to enjoy.
Junior Ranger Program- Children who wish to participate in the Junior Ranger program will participate in activities involving the historic features of Fort Monroe which will allow them to earn badges, a certificate and the Junior Ranger rank.
NPS Centennial- The NPS celebrated 100 years in August of 2016. As part of the celebration a Find Your Park campaign was started where millions of visitors came out to explore and discover their favorite national parks. The campaign continues through 2017.
Healthy eating is important to the staff at Fort Monroe. There are four main places that offer healthy options: Chamberlin Bistro, Colonies RV and Travel Park, the Marina Café, and the Paradise Ocean Club and Bay Breeze Conference Center. All are located around the Chesapeake Bay area.
There are many antique shops and art galleries for visitors wishing to delve into history and cultural affairs at Fort Monroe. For those who wish to indulge in regular shopping there are several department store chains available for shopping.
41 Bernard Road, Fort Monroe, Virginia
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