Fort Monroe was one of those unexpected surprises that make our travels great.
We were staying in Virginia Beach, and went to Norfolk for the day. We had visited Nauticus, which features the battleship Wisconsin, and the Norfolk Naval base tour. It was mid-afternoon, and we were looking for another “adventure” before supper time. I had seen mention of a casemate museum at Fort Monroe, and we were fairly close by, so off we went. Much to our surprise, this place was amazing- yet virtually deserted. We joked it was almost like something from a “Twilight Zone” episode.
A great old lighthouse still stands just outside of the fort walls. The fort is made with stone walls, with a moat around it, and only two small single lane entrances/exits. The surrounding ramparts were of well-manicured grass up to the stone walls. There were many casemates and rooms inside the wall, built into the earthen ramparts.
In the center of this were beautify maintained homes and buildings, with a colonial style architecture. We eventually found some signs of life when we happened to the casemate museum. http://www.fmauthority.com/visit/casemate-museum/ This would have been a good place to have started, as it really gives you some insight to the place. So, at this point, I’ll give you some history of the place.
Fort Monroe is a 565-acre decommissioned military installation. It is located in in Hampton Virginia (Ingalls Road, Fort Monroe VA.). The area is known as Old Point Comfort, and had its beginnings as a fort, starting in the early 1600’s. A wooden stockade, Fort Algernourne was the first defensive placement here. The fort as it sits now is a seven-sided stone walled fort surrounded by a moat, and is the largest stone fort in the United States. It was completed in 1864, and named in honor of President James Monroe. During the Civil war, Fort Monroe remained in Union possession, even though Virginia was a Confederate state. The fort played a part in the defense of the area up until it’s 2011 decommissioning. Gun batteries were updated through the years, it was used as a training facility and the fort controlled several sub-installations in the Hampton area.
A who’s who of history.
The fort has had many people through its wall over the years- some of those may be familiar to you. Edgar Allan Poe served his finally time in the service station here. President Andrew Jackson visited the fort several times. Robert E. Lee, a second lieutenant at the time, was stationed here 1831-1834. President Abraham Lincoln visited the fort in 1862. Confederate president, Jefferson Davis was imprisoned here for two years.
Old Point Comfort Lighthouse
The lighthouse was built in the very first years of the 1800’s, among the first commissioned by the United States government. It is still in use today. It was seized by British forces during the war of 1812. When Fort Monroe was constructed, it was situated to be able to defend the lighthouse in the future. Outside of the walls of the fort, the lighthouse is easily viewed. There is no public access to the light itself. https://www.nps.gov/fomr/learn/historyculture/index.htm
On the trail
We started walking the ramparts, and these give you any amazing elevated view. The foundations for earlier gun placements are still easily seen. The buildings below have housed many famous and important people through the years, and many are marked. The casemate museum has many artifacts and displays to give you an idea of the place’s rich history. They also maintain a small, but very nice gift-shop.
There are some de-activated gun placements that are easily accessed. Many of the abandoned battery buildings offer great insights to the defenses inner workings. The beautifully maintain seawall is an amazing place to watch the ships entering & leaving the ports. We also saw several military boats as well. A nice pier is another place to wander to. We walked several miles and enjoyed every step. Something odd, was the pet cemetery on top of some of the ramparts. Some pet graves were marked with a simple homemade monument- others had a regular grave stone. Some were fairly humorous in the lost pet’s epitaphs. If you are in the area, you really should take a few hours to visit fort Monroe- especially if you like a quieter and less crowded pace. Enjoy!
References and links
Citizens for a Fort Monroe National park-
National Parks Service – https://www.nps.gov/fomr/learn/historyculture/index.htm
Fort Monroe Authority
Other nearby places of interest
Norfolk Navy base tours
Military Aviation Museum