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Fort Monroe Board Proposes That Part of Property Be An NPS Unit date
By Scott C. Boyd
(January 2010 Civil War News)
HAMPTON, Va. -The board overseeing the future of historic Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia has recommended that Congress create a national park there after the U.S. Army closes the facility on September 14, 2011.
The 18-member Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority (FMFADA) voted unanimously at its Nov. 19 meeting to ask Virginia political leaders to work with Congress and help draft the federal legislation needed to authorize part of the 565-acre fort to become a unit of the National Park Service (NPS) after the Army leaves the post.
The Army’s use of Fort Monroe is ending because of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process which recommends closing unneeded military facilities. The fort was selected for closure by the 2005 BRAC plan.
In 2007, Virginia created FMFADA to study, plan and recommend possible uses for the fort after it is turned over to the state.
“Preliminary response from our congressional delegation is one of very enthusiastic support for the action of the board to seek an expanded [NPS] presence,” said William A. Armbruster, the FMFADA executive director.
“The hard work is now under way to actually flesh this out. The direction was very clear from the board that we do want to proceed with a part of Fort Monroe becoming part of the NPS.”
The FMFADA concept is that the NPS would manage – but not own – some of the fort. Typically, when historic properties are taken over by the NPS, the federal government takes ownership of the newly acquired property, but that isn’t always the case. “The Commonwealth of Virginia is firm that they want to retain ownership,” Armbruster said.
Armbruster said the exact boundaries of the proposed NPS unit have not yet been defined. However, he cited the Nov. 19 FMFADA Board’s recommendations which identified at least six components for inclusion in the proposed NPS-managed area: Old Quarters #1, the stone fort structure and moat, the outer works of the fort, Batteries Parrott and Irwin (Endicott-era coastal batteries), and the radar station on the fort’s parapet.
One exception to proposed NPS management of the historic fort area, according to Armbruster, is the existing Casemate Museum, which includes Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ cell, located in one of the fort casemates. It is operated by the Army Center of Military History as part of the Army Museum System.
“It’s our intent to maintain the Casemate Museum,” Armbruster said. The 10,000-square-foot museum facility will revert to Commonwealth of Virginia ownership. As for the collection there now, Armbruster said the FMFADA is in discussions with the Army to ensure that the museum artifacts currently on display will remain. He also indicated that the FMFADA is working with the Army towards an agreement whereby the Army would provide personnel “to help us operate and maintain that facility.”
Virginia gets the Fort Monroe tract when the Army leaves in 2011 because of “several deeds covering the original parcels that the commonwealth executed with the federal government with the understanding that when the Army mission changed or departed, this property would revert to the commonwealth,” Armbruster explained.
Two parts of the fort property present a special case: they were created with in-fill and therefore did not exist at the time the original deeds to the land occupied by the fort were written. One 31.6-acre parcel is outside the fort’s north gate and the second, comprising 38.8 acres, is adjacent to the marina.
“Ultimately, we expect all of it to be conveyed to the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Armbruster said of the combined 70.4 acres of in-fill land. Of the 565 total acres of the property (a recent survey came up with 4.5 fewer acres than the old figure of 570, Armbruster said), over 40 percent is “open and green space” and the state is committed to keeping it that way.
None of the fort’s land will be sold to developers. The strategy is to develop through leasing, and not through the sale of any property. “FMFADA actually should be viewed as the master developer and we’ll be partnering with the private sector for near- and long-term leasing,” said Armbruster.
Some 189 historic structures and properties have been identified. Armbruster believes in the principle that the best way to preserve a historic building is to use it, such as through the concept of “adaptive reuse.”
What he terms “private sector partners” will be able to negotiate with FMFADA for some new residential and commercial construction.
A strict policy of limiting new construction to not more than three stories will be in effect, according to Armbruster. “That is intended to protect the viewsheds that are so important to telling the story of Fort Monroe.”
An unresolved issue between Virginia and the federal government is the outcome of handling environmental issues related to unexploded shells and toxic chemicals on the property.
“We’re very encouraged about what the Army hasn’t found,” Armbruster said. The initial projected cost of cleanup for unexploded ordnance and various contaminants was a “really huge figure,” $280 million, at the Department of Defense and Congressional level.
“We now expect those numbers to be tens of millions of dollars under that. It’s a good news story. We have been pleasantly surprised by the fact that we’ve not turned up anything that suggests widespread areas of contamination or unexploded ordnance,” Armbruster said.
Old Point Comfort, where Fort Monroe is located, was first fortified in 1609, two years after and about 25 miles from the first permanent English settlement in the New World at Jamestown.
The construction of Fort Monroe began in 1819 and concluded in 1834. It is the largest masonry fort ever built in the United States.
Although Virginia seceded from the United States and joined the Confederacy, the fort remained under Union control for the duration of the Civil War. It aided the Union blockade of Norfolk and facilitated control of the vital Hampton Roads waterway at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
Nicknamed "Freedom's Fortress,' it became a destination for escaped slaves during the war.
As coast defense gunnery technology improved and then became obsolete with the development of military aircraft, so the role of Fort Monroe as a coast artillery training facility waxed and waned in the 20th century.
Since 1973, the fort has been the home for TRADOC, the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. TRADOC is moving to nearby Fort Eustis as the Army prepares to depart Fort Monroe.