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Op-ed: Put Fort Monroe in historical context
8:59 p.m. EDT, July 30, 2011
Ever since the Pentagon announced the closing of Fort Monroe, various groups representing local and state government, civic organizations, and members of Congress have studied the issue, examined alternatives, and made recommendations on the future of this national treasure.
The public, the press and government officials all recognize the importance of Fort Monroe in U.S. history and seek to discover the best means to protect and preserve that history for future generations. Of course, throughout the process, each group has had to bear in mind the costs associated for each alternative and who will bear the burden of these costs in difficult economic times and meteoric national debt.
These financial considerations are certain to eliminate some options that might be deemed most desirable from the standpoint of history.
Recognizing the reality of the economic situation and the reluctance of local, state, and the federal government to take on this obligation at this time maybe it is appropriate to look at the future of Fort Monroe from a different perspective.
An alternative means of looking at Fort Monroe is to view it not as a separate, individual site and historic location but from the framework and context of the historical sites surrounding it. They provide a context that begins with the history of America from the first permanent English settlement in the New World at Jamestown to the Founding Fathers in Virginia, including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison in Williamsburg, who precipitated the Declaration of Independence to those who fought the War of Independence, led by Gen. George Washington, to the victory at Yorktown that ended the Revolutionary War.
Looking at Fort Monroe as a focal point in the Civil War, as the location of Union troops that would attack Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy; the site visited by President Abraham Lincoln to meet with his generals to develop and refine the Union strategy; and the site that not only housed slaves during the war, but was the prison that housed Confederate President Jefferson Davis in itself defines the historic significance of Fort Monroe.
Looking at the fortress in the context of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown provides a much more compelling framework and context for this historic site.
With this historic context in mind we could envision Fort Monroe not just as a historically valuable location in itself, but part of the framework for the development and growth of a nation that would become a model for the world in terms of democracy, freedom and strength.
Fort Monroe could, and should, become a gateway for all Americans and visitors to America to visit and enter a museum that would outline the unprecedented historic achievement of these locations in Virginia, just miles from each other, over a course of 400 years.
This vision of Fort Monroe in the context of America's founding and development is a history worthy of investment by our government as well as civic organizations that could help fund its development.
It is an approach that looks at Fort Monroe as one critical stage of our development and its integration into other historic sites critical to an understanding of our nation's heritage.
There is another aspect of the historic significance of Hampton Roads that makes it even more attractive as a national landmark and that is the history of our settlers with the Native Americans, including Chief Powhatan and his daughter Pocahontas, and their interaction with the first settlers, including John Smith.
There is no better site in all of America to tell the story of the nation's founding and development than Hampton Roads and no better site to start telling that story and to provide a springboard to Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown than Fort Monroe.
This vision of the future of Hampton Roads is not only good for the area and Virginia but for the entire country and it is a vision in which America should be willing to invest.
Lane is a resident of Wicomico, Va.