Army Turns Over Key to Historic Fort Monroe

(Kate Wiltrout)    Army officers presented Gov. Bob McDonnell with the key to Fort Monroe yesterday in a ceremony marking the deactivation of the historic military installation.

McDonnell quickly passed it on to Glenn Oder, who recently resigned from the General Assembly to become executive director of the state agency that will manage the property.

“This is a landmark day in Virginia’s history,” McDonnell said. “For hundreds of years, Fort Monroe has been a tremendous asset to our nation’s military. But it is perhaps most important as a pivotal location in the telling of the amazing story of America.”

He went on to detail the area’s role in slavery and emancipation — first as a landing site for Africans brought to the New World in 1619, and later as “Freedom’s Fortress,” the destination of thousands of fugitive slaves during the Civil War.

Many of the hundreds of people in attendance said they were sad to see the Army leave.

Jim Anderson wore a T-shirt that had an image of the fort’s Old Point Comfort Lighthouse on the back. “Last one out please turn off the light,” it said, along with the dates “1823 — 2011.” A retired Soldier and civilian government employee, Anderson works for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, which relocated to Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Newport News.

He’s still getting accustomed to working on a military post run by the Air Force. But mostly Anderson misses the history of Fort Monroe and its views of the water. From a third-story office, aircraft carriers plying the shipping channel looked like they were going to run into the fort, he said, and he could hear the commands issued on deck.

Once the Army completes its departure, the property will be controlled by the Fort Monroe Authority, which is working on preservation and redevelopment plans, including a possible national park.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a news release that the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service are working with state and local officials to evaluate the potential of the fort to be included in the National Park System.

Leaders on every level support the idea, he said.

“Fort Monroe helps tell the compelling story of our nation’s arc from the Civil War to Civil Rights,” Salazar said. “With such a rich history, it’s no wonder that so many feel passionately about ensuring the site is preserved for future generations. We look forward to continuing to work hand-in-hand with the Commonwealth and local partners as we review the site and its future potential.”

Carl Meredith of Norfolk considered Thursday sad yet jubilant. He said he has no doubts the fort will become a unit of the National Park Service.

“It’s going out with class and honor and the people are here to embrace it,” Meredith said. “It is a national treasure.”

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