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Spots, Sights and Sounds

Fort Monroe remains rich with history, culture after military leaves

Fort Monroe remains rich with history, culture after military leaves

by Christian Michael

March 10, 2019


Fort Monroe, Virginia, is a beautiful old Army fort, rich with history, a few choice historical buildings and a great museum. Built on a narrow island adjunct to the Virginia Peninsula's southeasternmost corner, the old post, now known as Fort Monroe National Monument, boasts a the largest star-pattern fort ever built by the US.

I was once stationed here only a year or so before the fort decommissioned in 2011 and converted mostly to historical preservation, a few private ventures and some public use land. 

What I saw on my return the other night looked nearly identical to my daily trips on and off base, minus the front gate and armed guards. To be fair, much of the fort had been drawn down prior to my arrival in 2010, so I never saw it during its busier times such as during the pre-colonial era, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and the build-up of large anti-ship canons during World War II.

A striking contrast was the completion of the old hotel. Though it looks little different, overall, that anyone was living there was a sight. I think it's been converted into a retirement community -- that's a good problem to have, if you ask me. That old building has survived countless hurricanes and floods.

One story I was told (and have since confirmed) was that the fort was the place where the very first slaves arrived at the advent of the American slave trade. In a fantastic twist, during the Civil War, it was the southernmost Yankee-held point during the war and a beacon of hope for slaves fleeing the south, as all who could reach the fort would be granted liberty. A fitting redemption, if you ask me.

Fort Monroe also once hosted President Abraham Lincoln and a young Army officer who would one day become world famous. Now, the story I heard but could not confirm was about an active Army officer living in Fort Monroe housing in recent years who once woke up to hear a noise in his house. Leaving his bedroom, he found a family of Chinese tourists standing in his living room! Why were they there? Because the Army had recycled the same officer housing for nearly two hundred years, and they had thought the plate on the outside of his door, marking it as the former home of a then-Lieutenant Robert E. Lee, was part of the tour.

That evening, I drove around the base -- it's rather small overall -- visited the bastions, walked the beachline and scoped out my old work before heading to the southwest point of the fort to have dinner with my old mil buddy, Gwen. She had picked out a seafood joint she and her husband love and the place certainly converted me!

Gwen and I

The Deadrise seafood restaurant is set along the boat pier with a beautiful view of ... the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel north end. That is sarcasm, for those of you who don't know, but only light sarcasm. The bright lights actually shimmer off the water in a nice way, and being right on the water gives the place a great atmo.

Outside seating

I had some amazing blackened fish after an equally tasty shrimp appetizer.

After dinner, she and I just bummed out in the waiting area. The amazing staff continued to offer us water and check on us! 

If you're in the Hampton/Newport News area and are looking for something to do and a great place to eat, I don't think you can go wrong visiting Fort Monroe!

 

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