President Obama officially designated Fort Monroe as a national monument Tuesday, drawing praise from a host of Virginia politicians who had lobbied for the honor.
“Known first as ‘The Gibraltar of the Chesapeake’ and later as ‘Freedom’s Fortress,’ Fort Monroe on Old Point Comfort in Virginia has a storied history in the defense of our Nation and the struggle for freedom,” reads the opening sentence of the proclamation Obama signed Tuesday.
Located on a narrow strip of land in Hampton, Fort Monroe served as a union stronghold in the Civil War. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, made history in 1861 by refusing to return escaped slaves to their masters in the South. After the war, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned at Monroe for two years.
The existing Army base on the site was closed in September, and control of the land was handed over to Virginia.
Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) and Sens. James Webb (D) and Mark Warner (D) had all urged Obama to use the Antiquities Act to commemorate the fort as a monument, and they have also called for Fort Monroe to become a national park.
On Tuesday, McDonnell called Obama’s proclamation “a testament to the tireless efforts of our state and local leaders” and to the grass-roots campaign by people in Hampton Roads. Webb said the dedication “conserves an area of historical and cultural significance for future generations,” while Warner said state and local governments need “to work cooperatively together to make the most of this tremendous opportunity to showcase Fort Monroe’s incredible but little-known place in our nation’s history.”
As Linda Wheeler notes on the “A House Divided” blog, Obama’s action was also cheered by historians who were concerned that the site might be opened to commercial development.