There are 21 national parks in Virginia, and if the state’s two U.S. senators have their way, Fort Monroe could become the 22nd.
Democratic Sens. James Webb and Mark Warner introduced the Fort Monroe National Historical Park Establishment Act of 2011 on Wednesday. The measure would “establish a national park presence at the fort to preserve historic and natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations,” the pair said in a news release, issued the same day Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited the site.
Fort Monroe — on a strip of land in Hampton, where several rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay — played a key role as a Union stronghold during the Civil War. In 1861, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler made what became known as the “contraband” decision, refusing to return escaped slaves to their masters in the south. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned at Monroe for two years after the war ended.
The U.S. Army base on the site is scheduled for closure in September, when the state will take control of the land.
“Fort Monroe played a significant and historic role during the Civil War and in the end to slavery in America,” Warner said in the release, while Webb noted that opening the fort to the public could give “a welcome boost to Virginia’s tourism sector.”
Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) also favors the move, announcing in a statement Wednesday that “it is in the public interest to preserve Fort Monroe and its surrounding lands and buildings.”