“Stop here on red,” the sign read. I sat in my car with two ominous red eyes glowing at me from either side of a very narrow opening in the earthen wall of the fort. I was sitting on a bridge across a moat and water flowed on either side of me. The light finally turned green and I was allowed to pass through the one-lane entrance into Fort Monroe National Historic Site. It was an entrance I’ll never forget.
This national historic site on an island in the Chesapeake Bay in Hampton, Virginia is one of the newest additions to the National Park System. The fort has a long history dating back to the War of 1812 and today is an exciting and entertaining place to explore. Native Americans, Captain John Smith, Edgar Allen Poe, and General Robert E. Lee all have connections to this historical fort.
The national historic site’s nickname “Freedom’s Fortress” is connected with the history of the fort as a safe haven for escaped slaves seeking freedom during the Civil War. The interesting Casemate Museum, located inside the cold stone walls of the fort, explains a lot of this history and more. Be sure to read about Edgar Allen Poe’s experiences at the fort while he was in the United States military!
Inside the walls of the fort visitors can explore the parade ground, Robert E. Lee’s quarters, and the Chapel of the Centurion. A long and gradual ramp leads to the top of the Flag Staff Bastion and visitors are able to walk along the top of the fort past the concrete platforms where canons once protected Chesapeake Bay.
The majority of the exhibits are located inside the fort that is still surrounded by a moat. Two vehicle bridges provide one-lane access inside the fort, and the Postern Gate is a pedestrian bridge near the Casemate Museum (this is where the title photo above was captured). The Old Point Comfort Lighthouse is located just outside the walls of the fort surrounded by private residential homes.
Fenwick Road wraps around the fort and turns toward the North Beach Area. Along the way it passes a few batteries and a small beach (parking is available here at the East Gate). The north end of the island has additional parking, a public beach access, and a wildlife observation platform.
It’s a small national park site at just 325 acres, but it packs a punch with things to do. The Casemate Museum was an interesting exploration of history at the fort and the Chapel of the Centurion featured some beautiful architecture. But I haven’t done it all yet. Just as this fort has withstood the test of time, it is going to take time to explore everything there is to do here.