(Washington, D.C.) - In a joint letter sent to the Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, representatives of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Civil War Preservation Trust, National Parks Conservation Association and National Trust for Historic Preservation praised the various agencies involved in preparing a draft programmatic agreement for the future use and redevelopment of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., following its closure as an active military installation. A 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decision for the Army to vacate the fort, with ownership reverting to the Commonwealth of Virginia, sparked public interest in the future protection and stewardship of its considerable cultural and historic resources.
“The U.S. Army will vacate and close Fort Monroe by 2011, and this transition away from its historic military use poses a risk to and creates new opportunities for Fort Monroe,” the letter reads in part. “Consequently, Fort Monroe deserves all of our best efforts to assure the highest level of protection and best quality of interpretation as the next era of Fort Monroe’s history is determined and implemented in years to come.”
Once completed, a programmatic agreement, now only in a preliminary draft stage, will guide the future of the site, including interpretation, allowable use of historic buildings and any permissible new construction. Creating this guiding document is a joint project of the United States Army, Virginia Department of Historic Resources and Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority, with all four signatory groups serving as consulting parties.
In the letter, the four preservation groups support a redevelopment plan that incorporates preservation, upkeep and adaptive reuse to maintain the site as a “vibrant and economically self-sustaining, publicly accessible place” that simultaneously offers outstanding protection of the area’s unique historic and ecological features. The preservation groups go on to praise the current draft programmatic agreement’s attention to treatment principles and procedural framework for the site. The groups also stress that thorough and appropriate interpretation of Fort Monroe’s historic past, including signage, tours, special events and, potentially, museums, must be woven into any and all redevelopment plans without impeding public accessibility to open space and recreational resources.
Further, the groups go on to advocate the exploration of a wide variety of preservation strategies, including: the implementation of design standards and preservation ordinances, the use of historic rehabilitation tax credits and preservation easements, the lease of property to private parties engaged in compatible use and maintenance, and the sale, donation or transfer of property to private parties dedicated to preservation. Examination of a variety of management arrangements is also encouraged.
The letter also calls for limited amounts of new construction to ensure that Fort Monroe remains “a center of vital and diverse activity to achieve the economic sustainability that will make the highest level of preservation and interpretation viable.” However, care must be taken that such construction does not damage historic resources in its attempt to mitigate an expected economic downturn in the region following the army’s departure. Any new construction would have to enhance the area’s character, to reinforce public accessibility, to contribute to the site’s economic sustainability, to constitute creative and compatible use, to incorporate environmentally friendly design and to avoid all damage to existing historic resources.
Fort Monroe, guarding the entrance to Hampton Roads and the Chesapeake Bay, was completed in 1834. The fort played an important role in the Civil War, remaining the only Tidewater Virginia military fortification in Federal hands for much of the war and serving as a base of operations for several naval and infantry campaigns. In 1861, Fort Monroe was the site of Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler’s landmark “contraband decision,” whereby escaped slaves who reached Union lines would be deemed contraband of war and not returned to their masters. Following the war, Confederate president Jefferson Davis was imprisoned in the fort’s casemate for two years. Fort Monroe was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and remains an active military post.
About the Association for Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA)
Founded in 1889, APVA is the nation’s first statewide nonprofit preservation organization. Dedicated to preserving and promoting Virginia’s irreplaceable historic places, APVA and its statewide members have saved and preserved more than 120 sites across the Commonwealth including the original site at Historic Jamestown. APVA shares its expertise and resources gained through these active preservation efforts. APVA’s website is located at www.preservationvirginia.org.
About the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT)
With 65,000 members, CWPT is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s remaining Civil War battlefields. Since 1987, the organization has saved more than 25,000 acres of hallowed ground, including nearly 12,000 acres in Virginia. CWPT’s website is located at www.civilwar.org.
About the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)
Since 1919, the nonpartisan NPCA has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its members, and partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for generations to come. NPCA is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization with more than 300,000 members, including more than 12,000 members in Virginia. NPCA’s website is located at www.npca.org.
About the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP)
NTHP is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the irreplaceable. Recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Trust was founded in 1949 and provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to save America’s diverse historic places and revitalize communities. Its Washington, DC headquarters staff, six regional offices and 26 historic sites work with the Trust’s 270,000 members and thousands of local community groups in all 50 states. NTHP’s website is located at www.nationaltrust.org.