On August 24, 2005, the U.S. Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission voted unanimously to close Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. Named after President James Monroe, the Fort was built in 1823 to watch over the maritime interests of Hampton Roads. The Civil War battle between the Monitor and Merrimack was fought off its shore. It is the only active Army base with a moat and is currently the home for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.
Also located there is the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse, the second oldest lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay. The lighthouse is owned and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, while the keeper’s house is owned and maintained by the U.S. Army. It is the residence for Fort Monroe’s command sergeant major. Established two years before the nation’s independence, the present tower was built in 1802 and was automated in 1972, still using its fourth order Fresnel lens. Only the grounds are open to the public, since the light is still in operation and the house is currently military housing. Of course, public access is dependent on the security level of the post at any given time.
If approved by Congress and signed by the President, which is expected, it would then be at least two years or as many as six years before Fort Monroe is officially closed, meaning the existing Army operation has been relocated — no small feat.
Also, the property will need to be prepared for non-military use. For instance, within its 57 acres, there are an estimated 1,300 spots where buried, unexploded ordinance might need to be removed. In any case, the “keys” would be turned over to civilian authority. In a press release from the City of Hampton: “Now our goal is to move quickly to develop a conceptual land use plan for Fort Monroe. We hope to complete this phase of the project by early 2006. The conceptual plan will ultimately identify every broad land use options for various sections of the Fort.”
This is just the first step in the city’s overall plan in its redevelopment process for the Fort. Their timetable calls for the conclusion of their detailed master plan by the end of 2006. Included in their grand scheme (I mean this in a good way) is the identification of Fort Monroe’s National Historic Landmark Buildings and Archaeological Sites of which, as you can imagine, there are many. Old Point Comfort Lighthouse is considered as one of them.
Despite other negative effects from the closing of the base, hopefully, only goodwill will come out of this for Old Point Comfort Light and its lightkeeper’s house. We’ll keep you posted.
This story appeared in the
November 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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