Warner, Kaine Introduce Legislation to Expand and Protect Fort Monroe National Monument
~ Bill comes ahead of the 400th commemoration of the landing of the first enslaved Africans at Old Point Comfort, where Fort Monroe stands today ~
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) introduced legislation to add approximately 40 coastal acres of land to Fort Monroe National Monument, a move that would unify the two divided sections of Fort Monroe and achieve an unbroken coastline along the Chesapeake Bay. This legislation comes after the failure of the Trump Administration to accept approximately 40 acres of land from the Commonwealth of Virginia, which has offered to donate the land to the Department of Interior.
“With its rich history, Fort Monroe is unlike any other national monument. It’s uniquely positioned to tell some of our nation’s most significant stories on a compact and highly accessible site in the middle of an urban area,” said the Senators. “This legislation will finally unify Fort Monroe, from Old Point Comfort north to the end of the property, thus protecting the land’s iconic history and its recreational value on the Chesapeake Bay.”
Fort Monroe was built between 1819 and 1834 to protect the entrance to Hampton Roads. During the Civil War, Major General Benjamin Butler issued his famous "contraband decision” at Fort Monroe, ordering that escaped slaves who reached Union lines could not be returned to bondage. It was this courageous decision that earned Fort Monroe the nickname “Freedom's Fortress.”
In addition to adding approximately 40 acres of land in the eastern part of the Wherry Quarter, the Fort Monroe National Monument Land Acquisition Act would require the Secretary of the Interior to work with the Commonwealth to solve the issue of managing several non-historic buildings on the land.
“Transferring this parcel to the National Park Service will help connect and protect important natural, cultural, and historic resources at Fort Monroe. We look forward to Congress passing this important legislation.” – Matthew J. Strickler, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources.
“We are very pleased that Senators Warner and Kaine have introduced a bill providing for the addition of 44 acres of Chesapeake Bayfront land to Fort Monroe National Monument. The addition of this critical land, to be generously donated by Virginia, will both physically unite the National Monument and permanently preserve more valuable Chesapeake Bay shoreline for the American people. This long awaited addition has been structured to minimize any additional costs for the National Park Service and will serve to increase the appeal of Fort Monroe overall, thus promoting the financial sustainability of Fort Monroe as a whole.” – Mark Perreault, President, Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park.
“We commend Senators Warner and Kaine for their efforts to strengthen Fort Monroe by uniting divided sections of the monument into a contiguous national park. As the birthplace of the Civil War-era sanctuary movement, Fort Monroe serves as a powerful touchpoint for our nation’s history in regards to slavery, the Civil War and the civil rights movement. Since the monument’s creation in 2011, NPCA and our supporters have worked diligently to connect these lands to make one united park. Thanks to their leadership, visitors to Fort Monroe National Monument will enjoy the star fort and an unbroken coastline along the Chesapeake Bay, and learn just how much Freedom’s Fortress means for our nation and the Commonwealth of Virginia.” – Theresa Pierno, President and CEO, National Parks Conservation Association.
“The partnership between the Fort Monroe Authority and the National Park Service allows for the property at Fort Monroe to be seamlessly available to the public. This additional land will unify the beaches under one property owner and guarantee the public access for all future generations.” – Glenn Oder, Executive Director, Fort Monroe Authority.
Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates of expanding Fort Monroe. In June 2018, the Senators, along with a bipartisan coalition of the Virginia Congressional Delegation, sent a letter to then-Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke requesting that the Park Service accept the Commonwealth’s land donation offer.
The full text of the bill is available here.