President Obama created a new national park yesterday when he invoked the Antiquities Act for the first time in his presidency. The Commander in Chief used his executive powers to designate Fort Monroe, located in Hampton, Virginia, as a national monument, thereby adding it to America’s National Park System.
The region has a long and storied history, that dates back to the early 1600’s when Dutch sailors first traded slaves the Old Point Comfort Peninsula, the future home of the fort. Later, many famous Americans would spend time inside its walls, including Robert E. Lee, who oversaw construction there during the 1800’s. Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at Fort Monroe for a time, penning his famous poem “Annabel Lee” inside the fortress. Harriet Tubman worked at the fort’s hospital, and Chief Blackhawk, who fought with the British during the War of 1812, was briefly imprisoned there, as was Confederate President Jefferson Davis following the end of the Civil War.
While the fortress may have started as an outpost for the slave trade, during the Civil War it became a symbol of hope for many African Americans. In 1861, the fort was occupied by Union soldiers when three escaped slaves arrived at the gates seeking asylum. The fort’s commander, General Benjamin Butler, took them in and refused to return them to Confederate General Charles Mallory. Soon, thousands more would flock to the place, earning it the name of “Freedom’s Fortress.” Butler’s bold move marked the beginning of the end for slavery in Virgina.
The President’s proclamation not only includes the fort itself, but two miles of beachfront property and inland landscapes as well. Those environments are said to be excellent spaces for bird watching, hiking, camping and other outdoor pursuits. The newest park in the system offers both history and beauty in a single setting.
Naturally, the National Parks Conversation Association was quick to praise this move by the President, calling Fort Monroe “America’s next great urban national park.” The non-profit organization is dedicated to protecting America’s parks for future generations, and sees the inclusion of this park as a historical and economic boon to the surrounding communities.
Fort Monroe is the 396th park in the U.S. system. To find out more about the place click here.