Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The Visitors Center will be ‘game-changer’ for Fort Monroe. Here’s why

Artist’s rendering of the Fort Monroe Visitors and Education Center. (HNNDaily phopto/Courtesy of the Fort Monroe Authority)

HAMPTON — Fort Monroe has played an important role in the history and defense of the United States for more than 400 years.

However, that history was in danger of being lost when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission list that was released in May 2005 included the Army post in Hampton.

More than six years later, when the post officially closed Sept. 15, 2011, there was speculation, and fear, that Fort Monroe would fall in to disrepair, taking its history with it.

But now, Glenn Oder is happy to report that is far from the case.

As a matter of fact, when the Fort Monroe Visitors and Education Center opens in August 2019, it will mark a huge accomplishment for the Fort Monroe Authority.

“It’s a game-changer,” said Oder, the executive director of the Fort Monroe Authority. “When we open up the visitors center, we will immediately elevate the significance of the history of Fort Monroe and the public’s opportunity to learn about it and appreciate it with Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg.”

Fort Monroe, portions of which were declared a national monument in 2011, has its far share of visitors, but Oder, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, said they aren’t sure where to go or all it has to offer.

“They know there’s something special here and you can figure it out eventually,” he said. “But (to have) a visitors center …”

The visitors center will be in the former Coast Artillery School Library. The building, which is within walking distance of Continental Park and near the Casemate Museum, has been vacant since 2011.

The centerpieces will be two galleries, one of which will house pre-Civil War artifacts and one that will house artifacts from the start of the Civil War on. There also will be conference rooms, a research area, a museum shop, a classroom, a reading room, space for catered events, and a roof deck on the second floor. The budgeted cost for building expansion and renovation was more than $4.5 million.

“We are still in the process of putting contents together,” Robin Reed, the director of the Casemate Museum and the Fort Monroe Authority, said at a presentation last week. “But it allows us to create a portal to Fort Monroe.”

“We are anticipating, in our first year, about 100,000 visitors,” Reed added.

The Fort Monroe Authority will manage the center with help from the National Park Service. The Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe has artifacts and exhibits, but those are centered on the Army’s history on the property, which began in 1817. The visitors museum will include all the history of the Fort Monroe property, dating to 1609.

“It wasn’t the Army’s job to tell this history of the property,” Oder said. “It’s a remarkable story. Now it’s our generational responsibility, it’s our generational opportunity to tell this story.”

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