Fort Monroe was named in honor of President James Monroe, and became the largest stone fort in the United States. Surrounded by a moat, the six-sided bastion is also the largest fort, by area, ever built in the United States. Construction began in 1819 and was complete in 1834. The stone walls are up to ten feet thick and the moat is eight feet deep, earning Fort Monroe the nickname "Gibraltar of Chesapeake Bay."
In 1816, in response to identified inadequacies in seacoast defenses during the War of 1812, Secretary of War George Graham appointed a board of military experts to design a new system of coastal fortifications. Bvt. Brigadier General Simon Bernard headed up the elite board which made its report in 1818. This group recommended a "Third System" of seacoast forts, construction of which began in 1819 with Fort Monroe at Old Point Comfort.
As part of the Harbor Defenses of the Chesapeake Bay, Fort Monroe and Fort Wool originally guarded the navigation channel between the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads—the natural roadstead at the confluence of the Elizabeth, the Nansemond and the James rivers. Until disarmament in 1946, the areas protected by the fort were the entire Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River regions, including the water approaches to the cities of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland, along with important shipyards and naval bases in the Hampton Roads area. Fort Monroe was decommissioned on September 15, 2011 and is now open to the public.
Located just outside the stone walls and surrounding moat of Fort Monroe, is the Old Point Comfort lighthouse. Built in 1802, it is the oldest structure at Fort Monroe. During the War of 1812, the tower was used as a lookout by a British invasion force while they attacked Washington, DC. It is the second oldest light in the Chesapeake Bay and the oldest one that is still in use. The lighthouse is property of the US Coast Guard and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Quarters No. 1 is a historic officer's quarters at Fort Monroe. Designed as a residence for Fort Monroe's commanding officer, it served as headquarters from 1819 to 1907. The original section was built in 1819, and consists of a three-story, central block, double pile residence with flanking, two-story wings in the Federal style. Abraham Lincoln used the building as his residence May 6-11, 1862 while planning the attack on Norfolk.
When we visited in late April 2019, a restoration was underway on the exterior of Quarters No. 1 - the Gothic railings and balusters on the porches were being replaced; sections of siding were under repair; and columns were being replaced/repaired.
In Barbette cannon emplacements. The fort has a continuous barbette tier of cannon emplacements on the roof, but only a partial casemated tier in the fort, mainly on the southwestern and southern fronts. Intended for a garrison of 600 troops in peacetime and up to 2,625 troops in wartime, the initial design provided for up to 380 guns and was later expanded to 412 guns, however, the fort was never fully armed.