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Why Do Old Places Matter? An Introduction

The Eternal City—what better place to find answers to the question: Why do old places matter? Tom Mayes, a 2013 Rome Prize winner in Historic Preservation from the American Academy, is in Rome these days and is contributing a series of posts about his experiences and research. Join us for his periodic essays and add your thoughts to the discussion.

Sula School in Montana | Credit: Carroll Van West
Sula School in Montana | Credit: Carroll Van West

People like old places. They like to live in places like Ghent, in Norfolk, Va., and Logan Circle in Washington, D.C. They like to live in old houses—in white farmhouses in Vermont, brick mansions in Virginia, and in Arts and Crafts bungalows in Los Angeles. People like to visit old cities for vacation. They like Santa Fe, Provincetown, Mendocino, and Saugatuck. They like Rome, New York, Paris, and Kyoto. They like Brooklyn and Charleston and thousands of towns and cities and countrysides across America and throughout the world.

They like ancient troglodytic hotels (Matera, Italy), and Greek Revival houses (Athens, Ga.).  They like adobe houses in New Mexico, farmhouses in Ohio, and townhouses in Philadelphia.

Why? Why do people like old places? And why do old places matter to people? Do old places make people’s lives better, and if so, how?

This series of essays will explore  the reasons that old places are good for people. It begins with what I consider the main reason—that old places are important for people to define who they are through memory, continuity, and identity—that “sense of orientation” referred to in With Heritage So Rich.These fundamental reasons inform all of the other reasons that follow: commemoration, beauty, civic identity, and the reasons that are more pragmatic—preservation as a tool for community revitalization, the stabilization of property values, economic development, and sustainability.

The notion that old places matter is not primarily about the past. It is about why old places matter to people today and for the future. It is about why old places are critical to people’s sense of who they are, to their capacity to find meaning in their lives, and to see a future.

The stone walls and moat of Fort Monroe. | Photo: Patrick McKay
The stone walls and moat of Fort Monroe. | Photo: Patrick McKay

I am an unabashed advocate for keeping, saving, and continuing to use old places. Immense and overwhelming economic and political forces cause the destruction of old places at an astonishing pace every minute of every day.  We see it in the loss of treasured places both large and small.  From the removal of a single, gnarled pear tree that has delighted us with its bloom in the spring and its fruit in the fall to the inexcusable demolition of public buildings such as schools and churches that give our communities their identity, we are steadily losing our old places. The loss is a soul-destroying severing of people from place, identity, and memory.

There are many critics of the idea of saving old places. Some say that saving old places stifles economic growth and that historic preservation has become too strong a force. They say that preservation is out of balance with the need for change.  I see no evidence whatsoever that the forces of preservation in the United States pose a threat to the capacity of the United States to have a vibrant and strong economy. Quite the contrary, old places actually seem to increase creativity and economic growth.

The Bernadotte Bridge in Bernadotte, IL | Credit: Kirk Kittell via Flickr
The Bernadotte Bridge in Bernadotte, IL | Credit: Kirk Kittell via Flickr
Are there things we should do better? Yes. Are there disagreements among the people who work to save old places? Yes. Are there arguments about what we retain and how we retain it? Yes. There should be. But the fundamental point remains: The history, memory, and continuity provided through old places are necessary for our self worth and are good for people.

A point about terminology. I use the term “old places” throughout these brief essays because the term includes not only places that are officially determined to be historic through the National Register of Historic Places or state or local designations, but also the majority of old places in America, most of which are not officially designated. The term also includes places that are not buildings—it captures streets, landscapes, gardens, farms, archaeological sites, cemeteries and the many other old places that people value. I have also consciously avoided using terms that create an emotional distance between people and place, such as the term “historic resource.”

These are initial thoughts about the purposes of historic preservation. I hope that many people will respond in the comment section below and contribute their thoughts to each of these as they roll out—have at it!

To view original article on the National Trust for Historic Preservation website click here: http://blog.preservationleadershipforum.org/2013/11/13/old-places-introduction/

 

Help Bring the YMCA Back to Fort Monroe

As a resident or a visitor to Fort Monroe you have probably seen the large, stately building with the white columns located next to the moat at the main gate entrance into Freedom’s Fortress.  This large building was the first YMCA ever built on an Army Post and it is rich with history.  The Fort Monroe Authority has been negotiating with the YMCA to re-open this facility for over two years.  We presently have a Memorandum of Understanding with the “Y” that allows them to study the building and the unique opportunity the facility would offer to the YMCA portfolio.  The YMCA is now asking for the residents and guests of Fort Monroe to participate in an electronic survey to indicate your level of support and interest.  The survey link is below and we hope that you will respond promptly to assist the “Y” in their evaluation.  YMCA believes that if sufficient support exists to generate new memberships to this facility, we will see this building re-opened at Fort Monroe.

To help you better understand what the YMCA will offer at Fort Monroe we can provide the following bullet points:

  • Open Monday through Friday……5:30am until 7:00pm
  • Open Saturday………7:00am until noon
  • Services would include a fitness center with cardio and strength training equipment, and stationary bike classes.
  • Group exercise classes will include aerobics, Pilates, Yoga, Boot Camp, and Zumba to name a few.
  • An array of programs and classes for adults, teens and youth
  • Facilities include a climbing wall, racquetball, lockers, and men’s and women’s saunas’
  • The “Y” staff is also considering outdoor classes such as a Beach Boot Camp, Yoga on the beach, Yoga on the balcony, Boot Camp throughout the Moat!
  • The facility also boosts an outdoor second story patio space that overlooks the moat and historic fortress.

We sincerely believe that the re-opening of this facility will be a milestone in the adaptive re-use of Fort Monroe and will provide exactly the type of healthy amenity that the residents, businesses, and visitors want to see and participate in at Fort Monroe.  We ask you to consider this outstanding opportunity and please review the survey.  Even if you do not want to join the YMCA at Fort Monroe, your response to this survey is important feedback.

It only takes a few minutes…..Please open this survey and we look forward to your response!  The YMCA has told the FMA that the opening date will be determined after we get the responses from the surveys.

The survey is now closed, thank you all for your participation, it is greatly appreciated.

Message From the Executive Director

It was a wonderful summer here at Fort Monroe. As I think about all the activity, one thing is clear: Fort Monroe’s legacy as a place to gather and celebrate is not only alive, but thriving. That was apparent on July 4th, when over 30,000 people, including Governor Bob McDonnell, descended upon the property for an entire day of fun as well as the return of the fireworks display. The July 4th fireworks display is a tradition at Fort Monroe and it was rewarding to see so many individuals, couples and families enjoying this retired military post.

Celebrations are a part of the rich history at Fort Monroe. They create a sense of community and build memories, which are goals of the Fort Monroe Authority and its board of trustees. These things, along with the requirement to be economically sustainable, are important for us as we continue work on the adaptive reuse of Fort Monroe.

We reached a significant milestone in that process recently when the Fort Monroe Authority received the deed to 313 acres of property from the Army. Developing a financial model that will allow Fort Monroe to sustain itself and meet the demands of managing such a large development has become increasingly important.

I am pleased to say that we are well on our way. We are now leasing almost 150 of the 176 residential units at Fort Monroe. The Authority is also evaluating the conversion of a former small hotel on the property into one-bedroom apartments. Fort Monroe continues to attract the attention of businesses such as Carson Helicopters, which recently signed an agreement to move its operations here after 50 years in Pennsylvania. Carson is known for manufacturing the helicopter blade for Marine One, which carries the President of the United States.

This growing interest in Fort Monroe highlights the need for a Master Plan to guide its future. In the next several weeks, Sasaki Associates will present the Fort Monroe Master Plan. This plan, which has received enthusiastic public input, will guide the adaptive reuse of Fort Monroe for years to come. Our intention is to create a community that preserves its natural beauty, tells the great stories of Fort Monroe, and can become economically sustainable for future generations.  We invite you to attend the Planning Advisory Group Meeting on September 26 and the Board of Trustees meeting on October 24 to hear the presentations.  Both meetings will begin at 1 pm and will be held at the Bay Breeze Conference Center at 490 Fenwick Road.

I hope to see you here soon.

Glenn Oder
Executive Director
The Fort Monroe Authority

2013 Summer Concert Series Recap

In the words of Plato, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” This year’s Music by the Bay Summer Concert Series at Fort Monroe proved the great philosopher to be true. The second annual concert series (a continuation of an over 80 year tradition) was a success with great music, food, and most importantly fantastic people.

This year over 7,000 people came out and enjoyed a variety of patriotic, rock, pop, jazz and even classical music at Continental Park while relishing the natural beauty of the waterfront site.  From the upbeat and rhythmic sounds of the United States Fleet Forces Band to the catchy and jazzy tunes played by the United States Air Force Heritage Band, the experience was one to remember. The series also included a unique performance by The Gosport Brass Band who performed in full Civil War regalia and a finale concert featuring the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

While this season’s mix of an amazing audience and fantastic music at the most beautiful waterfront site on the peninsula made it hard to beat, we hope to outdo it next year with another successful series… we hope you’ll join us.

 

Governor McDonnell Signs Fort Monroe Quitclaim Deed

Governor Bob McDonnell signed a quitclaim deed and authorized the execution of the Memorandum of Understanding for the transition plan and the Right-of-Entry agreement for the maintenance and operation of the utility systems at Fort Monroe.

The quitclaim deed brings 312 acres back into the ownership and control of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Memorandum of Understanding and the Right-of-Entry agreements outline the joint operations of utilities, property maintenance, and security of the property during the period of time that the Department of the Army and the FMA negotiate the remaining property ownership issues.

Speaking about the action, Governor McDonnell remarked, “We are pleased that a portion of Fort Monroe is being reunified with the Commonwealth. We look forward to continuing the work with the Secretary of the Army to secure the remaining portions of Fort Monroe, as well as the transfer to the National Park Service.”

“This is a critical first step in receiving all of the property back into the ownership of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Glenn Oder, Executive Director of the Fort Monroe Authority. “Negotiations continue on additional parcels of land at the 565-acre site. Our team has worked tirelessly to ensure the interests of the citizens of the Commonwealth were protected in this transfer and that environmental and other key issues were adequately addressed. This will allow the Fort Monroe Authority to continue its success in bringing people back to Fort Monroe. We will also continue to work with the National Park Service to transfer property to them as soon as possible.”

Fort Monroe was an Army installation from 1781 until September 2011 when it was deactivated as a result of the 2005 BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure Commission). Its major tenant, TRACDOC (Training and Doctrine Command) was relocated to JBLE (Joint Base Langley-Eustis) at Fort Eustis, VA. On November 1, 2011 President Obama declared Fort Monroe a National Monument under the Antiquities Act. Fort Monroe has had a significant part in the history of our nation spanning over 400 years-from the journeys of Captain John Smith to a haven of freedom for the enslaved during the Civil War, and a bastion of defense for the Chesapeake Bay.

Work is continuing on the development of a master plan for the long-term vision for Fort Monroe. That process, which has included several public meetings and community input, is expected to be completed sometime this summer. Meanwhile, the transformation of Fort Monroe is already taking place. The Fort Monroe Authority will continue to partner with the City of Hampton and the National Park Service as Fort Monroe becomes a popular place to live, work, find entertainment, enjoy nature, and learn about history.

“We are pleased with the number of home rentals, new businesses, and the people who are coming to enjoy the Casemate Museum and public programs at Fort Monroe,” Oder said. “It is clear that people appreciate not only the history and beauty of this property, but the wonderful opportunities that it offers.”

Carson Helicopters to Locate at Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads

The Fort Monroe Authority and the City of Hampton are pleased to announce that Carson Helicopters has selected Fort Monroe for its new location.

Based in Pennsylvania, Carson Helicopters has been in the helicopter business for more than 50 years. The company rebuilds and updates the S61 helicopter and other aircraft and holds over 35 STCs (supplementary type certificates) for improvements and modifications to Rotor Wing Aircraft.

Carson’s capabilities also include research, design, and development. The Carson Composite Main Rotor Blade, which was certified by the FAA in 2003, is used on Marine One, the helicopter that carries the President of the United States.

“Hampton Roads’ business-friendly environment, the area’s diversity and its strong workforce were all incentives for our coming here,” said Frank Carson, President of Carson Helicopters. “We’re very satisfied with our new location and believe it’s an ideal fit with both our current criteria and our plans for the future.”

“We are extremely pleased with Carson Helicopter’s decision to take advantage of the buildings that are ready to move in at Fort Monroe,” said Glenn Oder, Executive Director of the Fort Monroe Authority. “The FMA now controls commercial buildings, homes, beaches, boardwalks, restaurants, and public programs that create a great quality of life for employers who locate at Fort Monroe.” Fort Monroe was granted national monument status in 2011 and its historic buildings are preserved and managed by the Fort Monroe Authority, a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The City of Hampton first identified the project last year. “We are excited to welcome Carson Helicopters, a pioneer in the rotor craft industry, to Hampton,” said Mayor Molly Ward. “They are a testament to our established aerospace industry and emerging composites initiatives. We look forward to their future success.” With an investment of millions and numerous new jobs expected, Carson plans to manufacture S61 Helicopter Composite Tail Rotor Blades and focus on composite rotor blade manufacturing process research at the new facility.

“A project that will repurpose a portion of Fort Monroe to create jobs and investment is great news for Hampton Roads and Virginia,” said Governor Bob McDonnell. “We welcome Carson Helicopters to the Commonwealth, and are confident that the company will be a great addition to the composites manufacturing industry cluster in Hampton Roads.”

The Fort Monroe Authority and the City of Hampton worked with the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, and Divaris Real Estate in bringing Carson Helicopters to the region.

Director Named for the Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe

The Fort Monroe Authority has hired Robin Edward Reed to become the director for the Casemate Museum. Mr. Reed has a long and distinguished career in managing historical sites and museums, most recently serving as the president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation in Bedford, Virginia.

Mr. Reed began work at the Casemate on July 15th. He will be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations, which includes programming, the development of exhibits and marketing. The Casemate, which opened in 1951, houses the jail cell where Jefferson Davis was incarcerated after his capture during the Civil War. It also features many other artifacts and exhibits related to that period in American history, including items related to General Benjamin Butler’s Contraband Decision, which many say precipitated the end of slavery.

“I am quite excited about this opportunity,” Mr. Reed said. “Fort Monroe played a significant role in American history and the Casemate Museum is critical to helping to convey that significance to the public. I look forward to working with the staff to make this treasure even more attractive not only to visitors to the area, but to the residents of Hampton Roads.”

Mr. Reed is the right choice to lead the Casemate because of his vast experience, said Glenn Oder, Executive Director of the Fort Monroe Authority. “The museum plays a vital role in Fort Monroe’s brand recognition and it brings thousands of people to the Fort every year, a number we are hoping to grow in the future.”

Mr. Reed also previously served as a senior director in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, where he oversaw the Department of Public History. He also was a project director for the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History. Prior to that, he held several positions with the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, including the executive director’s post for nine years.

Captain Cochran’s Bandstand

Postcard- Waterfront and Officers Quarters from Chamberlin Hotel, Fortress Monroe Circa 1940
Postcard- Waterfront and Officers Quarters from Chamberlin Hotel, Fortress Monroe Circa 1940

As Fort Monroe begins its new chapter as a National Monument and returns as property of the Commonwealth of Virginia, visitors and locals alike continue to seek out the events, people and memories that have been ingrained into the thick stone walls and picturesque landscape for over 400 years.  Every building, stone, walkway and tree has a story to tell.  Much of this history has been recorded in books or diaries, or has been passed down orally and some is still waiting to be discovered or rediscovered.

One of the most iconic structures at Fort Monroe is the bandstand located at the center of Continental Park and overlooking Hampton Roads at Old Point Comfort. The bandstand has been the focal point of entertainment and social gatherings at Fort Monroe for 79 years.  Its aesthetic value to Continental Park and significance to the Fort is distinctive yet its history is less familiar and begins in 1933 with a determined and energetic Army Captain, Harrington W. Cochran.  Captain Cochran was Post Adjutant at Fort Monroe from 1932 to 1936.[1]  In the United States Army, the Post Adjutant is responsible for the administrative function of command, including all official correspondence and non-financial records.[2]  Under Fort Monroe’s command structure during this time, Brigadier General Joseph Tracy served as Commanding General, Post Commander and Commandant of the Coast Artillery School giving Cochran considerable responsibility and influence.[3]   In 1933 two devastating hurricanes, less than a month apart, destroyed many buildings at Fort Monroe including the existing band pavilion at the waterfront.

Postcard-Hotel Chamberlin, Old Point Comfort, Va. Circa 1905.
Postcard-Hotel Chamberlin, Old Point Comfort, Va. Circa 1905.

Cochran used his position to champion the construction of a new band pavilion during the great building projects of 1933 and 1934.  During a visit to the Quartermaster General in Washington, DC, he remembered seeing plans for a “small German Bandstand” and requested copies of the plan.[1]  He eventually received plans dated June 30, 1924, labeled “Army Medical Bandstand, Washington, DC.” destined to be built at Walter Reed Medical Center. [2]  The project had not materialized past the sketch phase due to the high cost of the ornamental ironwork, a copper roof, and custom-built columns.  In an effort to ensure construction at Fort Monroe, Cochran redesigned the building plans to reduce the cost of the project and he took advantage of Work Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) laborers at Fort Monroe who were in the available labor pool.[3]    Construction commenced in the winter of 1934, with progress of the work on the “band pavilion” recorded in Captain Cochran’s diary on numerous occasions during the late winter and early spring.  From an entry on the morning of March 7th, 1934 Cochran appears rather annoyed when he notes that the band pavilion was being erected with “the columns out of plumb.”[4]  Again, on March 23rd, 1934, Cochran writes that “the band pavilion is coming along slowly” and that unfavorable design changes had been made by the Quartermaster Captain.[5]  On April 1st, Cochran notes again in his diary that the “railings are going in the band pavilion.”[6]  Finally on April 7th, 1934, work on the bandstand was completed and Captain Cochran’s initial diary entry on the 7th reads, “We tried out the Band in the new band pavilion this morning and the acoustics were excellent- much to my relief as I was afraid that lip at the top of the columns which contains the indirect lighting would produce an echo.”[7]  The construction of the band pavilion was a success!  The inaugural performance at the Fort Monroe Bandstand on April 7, 1934, was given by the 2nd Coast Artillery Band.

Inaugural performance in the Bandstand, April 7, 1934. Courtesy of the Casemate Museum.
Inaugural performance in the Bandstand, April 7, 1934. Courtesy of the Casemate Museum.
Present Day- Fort Monroe at Old Point Comfort, www.Flickr.com
Present Day- Fort Monroe at Old Point Comfort, www.Flickr.com

The bandstand has required few alterations since its inception in 1934.  The structure has weathered many storms despite its vulnerable position only a few hundred feet from the Chesapeake Bay and only several feet above sea level.  It sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and required extensive repair, including new columns, the renovation of the front steps and a new electrical and lighting system.  The bandstand continues to serve Fort Monroe to this day as a focal point for social gatherings, celebrations and weddings. Locals and visitors appreciate the bandstand for what it has come to represent: history, music, and family…a place to gather together, almost in a spiritual way, like a temple.  The foresight of Captain Cochran and his determination and devotion to erecting a bandstand should be remembered and appreciated by all who visit this historical icon of Fort Monroe.

By Robert Kelly


[1] Colonel Harrington W. Cochran, Jr., retired United States Army, to Mrs. McClellan, Fort Monroe, Virginia 20 October, 1974, personal letters of Harrington W. Cochran Jr.

[2] “History of the General’s Adjutant Corps,” last modified November 10, 2011, https://www.hrc.army.mil/site/active/tagd/tagdhome/historypage.htm.

[3] David Johnson, “Continental Park gazebo marks 70th year as post’s main entertainment center,” Casemate, August 27, 2004, 10-11.


[1] Phyllis Sprock, “Building 4,” Inventory of Historic Properties, Department of the Army, July 18, 1979.

[2] Phyllis Sprock, “Building 4,” Inventory of Historic Properties, Department of the Army, July 18, 1979.

[3] Phyllis Sprock, “Building 4,” Inventory of Historic Properties, Department of the Army, July 18, 1979.

[4] Harrington W. Cochran, Diary, “The Adjutant Officer in Charge of Public Work, Fort Monroe,”3/7/1934.

[5] Harrington W. Cochran, Diary, “The Adjutant Officer in Charge of Public Work, Fort Monroe,”3/23/1934.

[6] Harrington W. Cochran, Diary, “The Adjutant Officer in Charge of Public Work, Fort Monroe,”4/1/1934.

[7] Harrington W. Cochran, Diary, “The Adjutant Officer in Charge of Public Work, Fort Monroe,”4/7/1934.

Lincoln Sailors Making a Difference One Beach at a Time

More than 100 sailors assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) helped clean the beaches at Fort Monroe on August 2, 2013.
More than 100 sailors assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) helped clean the beaches at Fort Monroe on August 2, 2013.
A group of more than 100 sailors assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) volunteered to clean up the historic beaches of Fort Monroe on August 2.
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Be a Junior Ranger

Looking for activities to do with your family?  Stop by the Casemate Museum and pick up a copy of the Fort Monroe Junior Ranger Program Activity booklet and discover some interactive ways to learn more about the history of Fort Monroe. Visit the National Park Service Be a Junior Ranger at Fort Monroe webpage.

A park ranger assists a junior ranger recruit examining the “Algernourne Oak”<br />on the Parade Ground at Fort Monroe National Monument.
A park ranger assists a junior ranger recruit examining the “Algernourne Oak”
on the Parade Ground at Fort Monroe National Monument.