Fortification has been on protected land since the 1970s

By Robert Brauchle, | 757-247-2827

December 24, 2012

DP  DP Ft. Monroe

A service ranger walks past Fort Stanwix in Rome, NY. Source: Robert Brauchle

The fort in New York’s Mohawk Valley kept hostile British troops and Native Americans away from the colony’s towns and cities and allowed the government to monitor and tax trappers and travelers heading west.ROME, N.Y. — Soldiers standing guard at the rural outpost of Fort Stanwix in the 1770s spent countless hours peering through the wood battlements at tall grass and shrubs, searching for signs of friend and foe.

In 1777, troops here repelled a monthlong siege by British forces trying to advance toward the Hudson Valley. Three years later, troops abandoned the fort, leaving it in disrepair.

For just two decades, Fort Stanwix played an active role in U.S. military history. To honor that involvement, the National Park Service rebuilt the fort in the 1970s as monument to the country’s bicentennial anniversary.

The view from atop the fort’s walls today is a stark contrast.

A nail salon, dry cleaner and hardware stand outside Fort Stanwix National Monument. The blare of car horns and diesel engines from passing traffic is incessant, even in the fort’s inner sanctum.

While the history and creation of Fort Stanwix varies from Fort Monroe, the fortified national park in New York offers a glimpse of what officials in Hampton can expect from the park service monument here.

Stream of visitors

Tourism related to Fort Stanwix has had a multimillion-dollar impact on the city of Rome and the surrounding area, according to a 2011 study on the national monument site.

National Park Service researchers found the park added $3.5 million to the local economy from visitor spending and payroll from jobs directly linked to the park during that year.

The park employed 19 people who received $1.2 million in salaries in 2011.

Those jobs and the 102,874 individual visits to the park meant businesses throughout the region benefited from Fort Stanwix, said Bill Guglielmo, president of the Rome Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The businesses here see results when we hold events at Stanwix,” he said. “Not just here in downtown, but so do the shops and hotels along the highway and at the casino.”

For Stanwix is a 20-minute drive to Turning Stone Resort Casino a major economic engine run by the Oneida Indian Nation.

The Oneida Indian Nation has also provided historical re-enactors during events at Fort Stanwix, said fort superintendent Deborah Conway.

“It’s very important for us to have strong relationships with the community, whether it’s the Rotary Club or the local Native American community,” she said. “We want people to know we’re here and that they can come visit whenever they like.”

Educational role

The National Park Service also has a role in educating people in the surrounding community.

“I’ll be in my uniform at the grocery store and people will come up and ask where I work,” Conway said. “I have to tell them that I work at the Fort Stanwix, the national park. There are people who don’t know we have this gem right in their backyards.”

So what can Fort Monroe officials take from a park site nearly 600 miles away?

For a start, keep the education component. Fort Stanwix invites a stream of school children to tour the site each year.

“They might bring their parents back, and if they have a good time they might come again and again,” Conway said. “When I tell people where I work, I remind them it’s free so its the cheapest date in town.”

Fort Monroe would seem to have several advantages over Fort Stanwix that could lead to a significantly larger economic impact.

Fort Stanwix, at 16 acres, is the size of a large city park. Fort Monroe, at about 560 acres, feels is an entire community.

Fort Stanwix is in the midst of a city, with busy streets on every side. Aside from a visitors center, the only structure on the site is the rebuilt wooden fort itself.

Fort Monroe is a waterfront property with expansive views of the Chesapeake Bay. It includes a number of historic buildings, a marina and acres of usable land. And the moated fort itself is not a re-creation.

“We have the actual original fabric right here,” said Fort Monroe National Monument Superintendent Kirsten Talken-Spaulding. “People really identify with and are attracted to having the actual stone fort.”

Regional resource

The Hampton Convention and Visitors Bureau sees Fort Monroe as a regional resource for Hampton, even though the group has not been hired to directly market Fort Monroe, said executive director Sallie Grant-DeVenuti.

“Everyone is still trying to wrap their arms around what will happen there,” Grant-DeVenuti said. “We see it as an asset and we’re using it in our marketing material, but how exactly Fort Monroe fits into the larger picture is still something that is falling into place.”

The visitors bureau is an arm of the city; the state is in charge of marketing Fort Monroe.

Grant-DeVenuti said visitors to Old Point Comfort will likely visit Hampton to eat, shop and spend the night. Not marketing Fort Monroe as an attraction in Hampton would be foolish, she said.

Guglielmo of the Rome Chamber of Commerce would agree.

“The fort is a major plus for everyone down here,” he said. “It’s part of our heritage, and we consider its success quite a feather in the cap of Rome.”

Wednesday: Downtown Lowell, Mass., is part national park.

Good neighbors?

Administrators at Fort Stanwix allowed the grass to grow along a pathway leading up to the entrance in an attempt to recreate the appearance the original fort’s visitors would have experienced in the 1770s.

But complaints about the tall grass trickled into City Hall, forcing the mayor to nudge the park superintendent about the lawn.

The tall grass remains, although its purpose is still a topic among city residents.

The lesson, officials said, is that the park service site needs to be a good steward and a good neighbor.

How they compare

Fort Monroe

Location: A spit of land in Hampton, Va., at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

Size: About 560 acres

National Monument: Created in 2011, includes 325 acres, 90 of which are concentrated around the stone fort. Named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Significant history:

Location of the “contraband of war” decision

Launching point for Union forces for the battle of Big Bethel

Site where President Abraham Lincoln directed fighting at Norfolk

Site where the first Africans came ashore on British-occupied land in North America

Fort Stanwix

Location: Rome, N.Y.

Size: 16 acres

National Monument: Created in 1935, includes the entire 16-acre property. The National Park Service and city of Rome rebuilt the wood fort in the 1970s for the country’s bicentennial. The Marinus Willett Collection Management and Education Center opened in 2005.

Significant history:

Served as a “vital link” for travel between the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes

Repelled a month-long siege by the British and their allies in August 1777

Protected northwest frontier from the British in 1779

Fort was abandoned in 1781 and left to ruin

Source: National Park Service

About the series

Officials at Fort Monroe are looking at other regions that have been through base closings, aiming to learn from their experiences. This series looks at a few comparable sites in New England.

Sunday: The folks planning the future of Fort Monroe have a lot to learn from other people’s experience.

Monday: Commercial development has encroached on Fort Stanwix, a historic fort in Rome, N.Y. Look out over its parapets and the view includes a dry cleaner and a nail salon.

Wednesday: Lowell, Mass., has turned the heart of its once industrial downtown into a national park. It’s not always easy to tell where the park ends and the city begins.

Thursday: At some former military bases, it’s been easy to find companies willing to build new facilities. Making use of historic buildings presents a challenge.

Copyright © 2012, Newport News, Va., Daily Press,0,7850635.story