Written by Sonja Ingram, Associate Director of Preservation Field Services
Preservation Virginia staff was able to get a glimpse of Fort Wool this summer. Fort Wool, a 15-acre, human-made, fort island, located near the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, was one of more than forty forts started after the War of 1812 as part of an elaborate coastal fortification project. Closely aligned with nearby Fort Monroe, the fort’s history spans three centuries and was used during three US wars. It was held and used extensively by the Union during the Civil War, notably during the sea battle of the Merrimack and the Monitor. Similar to Fort Monroe, Fort Wool was also a gateway for people escaping slavery to freedom.
Deferred maintenance and rising sea levels are threatening this already fragile fort island. Recently, as a result of displacement due to the construction of the third Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, Fort Wool was converted into a temporary nesting place for thousands of seabirds. Due to these threats, For Wool was listed on Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2021. Creative solutions are needed to find a permanent home for the seabirds, and to develop a plan for the long-term preservation and reopening of this significant fort. For more information see the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Coalition for Historic Fort Wool, and Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places List.