Cape Henry group looks back — and forward in Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Fort Story holds more than one important landmark in America's history, and local preservationists want to shine a light on all of them.

Creating an experience for visitors that connects the site of the English settlers' first landing at Cape Henry, a battle off its shores, the lighthouses and more will be among the topics discussed at an upcoming public meeting.

The city's Historic Preservation Commission will host "Past, Present and Future of the Cape Henry Historic Site" from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library.

The landmarks are within the gates of the Joint Expeditionary Base Fort Story and several different entities are involved. Preservation Virginia owns the Cape Henry Lighthouse and the Coast Guard owns the newer lighthouse.

"This is an opportunity to bring all the troops together," said Bernice Pope, commission chair.

Bob Albertson of the Order of Cape Henry 1607 will give a brief historical overview followed by a panel discussion that will include representatives from the military installation, Preservation Virginia, the Coast Guard and the city.

The commission's goals include making the second lighthouse available to the public, restoring buildings of historic significance and improving access while understanding the need for security, said Mac Rawls, commission member.

In February, the city approved a $40,000 contribution toward a grant project to stabilize the base of the Cape Henry Lighthouse. The landmark, built in 1791, is the most recognizable and most visited historic feature at Fort Story, but more treasures should be high on the list too, said Mark Reed, the city's historic resources coordinator.

"So many important things took place there in our history — not just in the history of Virginia Beach — but the history of the United States," Reed said.

On April 26, 1607, about 100 English colonists landed at Cape Henry. They planted a cross there before moving inland to create a permanent settlement. Cape Henry National Memorial marks the small swath of land where the cross is located. It's part of the Colonial National Historical Park site that also includes Jamestown, Yorktown and the Colonial Parkway.

Also, the area is significant for its proximity to the Battle of the Capes off the shores of Cape Henry in 1781. A French fleet under Admiral Comte deGrasse defeated a convoy of British ships sent to resupply General Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Fort Story also contains a second lighthouse that was built in 1881, a railway depot built by Norfolk Southern in 1907 and World War II-era army buildings as well as a Nike missile site.

The city supports a plan to connect the sites for visitors.

"There are a number of things that can be tied together and be much more inviting for the public and be a better way to commemorate how important that site is," Reed said.


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