Friday, April 2, 2010

Back in Time Yet Again

Fort Norfolk, 2003

Fort Norfolk has an interesting history. It the only one of nineteen harbor fortifications authorized by President George Washington and built in the late 18th Century that survives. During the War of 1812,it was one of the key defenses of Norfolk’s inner harbor and home to the frigate Constellation. After that war, the fort was essentially abandoned.

Fifty years later the Navy took over Fort Norfolk and used it as an ammunition storage facility. The powder magazine, protected by earthen walls four feet thick, still stands.

When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1981, Confederate rebels seized Fort Norfolk and its stock of arms. The fort’s magazine supplied the CSS Virginia (also known as the Merrimack) for its historic battle with the USS Monitor. Union forces eventually retook the fort and used it as a prison.

After the end of the Civil War, Fort Norfolk was used for storage. In the early 20th Century the Army Corps of Engineers occupied Fort Norfolk. Their modern regional headquarters building is located at the edge of Fort Norfolk.

All my life I’d heard about Fort Norfolk. But because it was on Corps of Engineers property, it hasn’t been accessible to the public, especially as security was tightened after 9/11.

I finally had my chance to get onto Fort Norfolk one steamy hot July weekend in the summer of 2003. The Norfolk Historical Society was doing a weekend of reenactments on the site and the public would be allowed in to tour the Fort.

My idea was to take pictures of Fort Norfolk that give the viewer an idea of what it looked like in its prime. This is a bit of a challenge because modern buildings surround Fort Norfolk. The Elizabeth River out front is full of modern ships. On summer weekends the drone of cigarette boats will drive you nutty.

But ever curious, I headed out to visit Fort Norfolk. The re-enactors were enthusiastic. Like re-enactors everywhere, they get really involved with the authenticity of their costumes, sometimes so much that visitors can be made to feel like unwanted intruders. They did their stuff and I did my best to take pictures that weren’t burdened with modern intrusions. That meant taking exterior pictures from either high or low angles. You had to admit it was funny watching a bunch of stout, middle-aged re-enactors of the Norfolk Light Infantry Blues firing canons out into the river at the cigarette boats.


  1. Chris: Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos! We've posted a link to your blog entry on our Facebook page:

  2. wow! These are amazing photos, Chris. Really beautiful.