Striking image of Fortress Monroe and the Hotel Hygeia, with the steam ship Adelaide in the foreground.
Fort Monroe guarded the navigation channel between the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads at the confluence of the Elizabeth River, the Nansemond River and the James River. Surrounded by a moat, the seven-sided star fort is the largest stone fort ever built in the United States. The Virginia Company initially built Fort Algernourne (1609-1612) at the location of the present Fort Monroe. Another fort, known only as "the fort at Old Point Comfort" was constructed in 1632. In 1728, Fort George was built on the site. Its masonry walls were destroyed by a hurricane in 1749, but the wood buildings in the fort were used by a reduced force until at least 1775. In 1781, during the Siege of Yorktown, the French West Indian fleet established a battery on the ruins of Fort George. Throughout the Colonial period, fortifications were manned at the location from time to time.
Following the War of 1812, the United States realized the need to protect Hampton Roads and the inland waters from attack by sea. In March 1819, President James Monroe came up with a plan of building a network of coastal defenses. In 1822 construction began on the stone-and-brick fort which would become the safeguard for Chesapeake Bay and the largest stone fort ever built in the United States. Among the original buildings is Quarters 1, designed as a residence and headquarters for Fort Monroe's commanding officer. Work continued for nearly 25 years The fort was designed by the French Napoleonic General of Engineers Simon Bernard, who had been banished from France after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.