NPS superintendent sets new vision for Fort Monroe to tell all of its stories

If trees could speak, the ancient Algernoune Oak on the Fort Monroe parade ground could tell some great stories — at least that’s what National Park Service Superintendent Terry E. Brown believes.

Rooted along the edge of the parade ground, the tree’s life spans nearly 500 years while evoking a majestic presence.

“That tree witnessed the arrival of the first Africans, it witnessed the American Indians, it witnessed the contraband decision,” Brown said, referring to when three Hampton slaves during the Civil War came to the fortress seeking refuge. “It witnessed Africans building the stone fort. It was Africans that built the largest stone fort in America.”

Several yards from that oak tree is Brown’s office, inside the one-time home of Robert E. Lee, before he joined the Confederacy. It’s a significant coincidence for Brown, who in the three years since coming on as the superintendent at Fort Monroe is still in awe of what he does, even after three decades with the National Park Service.