Today’s vacation bike ride was an opportunity to see just how fast I could go on the flat roads of Ft. Story. A route through the base and along the outside perimeter is about 6.5 miles. The road is about as flat as you can get – only 17 feet of climbing per lap. It was an interesting experience, about as close as you can get to being inside on a stationary bike while actually riding outdoors. The conditions were good enough for me to set a new personal best pace of 19.9 mph, despite going eight miles further than my previous-best ride of 19.8 mph. I was also suffering from a mild case of sunburn from yesterday afternoon’s beach activities and slowed by the requirement to stop at the fort’s gate each and every time to produce my ID card.
That’s about all the news from the ride, but there is still plenty to talk about, like the fact that Fort Story is probably the most significant place that most Americans have never heard of.
Take, for example, the fact that Ft. Story is the site of The First Landing. In 1607, Christopher Newport’s expedition came ashore at this location and stayed awhile before finding the site that would eventually become the Jamestown Colony. This is the first English settlement in the New World and predates the more famous Plymouth Rock landing by 13 years. The site is commemorated by a monument consisting of a stone cross. Meanwhile, the Plymouth Rock Pilgrims are regaled in song and story in every elementary school classroom in America. Apparently, Massachusetts has a better PR department than Virginia.
And that’s not all. In 1781, the most important naval battle in American history took place right offshore. Oddly enough, it didn’t include any Americans. A French fleet under the command of Admiral Francois de Grasse defeated a British fleet commanded by Admiral Sir Thomas Graves and thus prevented the escape of a British Army under Lord Cornwallis at nearby Yorktown. Five weeks later, George Washington accepted Cornwallis’ surrender. Most Americans do not know of this crucial naval battle, let alone the name of the Frenchman who won it. In 1976, the French government donated a statue of de Grasse and it stands at the fort’s memorial park.
Incredibly, there’s even MORE cool history here. The very first building commissioned by the new government of the United States was a light house at the current location of the fort. The lighthouse was built in 1792 and remained in service until 1870, when it started to crack. A new lighthouse was built and remains in service today. The original lighthouse is a national historic landmark and you can tour it after paying a small fee.
In addition to these sites, you can watch a play about the First Landing, put on by local actors on a stage right next to the beach. There are also ruins of coastal artillery magazines along the beach and all the sea crabs you could ever want to see. And there’s some pretty good cycling routes, too!