Fort Wool
The Rip-Raps, Hampton, Virginia
Visited 8.10.18
Fort Wool is on Rip-Raps Island, in the dead center of Hampton Roads, which is the waterway that connects the Chesapeake Bay with the Potomac River. Work began on strengthening this little island for fortification purposes in 1819, around the same time that the construction of Fort Monroe got underway.

Originally intended to be a four-tiered, Third System monstrosity like Castle Williams in New York Harbor, Fort Calhoun (as Fort Wool was known until 1861) was accessible only via a charming boat ride.

The fact that it was difficult to get to made Fort Calhoun a favorite hideyhole for two US presidents: Andrew Jackson and John Tyler both treasured the isolation from reporters, office seekers and various other pests that this fort provided them: There was even a "presidential residence" on the island, which sadly burned to the ground in 1846.

Today, this island is loosely connected to the southern entrance of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel: Tens of thousands of folks whoosh past the island on their daily commute, very few of whom likely appreciate that they are passing an historic US fort. The only way to get to Fort Wool today is the same as 'twas in 1819: By boat! Fortunately, the Miss Hampton Cruises corporation presently operates the Miss Hampton II, a comfy tour boat, which delivers visitors to the island on a regular basis...or at least it did in August of 2018, when I was fortunate enough to make the trip. As of this writing in November of 2019, Miss Hampton Cruises' website says that Fort Wool is "closed until further notice."
Rip-Raps Island, and by extension Fort Wool, has historically had a settling problem. Any man-made, or man-enhanced island often needs continual effort to keep it stable, and the methods used in 1819, added to the lack of finances available for constant upkeep particularly after it was no longer an active military base, have played hob with Fort Wool. When I visited, much of the fort was closed to visitors due to instability issues, and one imagines that things have only gotten worse since.

My trip on the Miss Hampton II, however, cost $27 and was a three-hour harbor tour, which included a chug past some of Naval Station Norfolk, which was fun if you like US Naval vessels. Which I do!

Pictures of these vessels would be included here, if I weren't an idiot who didn't have his camera's memory card properly inserted during this portion of the tour! Fortunately, I figured this out and corrected it as we approached Fort Wool.

This tour only allows for a scant 45 minute stop at Fort Wool, but I am an expert at hustling my way through a fort when time is tight! Once the 50 or so folks with whom I had sailed on the Miss Hampton II alighted on Rip-Raps Island, we were met by a friendly pseudo-ranger who gave us a brief introduction to the fort's story, and then led the throng into the batteries at the fort's western extent.
Those batteries are some of the fort's original casemates, and as I chose this moment to ditch the tour group and scurry elsewhere, that was the only part of the Fort Wool that I didn't get to! As we will see, however, I did make it into some casemates. Thank goodness, because I sure haven't seen enough casemates!

While cruising aboard the tour boat, we the passengers were regaled with some of the many stories of that waterway, such as the arrival of John Smith and the first English colonists in the New World, and the Civil War Battle of Hampton Roads betwixt the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia.
Each of the pictures on this page is but a thumbnail, the clicking upon of which will reveal it's full-sized counterpart, accompanied by even more of my brilliant and frequently misspelled observations.