The Old Point Comfort Lighthouse in Hampton Roads is surprisingly unassuming. Perhaps it’s the fact that the lighthouse is one of the oldest in the region, humbly shining from the shore since 1803 despite its relatively diminutive 58’. Still, blink and you might miss it.
Old Point Comfort forgoes the quintessential lighthouse experience of craning your neck up towards the cupola. There’s no imagining the endless spiral staircase a lighthouse keeper once climbed either. The lighthouse is tucked in between two residential homes, scarcely above the roof peaks on either side. It’s framed on a neatly trimmed, green lawn, just like the neighboring lawns. The lighthouse feels like it wants to shed the “light” altogether, and just live out its days as a house. Old Point Comfort is a story as much about people and neighborhoods as it is about landmarks.
It's curious that a lighthouse meant to be seen 16 miles from shore makes a good neighbor. But neighbors want to be there. I briefly met one of the neighbors, in fact. She had just moved in a few weeks ago, and was eager to share her love for the new digs. You could appreciate the enthusiasm she still felt towards her new neighbor, or more aptly, in being the new neighbor. She has the distinction of currently occupying the lighthouse keeper’s dwelling, but the 200-year-old lighthouse has seen lighthouse keepers come and go. And not just lighthouse keepers. The light has also witnessed an entire Fort Monroe military installation become established and eventually dissolved on the shore of Hampton Roads.
As she tells it, being neighbors with Old Point Comfort doesn’t come easy, and it doesn’t come often. But it could happen to you with a bit of determination and good luck. Management of the Fort Monroe Historic District falls under the authority of The National Park Service. The lighthouse sits on the southeast tip of Fort Monroe, a key defensive installation at the entrance to the Chesapeake. Military operations were shuttered during Base-Realignment, but the area is still well maintained as a National Historic Landmark District, as it’s been since 1960.
I didn’t catch her name, but she explained that she’s leased property all over Fort Monroe for some years now. It’s possible to lease a property on many different areas of the "island fortress", and possibly even inside the walls of the fort itself. You can now stroll the quiet sidewalks through the fort, past postcard-worthy front porches and neatly manicured lawns. You also get a sense of a clear hierarchy regarding which streets and homes appear to be the most sought-after leases.
A bit tongue in cheek perhaps, but the surroundings makes you wonder if the homes inside the walls of the fort are sought for their defensive position. Are they popular among doomsday preppers? One could almost imagine a network of tunnels and weapons depots snaking under the fort from basement to cellar, through each of the surrounding homes.
But there’s also the charm of living inside a historic district, though. Fort Monroe presents itself as a carefully maintained, American neighborhood ideal- complete with a community beach, and of course its own historic lighthouse. Is it true that good fences make good neighbors? When the fence is a fully defensible brick fort surrounded by a moat, the answer is apparently yes. Just don’t get your hopes up, there are currently no listings.