Restaurants of the Road
|Update 6/26/05: Much is going on at the Chamberlin, and Fort Monroe welcomes visitor|
The Chamberlin Hotel offers so much in the way of uniqueness, it's hard to know where to begin. For starters, it's inside Fort Monroe, home of the largest stone fort ever built in the United States. Even though it's on federal land, the Chamberlin is privately owned and operated.
Secondly, the Chamberlin enjoys a commanding view of Chesapeake Bay. The dining room offers a simply splendid panorama, no matter what the weather. Most of the guest rooms offer the same view, and the swimming is so near the water's edge you can pretend you're swimming in the ocean.
The first hotel to occupy this magnificent spot was built in 1820. Called the Hygeia, the resort drew a steady stream of well-heeled visitors. One of them was Edgar Allen Poe, who recited "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee" on the Hygeia's porch one September night in 1849, a month before he died.
After serving as a hospital during the Civil War, the Hygeia was torn down. Another hotel sprang up in its place, followed shortly by the first Chamberlin establishment. When it burned down in 1920, the present edifice was erected.
The Chamberlin is huge, imposing, and worth a visit. A buffet luncheon is served every day in the dining room, an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord for a very reasonable price. If you're lucky, you'll get to sit near the windows facing the bay.
Afterwards, stop by the hotel museum, which is housed in a porch behind the gift shop. Inside glass cases are mementos from every decade of the Chamberlin's past, including pictures of the conflagration that burned the first hotel to the ground.
All this might be enough, but there's more. The Chamberlin is haunted. More than one apparition is said to walk the halls of this cavernous establishment, but the most famous is the ghost of a young woman. Her father, a fisherman, went to sea one day and never returned. "She's still waiting for him," said the clerk in the gift shop. "She knocks things off shelves every once in a while, and sometimes she plays the piano."
Maybe we'll meet her next time.
2 Fenwic Road
Fort Monroe, Virginia 23651
The first Hygeia hotel, (built in 1820 and named for the Greek Goddess of health), a second Hygeia, (built in 1863), and the first Vanderbilt-Chamberlin Hotel (built in 1890) were located in three different locations on Fort Monroe. The second Chamberlin is built on the same lot as the first Chamberlin (click here for a photo), which burned in 1920. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the current owner of this historic motel went bankrupt, and it was closed to all visitors. In late 2004, a local real estate firm purchased the property with the intention of converting the hotel into a senior independent living facility of 130 apartments. Power was shut off to the building shortly after Hurricane Isabel in September, 2003, and asbestos removal and other rehabilitation construction is underway at the present time. The costs to rehabilitate the property have been estimated at $50 million, and the first units should be ready for occupancy in the spring of 2007. When it reopens, the lobby and some ground-floor businesses will be open again to the public.
Even though the hotel is now closed, visitors are still welcomed on the base, and the only requirement for entry is that they must have a photo ID and up-to-date vehicle registration and tags. Visitors must get a day pass, but that only takes a few minutes. There are brand new exhibits at the Casemate Museum, and the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse is open. In addition, visitors can walk around the terreplein (the raised ground area in front of the old stone walls) and look at the pet cemetery, the Jefferson Davis Memorial Arch, and the old gun placements. There is also a RV park at the fort and an outdoor recreational program. For excellent local information about Fort Monroe and its history, click here.
by the Fort Monroe Cultural Resource Manager.