The White House said preserving the site, which became an army outpost in 1819 and closed in September, could ultimately lead to thousands of new jobs in Virginia, an important swing state where Obama has made frequent appearances to push his jobs plan.
The designation is the latest in a recent string of executive orders from Obama that try to address lingering economic problems. There are bills moving through Congress that would make Fort Monroe a national park, but Obama, as he has with his other executive orders, emphasized that unemployed Americans can't wait for Congress to take action.
"Fort Monroe has played a part in some of the darkest and some of the most heroic moments in American history," Obama said in a statement. "But today isn't just about preserving a national landmark -- it's about helping to create jobs and grow the local economy. Steps like these won't replace the bold action we need from Congress to get our economy moving and strengthen middle-class families, but they will make a difference."
Just transitioning the fort to a national monument will not generate many jobs, an official with the Fort Monroe Authority said. But the president's plan to protect the property and buildings lays the groundwork for a reuse plan to be implemented, which would create almost 3,000 jobs in tourism and other business opportunities, according to the Authority.
The site has played host to a number of landmark events in American history. The Dutch first brought African slaves there in 1619; during the Civil War it remained in Union hands and welcomed slaves escaping from the South. But in 2005, it was slotted to close as the military sought to cut costs. The Army left the site in September of this year.
Tuesday was the first time Obama has used the authority granted to presidents under the Antiquities Act to designate sites as national monuments, according to the White House. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first to do so, naming Devil's Tower in Wyoming a monument in 1906, and the act has been used to preserve sites including the Grand Canyon, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty.