Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.
Around the United States, most states have a building dedicated to the production of armaments as well as for the establishment for a Federal arsenal. There are more than seventeen hundred references to “armory” in the records of the National Register. One of the oldest is the Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts, (National Archives Identifier 63793713), “when it was formally established as a Federal arsenal by an act of Congress in 1794, it already had achieved an important place in American military and industrial history. During the American Revolution, the Armory was the site of important ordnance manufacturing and storage facilities, serving as a supply depot for the entire northeastern theatre of war. The Armory was also the site of the abortive attack by Captain Daniel Shays and his followers in the Massachusetts uprising of 1786-87 known as “Shays’ Rebellion,” Shays and his small force of disgruntled farmers attempted to raid the arsenal on January 25, 1787, but were repulsed by the defending garrison. This event, which generated increased public support for the creation of a stronger national government that could help curb such uprisings, contributed indirectly to the establishment of the Federal Constitution.”
“During the early nineteenth century, Springfield Armory played an important role in the development of the principle of interchangeability of parts, an essential concept in the modern assembly line techniques of American industry. In 1822, Thomas Blanchard, an Armory workman, devised a machine for turning gun stocks; though conceived for that specific purpose, his machine proved a forerunner of subsequently perfected machinery for making other standardized gun parts.”
“Together with the Harpers Ferry Armory, Springfield Armory supplied all the military small arms manufactured by the United States Government for nearly seventy years. With the destruction of the Harpers Ferry installation at the outbreak of the Civil War, Springfield became the sole such supplier, a distinction it held until 1904, when the Rock Island Arsenal began the small-scale manufacture of rifles. Throughout the military history of the United States the Springfield weapons have played a major role and have achieved a justified reputation for quality, accuracy, and dependability. In its last years as an active military post, the Armory served as the United States Army’s principal research and development center and pilot manufactory for small arms. When phased out as a military installation in 1967-68, the Springfield Armory was the Federal Government’s oldest manufacturing arsenal.”
There are armories located across the United States, in multiple sites in multiple cities in every state, including several in New York City, including the New York MPS 369th Regiment Armory (National Archives Identifier 75313869), which is “historically significant for its association with black history as the only armory ever built for the only unit of the New York National Guard composed solely of African-Americans. It is additionally architecturally and historically significant as a remarkably intact, representative example of an early twentieth century state armory . . . The unit was founded in 1913 as the “Negro Regiment of Infantry” and redesignated the 369th Regiment upon mustering into the United States Army in 1917.” The New York MPS 69th Regiment Armory (National Archives Identifier 75313867) “designed in 1906 by Hunt & Hunt, is an imposing, classically inspired edifice on the west side of Lexington Avenue, a broad and fashionable boulevard lined with elegant, turn of the century buildings. Located in densely built-up, mid-town Manhattan, the armory is surrounded by primarily high rise residential, commercial and professional buildings. The armory occupies its entire 63,235 square-foot lot (slightly more than one acre), bounded by Lexington Avenue, 25th Street, 26th Street and Park Avenue to the east, south, north and west, respectively, and is bordered by concrete sidewalks abutting the streets.”
“In addition to its historical and architectural significance as a military facility, the 69th Regiment is historically significant at the national level in the area of ART as the site of the world-renowned 1913 Armory Show, the first major exhibit of modern art in America and, therefore, as one of the most significant events in the history of modern art.” “Completed in 1906, the 69th Regiment Armory is one of several armories built in New York City during the first decade of the twentieth century that abandoned the fortress-like, medieval- inspired, castellated style popularized during the 1880s and 1890s . . . The armory is additionally historically significant for its association with the 69th Regiment, a renowned local unit of the New York National Guard composed of a variety of prominent members of Irish descent. The “Fighting 69th” served with distinction during World War I and World War II. Like all other local units of New York’s volunteer militia, the 69th Regiment embodies an integral component of American military history.”
Not far from the National Archives in College Park is the Maryland SP Hyattsville Armory (National Archives Identifier 106777974), “often referred to by local residents as “the Castle on the Hill”, was built by the State of Maryland in 1918 to house components of Company F of the First Maryland Infantry. Company F was formed on May 8, 1912, and initially met in a room above the Hyattsville Fire Department . . . The Hyattsville Armory is significant in architectural and military history. It was the first Armory built in Prince George’s County and the fifth in Maryland (after Elkton in 1915, Bel Air in 1916, and Westminster and Cambridge in 1917) and mightily continues the fortress-like nature of those four slightly earlier structures. Its architect Robert Lawrence Harris, served as state architect under Governor Albert C. Ritchie. In this capacity, Harris would supervise the design of similar armories in Salisbury, Kensington, Silver Spring, Hagerstown, Laurel, Easton, Crisfield, Pocomoke City, Centreville and Cumberland as well as an addition to the armory in Frederick. Thus, the Hyattsville Armory is something of a seminal work. Further, the unit headquarters here has a service history that is distinguished in its own right: it has seen action from Mexico to Central Europe, has several international decorations and has played a key role in establishing the American Legion.”
In Key West, Florida, you can visit The Armory (National Archives Identifier 77843283), “built at the turn of the century to serve Monroe County and Key West as housing for arms and men. The turn of the century was an opulent period in Key West’s history. The census in 1890 had found it to be the state’s largest and wealthiest city. Although isolated from the Florida mainland by sea, it was a vigorous and cosmopolitan community. A major seaport, its cigar and sponge products were at the peak of their production. The Armory exemplifies this period in the island’s architectural heritage and is one of the few remaining large frame buildings.” “Since its settlement in 1822 Key West has been of strategic importance to the Federal Government. The British and Spanish, during their occupation of Florida, were aware of its military potentialities but failed to act and it was not until Florida was ceded to the United States in 1821 that steps were taken to use the island. In 1823 the Navy made it the base for a special anti-pirate squadron and in 1831 the Army Post was established. The construction of a major fortification. Ft. Zachary Taylor, was begun in 1845 and since that time additional military installations have been added until by 1967 the military occupied 29.2% of the urban area of Key West. Through the years civilian volunteers have supplemented the government forces. They were first called upon to serve in land and sea patrols in the Seminole War. Shortly after the Civil War began, a company of loyal citizens placed themselves under the Army commander of the island to aid in preventing Key West from falling into the hands of the Confederacy. The island remained an important Union base throughout the conflict. After the war the Key West Rifles were organized and they were followed in 1888 by the Island City Guards. In 1901, Monroe County purchased a lot directly opposite the entrance to the U.S. Army Cantonment and built the Armory. A ruling by the Florida Supreme Court declared that it was the state’s responsibility to furnish armories and the cost was refunded to the county.”
In Batesville, Arkansas, the National Guard Armory (National Archives Identifier 26142411) “is an imposing Ozark sandstone structure built in 1936 with Art Deco massing and Gothic Revival influenced detail. It is located at 380 S. 9th Street on the corner of 9th and Vine Streets. The one-story rectangular building was a Works Progress Administration project. The building is lit by a bank of wooden double-hung windows cascading into a triangular configuration over a centered entrance . . . The building was used by the National Guard Company B until 1976 when new owners purchased the armory and its three surrounding city lots. Since 1976 the building has been used primarily for storage and was suffering from neglect, but in 1995 the property and land was donated to the Old Independence Regional Museum.”
In some cases, armories were often located on college and university campuses, as depicted above and on the campus of the University of Idaho, National Archives Identifier 84248511, for which the “armory and gymnasium at Moscow is architecturally significant as the first of two early buildings designed by the firm for the young University of Idaho and as a handsome example of academic eclectic architecture. The second Tourtellotte and Hummel design, the 1907 administration building (National Register, February 14, 1978), is one of the firm’s major monuments. The armory and gymnasium is also an example of the compromises made by an eclectic architect to the sometimes more conservative tastes of institutional clients . . . The armory and gymnasium as revised was built with the aid of a $25,000 appropriation from the 1903-1904 legislature. It was completed in 1904 and served as a gymnasium and armory until the construction of the Memorial Gymasium in 1928. In 1909 Tourtellotte and Company got extra mileage from this design by revising it slightly for the Albion State Normal School in southeast Idaho (Albion State Normal School Historic District, National Register November 28, 1980).
This post is part of an ongoing series featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.