A Page from North Quabbin History: Orange Armory listed as endangered historical resource 

  • The Orange Armory has been designated as a 2022 Massachusetts Most Endangered Historic Resource by Preservation Massachusetts. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Orange Armory has been designated as a 2022 Massachusetts Most Endangered Historic Resource by Preservation Massachusetts. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

For the Recorder
Published: 11/14/2022 4:15:29 PM
Modified: 11/14/2022 4:15:27 PM

The oldest sole existing armory in the North Quabbin area, located in Orange, has been listed as one of the 2022 Massachusetts Most Endangered Historic Resources (MEHR) by Preservation Massachusetts. The Orange Historical Commission nominated the building with the support of the Orange Office of Community Development.

Construction of the armory began in 1912 and was completed in November 1913 by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for Company E, 2nd Regiment. The Boston-based architecture firm of Clarence T. McFarland and Herbert Warren Colby designed the Orange Armory as a first-class armory, built exclusively for militia use, to replace the third-class armory, housed in town buildings and not built exclusively for militia use, Orange’s armory was originally located at Town Hall, according to Sandra Fawn, chairman of the Orange Historical Commission. “In its exterior design, this brick-clad, largely steel-frame building was unique among the first-class armories built in the early 20th century, during which time the state’s Armory Commissioners were known to reuse a single plan for building armories in multiple cities and towns,” Fawn continued.

“The selection of Orange as a state armory location accommodated both state and local interests, reflecting the town’s growth as an industrial and population center in the region by the early 20th century, as well as a local push to improve government facilities at the town center about the time of the town’s centennial in 1910,” according to Fawn.

“The Orange Armory represents the first phase of coordinated armory construction by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to improve training facilities for the state’s volunteer militia from 1888 through the 1910s,” Fawn said.

The Massachusetts Volunteer Militia (MVM), Company E was organized and staffed in 1885 by several prominent local Civil War veterans, Fawn said. The company saw extensive action in several wars including in the Spanish American War. “On the south wall of the drill floor, set in the brick wall beneath the balcony, a plaque of Tennessee marble memorializes the thirteen members of Company E, 2nd Regiment, MVM who died in the Spanish-American War in 1898,” Fawn said. The plaque was installed and dedicated in 1914.

During World War I, Members of Company E, 104th Infantry Regiment of the 26th Division, known as the “Yankee Division”, served with the U.S. Army. “It was part of the first American unit ever to be decorated by a foreign power for bravery and conduct while under fire in France during World War I,” Fawn stated. Members of Company E were also deployed to the Mexican border in the search for Pancho Villa in 1916.

“The companies stationed at Orange Armory, some of which were called into federal service at home and abroad, trace the evolution of the state’s ‘citizen soldier’ force from the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia to the formation of the National Guard and subsequently the Home or State Guard,” said Fawn. The Armory was used by the State Guard and for military functions up until 1973.

The Town of Orange acquired the armory in 1975 as part of a deaccessioning of surplus armories in the commonwealth, and expanded the community use to include municipal functions, while retaining integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. The Armory became an integral part of the community, a center for a wide variety of uses and events, including the Orange Senior Center and Council on Aging, North Quabbin Citizens Advocacy Office and town offices such as the Building and Board of Health departments. The Franklin County Community Meals Program (FCCMP) was held in the Armory, as well as monthly community meals, a youth center, and a broad range of community programs, from Tai Chi and knitting groups, to foot clinics and flu shots. A rollerskating business operated in the building. In October 2021, the building was vacated after town officials conducted an in-depth study of the building due to its age and condition.

The critical threats to the structure, according to Fawn, include the leaking roof and resulting damage; temperature variations as the building is unheated and unoccupied; and the lack of maintenance to the building. The armory’s basement always has water in it, as do many of the other buildings on East Main Street due to them being in a flood plain, she continued.

“There were oil issues in the building and all four of the very old oil tanks were dripping oil. So to avoid any serious issues, all the oil was drained out of the tanks and the building could no longer be heated with winter coming. Repairing or replacing the tanks will be extremely costly,” Fawn said.

There also appeared to be cracks in the foundation, the massive front staircase is crumbling.as well as plumbing issues in the building, Fawn stated.

“Several years ago a quote of $150,000 was given to repair the roof but with the cost increases in building materials, we would have to have a new quote from a roofing contractor. There is no solid number for what it would cost to repair the building. Until the eventual new use is known, we can’t say what would need to be done to make the building usable,” said Fawn.

“Though the (MEHR) program is only an honorary designation, it can serve as a catalyst for action and opportunities. It is a declaration that we value this resource and want to see it preserved and it better positions the armory in grant-writing activities as well as getting the word out to Preservation Massachusetts’ larger network of preservationists,” said Fawn. “It is very clear from the use it have received over the years that the community cares about the armory,” said Erin D.A. Kelly, President and Executive Director of Preservation Massachusetts.

Alec Wade, Office of Community Development, is working with students from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management to do some research on the building as well as create public engagement opportunities for residents, nonprofits and businesses in the region.

“Listing on the MEHR will help increase the visibility of the Armory and raise awareness of the immense value the building has provided to the community over the years,” Fawn said.

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on the history of the North Quabbin area. Contact her at cjfreelancewriter@earthlink.net.

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