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Orange Armory may soon be deemed ‘historic place’

105-year-old building eligible for listing in national register

  • The Orange Armory has been deemed eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. STAFF PHOTO/DAVID MCLELLAN



Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2018

ORANGE — Over its 105 years of existence, the Orange Armory has been a lot of things. It’s been a Massachusetts National Guard headquarters, a government office building and a host to clubs, classes, commissions, councils, community balls and breakfasts.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that soon the Armory may be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The building has been confirmed eligible for listing as a local historic place “for its historic and architectural significance,” according to Selectboard Clerk James Cornwell, who is the Selectboard’s liaison to the Armory Commission.

“This is something that a number of folks have been working on for quite a while, and this is just one more step in a few things that have to happen,” Cornwell said after reading a letter from the Massachusetts Historical Commission during a Selectboard meeting recently.

“What this does is it opens up an avenue for additional grants for a building such as this, such as maintenance grants and upgrade grants,” he added.

A team of people, Cornwell said, including the five-person Armory Commission, have been working for more than a year on getting the Armory listed. The next step, now that they have confirmation the building is eligible, is to work on a plan for preserving the building as a historic site.

The town has made contact with Preservation Massachusetts, which advocates for and promotes the preservation of historic buildings across the state, and has invited the nonprofit to send a “circuit rider” to the Armory Commission’s next meeting on Tuesday. A circuit rider is a mentor to towns like Orange looking to preserve a historic building, and will help with the application process before the building is officially listed.

But things are moving along, Cornwell said.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission’s letter confirmed that the Armory is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historical Places under two criteria: It’s “associated with events that have made significant contributions to the broad patterns of our history,” and has “distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction or are representative of the work of a master or possess high artistic values.”

“That just says it’s an old building, I guess,” Cornwell said with a laugh.

An Air Force veteran and a member of the Trustees of Soldiers Memorials, responsible for upkeep on the town’s statues and tributes to veterans, Cornwell said the Armory is more than just an old building. It’s a memorial in itself.

“I have a dual interest there, in getting it listed,” Cornwell said.

Not only does he wish to open the Armory up to grants, but getting the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places would mean a lot to veterans, Cornwell said.

“To me and to a lot of folks this is very important,” Cornwell said.

The building itself was designated as a war memorial in 1934, at the same time Memorial Park’s “Peace Statue,” the official peace statue of Massachusetts, was dedicated. Inside the Armory are bronze plaques commemorating the men and women who have served in the armed forces and National Guard. Much like Orange’s Memorial Park, there are individual plaques in the Armory honoring those who fought in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The Armory was built with state funds — at the time amounting to around $60,000 — and opened on Nov. 14, 1913 as the new headquarters for local members of the Massachusetts National Guard. Then-Governor Eugene Foss, a delegation of military personnel, locals and out-of-town guests attended the dedication ceremony, which included a ball and concert.

A state-of-the-art building, it had an ammunition room that held 25,000 rounds, a drill hall, officers’ room and recreational rooms still in use today. The day of the dedication ceremony, the Orange Enterprise and Journal wrote that the Armory “is of the newest type and a model of convenience and attractiveness. Its exterior is plain but impressive and suggests the character of the structure.”

Until 1973, the building served as the headquarters for Orange and Athol members of the National Guard’s 26th Infantry Division — “Yankee Division” — before they moved to the Armory in Gardner. The National Guard and state then sold it to the town of Orange for $1.

Over the years, the Armory has hosted the Citizens Advocacy Network, Council on Aging, Franklin County Home Care Corporation meals, Orange Roller Skating for three decades, birthday and family parties, exercise and karate classes, flu clinics, Community Band practice, a knitting club, building and electrical inspectors offices, the Board of Health and has even been designated as the town’s emergency shelter. Its name and plaques, however, remain and are a reminder of its original purpose.

Getting the Armory listed on the National Register of Historic Places is a “multi-step process,” Cornwell said, but it’s worth it. The building, if listed, would be eligible for state grants such as the Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund, which awards money to municipal preservation projects across the state each year.

Selectboard Chairman Ryan Mailloux has also penned a letter of official support from the town to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, another step in the process.

“As elected representatives of the town of Orange, we support the nomination of the Orange Armory to be placed on this list,” Mailloux said.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.