By Michael Schaffer Managing Editor
The Daily Iowegian
---- — The now closed Iowa National Guard armory in Centerville snaps a tradition of a guard presence in Centerville that dates back to at least 1881.
The Iowa National Guard announced Jan. 24 that they were permanently closing the Centerville armory and moving Company A (Forward Support Company), 224th Engineer Battalion to Fairfield.
The Centerville armory was the 12th armory to be closed “as part of a state-wide consolidation and facilities upgrade program initiated in 2000 by the Iowa National Guard,” states the email sent by the Iowa National Guard to announce the closure.
Centerville has a long and storied association with the Iowa National Guard. On three separate occasions, stories printed in 1881 mention an armory and Company E.
The following is a look back at Centerville’s armory and the evolution of Company E as seen through the digital archives of the Centerville Iowegian funded by the Appanoose County Historical Society. The newspapers and stories can be found at centerville.advantage-preservation.com.
On Jan. 6, 1881, the Appanoose Times reported Company E held a Military Fair at the Centerville armory. “The attendance was large and comprised of the very best citizens of the city, and all seemed to enjoy themselves to the utmost.” The event raised net receipts of approximately $200. “The universal verdict at the armory Monday evening was, that in the future the ladies of Centerville have only to command and Company E will obey.”
On April 18, 1883, the Centerville Journal reported Col. D. N. Steele had a contract to build an armory building 40x100 feet on land leased from the city west of the city building. The story says the armory for Company E 2nd Regiment of the Iowa National Guard of Centerville will also serve as town hall. The money used to fund the new building was “raised largely by individual contributions.”
On Aug. 1, 1883, the Centerville Citizen reported a “highly successful masquerade carnival on roller skates” was held at the armory Saturday evening. “The large audience in attendance was well entertained, and everybody appeared to have a grand good time.”
On March 7, 1889, the Appanoose Iowegian reported a fire at the armory. Soon after the fire was discovered, a few minutes after 12 o’clock on Saturday, “it was a mass of flames. In a very few minutes the Armory Hall was a mass of flames.” The story goes on to say several nearby buildings also burned to the ground and Company E “lost nearly everything they had but most of that property was owned by the state.”
On May 16, 1889, the Appanoose Iowegian reported plans were under way to build a new armory and opera house to be located at the corners of South and Fifth streets. The story goes on to says plans were still being worked on for a new building measuring 40x110 feet.
On Dec. 15, 1892, the Appanoose Iowegian reported the need of an opera house in Centerville that could also be used as an armory for Company E. The story goes on to say a new building would cost between $12,000 and $15,000 and measure 60x100 feet.
The June 13, 1895 Centerville Daily Citizen ran a story with the headline, “FOR AN ARMORY. The Necessity of a Proper Building Becoming Urgent.” The story goes on to talk about the efforts by the communities of Chariton and Shenandoah to provide funds to build armories and how across Iowa armories are being built for local military companies.
“Centerville is highly favored by having two military organizations, and the people should show their appreciation by giving general support to the project now being presented to furnish an armory home for the company and the band that will be a credit to the enterprise and patriotic spirit of our town.”
The same paper on April 30, 1896 printed a story that announced “A NEW ARMORY IN SIGHT.” The story goes on to say the members of Company E and the band look forward to their own “Utopian dreams of quarters in an armory of their own nearer to some sort of a possible realization.” Helping to fuel the dream was the Iowa Legislature when they passed an appropriation for the Iowa National Guard doubling the per annum for rent from the state from $100 to $200.
On Sept. 30, 1897, the Centerville Daily Citizen reported a contract to construct a new armory and opera house was let and awarded to a Colfax firm. The story says the winning bid was “in the neighborhood of $7,000.” The site would be Drake Avenue and Maple Street.
On Feb. 4, 1898, the Centerville Daily Citizen reported the doors to the new armory/opera house were to be thrown open Tuesday, Feb. 22 for a “grand military reception.” The public was invited to tour the new facility and Iowa Gov. Shaw and Iowa National Guard officers were expected to attend.
On April 26, 1898, the Centerville Daily Citizen reported the boys of Company E and the band were boarding a train for Des Moines to train for the Spanish-American War.
By 1905, it was reported the armory/opera house was no longer large enough for Company E and the band and a cry was made for an independent facility.
On Jan. 31, 1905, the Centerville Daily Citizen reported the company needed a new armory “where they will not be handicapped for room and where the movements can be properly executed.” The same story states the armory/opera house was scheduled to be overhauled in 1905 leaving the boys with “no building in which to drill.”
The discussion about an independent armory continued on into 1906.
On April 7, 1906, the Centerville Daily Citizen reported discussions centered on a combined armory and convention hall. Possible sites for the new building included East Van Buren Street and a second floor atop the Day Building on the southwest corner of the Square.
It wasn’t until 1912 that news of a new armory was assured.
On May 23, 1912, The Centerville Journal reported the boys of Company E were assured they would have their own armory located on East Jackson Street. Iowa National Guard officials warned Centerville citizens that without an armory Company E “would be mustered out.”
On Thursday evening, Dec. 26, 1912, The Centerville Journal reported the new armory on East Jackson Street had formally opened. The story goes on to say the opening of the new armory “marks the realization of a dream that has been cherished by Capt. Ogle and the members of Company E for a number of years.”
By 1921, there was a push made to double the size of the armory on East Jackson Street by adding an additional floor.
On Oct. 26, 1921, the Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen published a story that said the expanded facility could be home to various other organizations in Centerville.
In the coming years, the Centerville armory would play host to many different events.
On Tuesday, Dec. 15, 1925, it was reported by the Southern Iowa American that a Community Auction Sale was planned at the armory for Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 2:30 p.m.
On March 21, 1934, a full-page ad appeared announcing the armory to be the site of a three-day Spring and Opening Auto Show sponsored by retail merchants and automobile dealers of Centerville.
An ad that appeared in the Saturday, Nov. 15, 1947 Centerville, Iowa Daily Iowegian publicized a military ball at the Centerville armory for Tuesday, Nov. 18, 1947. The event was sponsored by Company G, 168th Infantry, Iowa National Guard.
On Wednesday, Feb. 12, 1986, a full-page ad in the Ad Express-Iowegian announced the Cabin Fever Sale and Festival at the Centerville armory three blocks north of the Centerville Square at North 10th and Franklin streets for two days, Saturday, Feb. 15 and Sunday, Feb. 16, 1986.
On Thursday, April 14, 1949, the Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen reported a proposal for a new Centerville armory was taking shape. The site under consideration: North 10th and Franklin streets.