By Michael Schaffer Managing Editor
The Daily Iowegian
---- — Part 2 in a series
The Iowa National Guard closed the Centerville armory on Dewey Road on Jan. 24.
What follows is part 2 of a look back at the history of guard units in Centerville and the armories where they trained, a history that dates back to at least 1881.
Part 1 in Wednesday’s Ad Express ended on Thursday, April 14, 1949, and the Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen story talking about a proposal for a new Centerville armory at North 10th and West Franklin streets.
On Tuesday, May 22, 1951, the Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen reported the armory at North 10th and West Franklin streets formally opened the day before on Monday. The opening was attended by local and state officials, including Major Gen. Ray C. Fountain, who said “the guard has a double meaning in Centerville because it has not only the fine tradition of the guard at large but a singularly long and fine tradition as a local unit in Centerville.”
Following Major Gen. Fountain to speak was Col. H.C. Haynes, of Centerville. Col. Haynes talked about the history of the guard in Centerville, from 1880 when the first unit was formed up to present day.
Col. Haynes said Centerville’s first armory was located west of City Hall, bare of any ornament measuring 50x100 feet but able to protect the guardsmen from the weather. This armory would later burn to the ground.
Now, with the need for a new armory, Col. Haynes talked to Corse Payton, who agreed to finance a new armory/theatre/opera house that would be built at the intersection of Drake Avenue and Maple Street. The Spanish American War broke out, so Company E was only able to enjoy the new facility for a few months, as the two units marched to war, the infantry outfit and the band.
While the guardsmen were at war, Payton changed the armory and opera house into just a theatre, leaving the returning guardsmen no place to train.
Eventually, a new armory was built on East Jackson Street under the direction of George Ogle, the commander of the company.
The May 22, 1951 story was very detailed and included comments made by Capt. Wallace Koestner, the present commander of the company at the time. Capt. Koestner “spoke highly of his outfit saying that it isn’t just ‘another’ guard company but the ‘best’ guard company that this city has ever known.”
The same story says the Iowa National Guard wants to expand the Centerville facility as soon as funds become available or a lease deal is reached.
One more point the 1951 story made was the financial impact the guard had in Centerville.
“It was pointed out that Company G brings $17,000 into the city annually, and could bring much more than that amount into the city if the strength were increased.”
Centerville Company E evolved to became Company G. According to an Iowa National Guard advertisement in the Friday, April 24, 1953 Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen, during WWI Company E became Company D and was part of the “Rainbow Division,” which was commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Since 1921, it has been known as Company G and in WWII it was made part of the 34th Infantry Division, or Red Bull Division, consisting of guard companies from Iowa and Minnesota.
The ad praises the men who were a part of the guard in Centerville.
“Since the beginning, the local company has distinguished itself in all its activities and has produced more than its share of war heros. No other guard company has a better record of producing fighting men of the highest quality.”
The ad says Company G currently resides in the new armory located at North 10th and Franklin streets. The ad says plans are to add two wings to the building to house classrooms.
On Monday, Sept. 21, 1953, the Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen reported a contract was let to enlarge the armory at North 10th and West Franklin streets. The 52x128 foot armory was completed in 1950. The story says the plan calls for two additions, both 23x128 feet, on the east and west side of the building.