Batesville National Guard Armory
aka: Abraham Armory
The Batesville National Guard Armory at 380 South Ninth Street in Batesville (Independence County) is a single-story, Art Deco–style structure built in 1936–1937 with assistance from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a Depression-era federal relief program. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 29, 1998.
Citizen-soldier militias have had a constant presence in the United States since the colonial era, but it was not until Congress passed the Militia Act of 1903—also known as the Dick Act for sponsor Senator Charles W. F. Dick, chairman of the Committee on the Militia—that the National Guard became an official partner in the nation’s armed services, receiving federal support for training, equipment, and wages. Arkansas’s state militia was organized into the Arkansas National Guard as a result of the Dick Act.
Seventeen armories—including the Helena National Guard Armory, Batesville National Guard Armory, and Hot Springs National Guard Armory—were constructed as part of a statewide armory building program that was authorized by state Act 271 of 1925, which created a “Military Fund” to be used in the construction of armories. After the Great Depression hit Arkansas, most armory building was done through such New Deal agencies as the WPA. Most of those armories reflect a restrained version of the Art Deco style of architecture.
Company L of the National Guard’s 153rd Infantry Regiment had been based in Batesville since at least 1924, holding drills in a commercial building on Main Street. With the advent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies, the city applied for funding from the WPA for a formal arsenal to house the unit. The $25,000 project was approved in late 1935, with the Arkansas Gazette reporting that “the state Military Department will give $1,200 toward the project and will furnish a fleet of trucks to convey the material. The building will be of native stone.”
Construction began in January 1936, and sandstone was cut at the Maxfield Quarry near Batesville and hauled to the construction site on land donated by the Batesville School Board with the requirement that the armory would also serve as the high school gym. In August, the Gazette reported, “The stone walls are complete up to the sills and the rafters of the building have been swung,” but it would be another year before the project was complete. Company L commander Captain Lucien Abraham—a future National Guard adjutant general—reported on September 2, 1937, that the formal dedication would be held within two weeks.
The new armory, designed by Dutch immigrant Peter Blaauw, features the Art Deco–style massing common in WPA-built armories of the era but is distinguished by the tall, Gothic Revival–inspired lancet windows on its front façade. The sandstone-clad building featured a 75′ x 100′ main hall, bathrooms, locker rooms, offices, storage rooms, and a garage capable of holding five trucks. It was named the Abraham Armory in 1953, during the period that Lucien Abraham served as adjutant general.
In 1976, Company L (by then redesignated as Company B) moved into a new armory on Highway 25 on the outskirts of town. The old armory was sold to private owners, who used it for storage before donating it to the Old Independence Regional Museum in 1995. Following a thorough rehabilitation of the structure, the museum opened to the public in 1998, and the National Guard Armory still serves that function in the twenty-first century.
For additional information:
“Batesville’s New Armory.” Arkansas Gazette, September 2, 1937, p. 2.
Hope, Holly. An Ambition to be Preferred: New Deal Recovery Efforts and Architecture in Arkansas, 1933–1943. Little Rock: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 2016. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/News-and-Events/publications (accessed September 21, 2021).
———. “National Guard Armory.” National Register of Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/IN0607.nr.pdf (accessed March 24, 2020).
“National Guard Armory to Be Built at Batesville.” Arkansas Gazette, January 1, 1936, p. 2.
Old Independence Regional Museum. https://www.oirm.org/ (accessed May 13, 2022).
“State News in Brief.” Arkansas Gazette, August 3, 1936, p. 6.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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