McGehee National Guard Armory
The McGehee National Guard Armory was built in 1954 and reflects standardized plans that featured open floor plans, steel-framed roofs, and concrete block walls—a functional design typical of National Guard armories built during a period when larger facilities were needed.
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 Arkansas National Guard armories were built through a program authorized by Act 271 of 1925, which created a “Military Fund” for building armories, and many others were constructed during the Great Depression through New Deal agencies such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA). During the Cold War era, Congress passed the National Defense Facilities Act of 1950, which appropriated money for renovation and erection of Reserve Armed Forces facilities, including some in Arkansas. In 1953, Brigadier General John B. Morris Jr. estimated that Arkansas’s armory needs totaled $3,705,000. The U.S. government would provide $2,778,750, while the State of Arkansas was to contribute $926,250.
Many of the Arkansas armories were designed by the Little Rock (Pulaski County) architectural firm Wittenberg, Delony and Davidson, which developed a “type ‘Z-Z’ one unit” plan in which office space, restrooms, storage facilities, and kitchens were built one story high, with concrete block and brick veneer and a flat roof. Drill halls were built with a two-story-high steel frame topped by a gable roof with several awning windows on each side. Though it is not confirmed that the McGehee armory follows this exact plan, it is similar in construction.
The Arkansas General Assembly appropriated $121,000 in 1953 to match federal funding to build new National Guard armories at McGehee (Desha County) and Booneville (Logan County). The McGehee National Guard Armory was home to Company D, 217th Engineering Battalion, and the armory also has housed Company A, Second Battalion, 206th Armored Regiment and elements of Company C, Third Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment.
Requests for bids to construct the new, 7,400-square-foot building were issued on January 2, 1954, and Townsend Construction Company of Conway (Faulkner County) submitted the low bid of $38,399.70. The plumbing and heating contract went to Daniel Zero Butane Company of Beebe (White County) on a $3,900.20 bid, while the contract for electrical work went to Pine Bluff Electric Company for its bid of $2,475. The armory was to be built on land that had been the site of the 1952 Desha County fair; the land was purchased with money raised by McGehee merchants and citizens. Governor Francis Cherry, accompanied by Major General Lucien Abraham, attended the groundbreaking ceremony on February 18, 1954, and the structure apparently was completed later that year.
On June 28, 2005, it was announced that five Arkansas National Guard armories would be closed, including the one at McGehee, as part of a major restructuring of the Guard. Officials indicated that the closed armories would be given to the cities in which they were located for future use as municipal facilities. Governor Mike Huckabee formally handed the deed to the armory over to the city on March 14, 2006. The City of McGehee later transferred the armory to the C. B. King School, a school for the disabled, which uses it as a day treatment center. The McGehee National Guard Armory was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 31, 2006.
For additional information:
“5 Towns Receive Deeds to Closed Armories.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 15, 2006, p. 3B.
“Bids Requested for Armory Here.” McGehee Times, January 2, 1954, p. 1.
Burns and McDonnell Engineering Co., Inc., and Historical and Architectural Research, LLC. Army National Guard: Draft Final Historic Context Study, December 2004. Kansas City, MO: Burns and McDonnell and Historical and Architectural Research, December 2004.
“Conway Firm Is Low Bidder on Armory.” McGehee Times, January 20, 1954, p. 1.
“Five Guard Armories in Delta to Shut in Army Restructuring.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 29, 2005, p. 1A.
“Governor Cherry Breaks Ground for New National Guard Armory Here Thursday.” McGehee Times, February 24, 1954, p. 1.
“McGehee National Guard Armory.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/DE0350.nr.pdf (accessed September 27, 2021).
URS Group, Inc. Arkansas Army National Guard Intensive Historic Research and Context. Gaithersburg, MD: URS Group, February 2005.
URS Corporation, Inc. Historic Structures Reconnaissance Survey of 14 Arkansas National Guard Armory and Vehicle Storage Shed Facilities. Little Rock, AR: March 2004.
Mark K. Christ
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
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