Westerly Armory History

On Main Street in Westerly was a wood-framed armory.  This armory did not live long, but perished in the flames of fire and exploding ammunition at 1:00 a.m. on 30 April 1899.  Born in 1901 (completed in 1902) and costing $30,000, a new armory was erected in a new location, the corner of Dixon Street (and Railroad Avenue).  William R. Walker & Son was the architectural firm used – the same firm that had designed the Pawtucket and Woonsocket armories, and later the Providence armory.  The Westerly Sun reported on 21 June 1902, “A perfect mob of people inspected the building from cellar to roof.  All were loud in praise of the new building.  It is just what Westerly needs.”  And so that has been the case.

The Westerly Armory
Re-crenellated in 2006-2007

Walter Heisler

Military History

The Westerly Armory housed provisional and volunteer companies such as Company E, volunteers under charter and, for several years, an infantry company.

 The Fifth Company was formed in 1908 and known as the Coast Artillery Corps., Rhode Island National Guard.  In 1917, the Fifth was drafted into Federal service and in March of that year, the Company -- 109 officers and soliders strong -- gathered in the Westerly Armory to stand ready.

In the time when the Fifth Company had gone to war, the need arose and the call came for a home defense regiment.  The 4th Company was an offshoot of the Westerly constabulary which, in 1917, was organized for the purpose of home defense.  The company consisted of almost all business men in addition to men too old for Federal service.  At the close of World War I, the company was mustered out.  Westerly was, for several years, without a military company.

In 1921, Westerly raised a new company, known as the Fifth Company Coast Artillery Corp., (RING).  In only ten days, a company of 52 men was both organized and federally recognized.  The Company was later changed from the Fifth to the 349th Company, and then to Battery E, 243d Coast Artillery (HD), National Guard.

The Westerly Armory last housed the 169th Military Police Company, Rhode Island National Guard.  Their motto, "Stand Ready," echoed the sentiment of earlier soldiers who drilled in the Armory's hall.  Many veterans in the community went to war out the doors of the Westerly Armory.

Community History

The Armory holds more than military memories for those in the Westerly community.  It was the scene of sports activities such as basketball with the New York Celtics, boxing matches, and bowling.  A one-lane bowling alley existed in the cellar portion for many years.  The Armory boasted a rifle range, also in the cellar.  During the 1920s, the Westerly Rifle Club met there for practice and competition.  The Armory was at one time home to the Westerly Rifles, a chartered (State) militia group.

Although small in comparison to such major edifices as the Providence (Cranston Street) Armory, Westerly's armory accommodated such community events as automobile shows during the 1920s and 1930s, antiques shows during the 1950s and 1960s, toy and doll exhibitions, and book sales.  Scouts met there, and boys and girls practiced their skills in basketball.  The Armory served as a polling place until about a decade ago.  There were weddings and wedding receptions that took place in the drill shed (main hall).  Perhaps the Armory memory that makes people smile the most is mention of the annual poultry shows.  There were individual moments – such as Mr. and Mrs. A.A. Morrone held their wedding reception there, while Mary and Denis MacDonald later married, after meeting at a dance held at the Armory. 

Every Thanksgiving week-end for years (c. 1912-1954), the Westerly Armory played home to hundreds of chickens and roosters and their proud and hopeful owners.  The competition was keen and included Best Hen and Best Cock (Rooster) ribbons as well as Best in Show.  There were white, red, and blue ribbons as well as professionally published program booklets.  The Armory smelled of hay, seed, and cracked corn, sounded of cackling and crowing, and drew whole families who devoted themselves to making their entries engaging to the judges' astute eyes.  This was a serious competition.  This was the social highlight of the Thanksgiving week-end, and a large percentage of the community’s population turned out to not only see the poultry, but to visit with each other.

An Easter Monday Ball sponsored by the Westerly Elks Club was THE event of the year in Westerly through the 1940s.  People dressed to the nines and prepared well in advance for the festivities in the resplendent Armory hall.

Today the Westerly Armory holds its worn head high above the neglect of its past owners.  Owned by the Town of Westerly, the Armory is in the process of having both a physical and community transformation.  Westerly Armory Restoration, Inc. (WAR -- a group of interested volunteers) has a long lease from the Town of Westerly and has the responsibility of restoring and rejuvenating the Armory as well as running the rental program.  WAR (P.O. Box 614, Westerly 02891; telephone 596-8554) is currently running a capital funds campaign (The Great Armory Puzzle Painting) to restore the Armory to community service (as a type of civic center) and to display the memorabilia and honor the memories of Westerly area veterans.

In 1996, the Westerly Armory was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and deemed by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission as “the model armory in the State of Rhode Island.”  Ronald Thorpe, Vice President of The Rhode Island Foundation, stated that “the Armory is a part of the soul of the community.”

In 2001-2002, the Westerly Armory reached one hundred years of age, still serving as a constant reminder of the history and traditions of its community. During the year, many programs and events were sponsored by Westerly Armory Restoration to celebrate the centennial of this historic building.

In 2003, the United States Congress declared the Armory a “Save America’s Treasures Site” – a distinguished designation for the historic building.  The Westerly Armory is one of 18 historic armories in Rhode Island and one of the 5 ˝ designed by the architectural firm of William R. Walker & Son.  Dedicated in April 1902, the Armory serves presently as a museum of military and community memorabilia, a social and cultural center for the area, and home to the Westerly Band (oldest civic band in the country) and its historic library.

Concert Pianist
Frederic Chiu
playing in the Drill Hall

Westerly Young Men

George Greer
WHS 1964

I.B. Crandall Clothier
Westerly, RI

High Street
Westerly, RI

Westerly Train Station