Step through the front door of the Edmond Historical Society & Museum and immediately enter our community’s history. This building was constructed in 1936, built as the Armory of the 179th Infantry, 45th Division of the Oklahoma National Guard. This historic, native sandstone building was built by the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.).
The Works Progress Administration was created in May 1935 during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was designed as a means to provide meaningful employment to those workers, mostly unskilled laborers, who were without jobs as a result of the economic depression of the 1930s.
After the War, the building served as a roller skating rink, community center, Edmond All Sports Offices, Parks and Recreation City Offices, meeting hall, and home to multiple local arts programs before it became the Historical Society & Museum in 1983.
The building has undergone some alterations to its original interior to accommodate its function as a Museum, but the changes have not compromised the historic and architectural integrity of the original building. The original architect was Colonel Bryan W. Nolan.
The Edmond Armory Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, entered into the National Register March 14, 1991.
Edmond Armory History In Depth
“A Good Spring”
The land that later would house the Edmond Armory has a history of significance leading back to the years it was being mapped by the railroad. In January, 1886, a party of fifteen surveyors under civil engineer J.D. Wirt left Arkansas City to survey a new route from there to Gainesville, Texas. It was between mile markers 102 and 103 out of Arkansas City that the surveyors noted the area had a “good spring.” This spring site was located at approximately Fourth Street and Littler, the northwest corner of Stephenson Park.
First Edmond Resident Disputes Claim
Colonel Eddy B. Townsend, Hardy C. Anglea and J. Wheeler Turner made the run into Edmond April 21, 1889 on foam-lathered horses. These town founders had been living and working in Indian Territory prior to the run. They all made the run from the west line of Kickapoo Indian Reservation, 15 miles east of Edmond on horseback. It was Eddy Baldwin Townsend that claimed the northeast quarter of Section 35, building his home just west of the Santa Fe Station. Townsend’s claim included the quarter section of land on which the Armory was eventually built. The day of the Land Run the claim was immediately at the center of a legal dispute because Alexander Smith, a section hand for the Santa Fe Railroad in Edmond had driven stakes into that very same claim. In December of 1889, the General Land Office in Washington reversed the local land office decision in the case and Townsend prevailed. Smith, the railroad section hand had ignored the notice that railroad employees wishing to claim land would have to leave the Oklahoma District. Townsend eventually gave this tract of land to the City of Edmond in 1892, calling it at the time “South Park.”
The W.P.A. Armories
Approved as a nationwide project in September 1935, through the efforts of Oklahoma National Guard Commander Gen. William S. Key, the Armory program began in earnest in the last two months of 1935.
Built under the watch of Oklahoma Governor Ernest W. Marland from 1935 to 1939 who ran on an election platform to bring his “Little New Deal” to Oklahoma. Although the 15th Oklahoma legislature was not receptive to the “New Deal,” introduced by Franklin D. Roosevelt to put Americans back to work, the Edmond Armory was begun in November 1935 and completed in 1936 at a cost of $39,501. At the time in Oklahoma, 90,000 workers were employed building a total of 1,300 Works Progress Administration projects, which included the Edmond Armory. Bryan Nolen served with the 45th as an architect, and was assigned by Key to design a number of National Guard Armories throughout the state. He oversaw the design and build of 35 armories in the state, in addition to Edmond. A batallion commander in World War II, Nolen led the 180th Regiment of Thunderbirds into combat during the invasion of Sicily. He later commanded leadership and combat schools in Italy and North Africa. Also instrumental in the organization of the Oklahoma Nation Guard, he had helped the Howitzer Company of the 180th Infantry Regiment as early as 1921. Nolen was highly decorated, attaining the rank of Colonel.
The Edmond Armory was one of 59 armories originally planned in the State of Oklahoma. The Edmond Armory was constructed for military purposes, including arms storage and staging. The building was placed on the northwest corner of the intersection of Fifth and Boulevard in the original township of Edmond. The Armory architecture follows a 1930s public building with depression style “modern” architecture using native red sandstone similar to the 1890s U.C.O. Normal School building. The Edmond Armory was built using a blueprint for the “One Unit Artillery,” according to the State of Oklahoma Military Department, identical in design to armories around the state including Duncan, Sulphur, Haskell, and Claremore. The Armory featured a large vaulted ceiling drill hall, a target range , offices, barracks, arms storage, stage, and garage.
The 179th Infantry
The Edmond Armory became the headquarters for the 179th Infantry regiment of the 45th division of the National Guard until 1972. The 45th Infantry Division mobilized in the Edmond Armory for World War II on September 16, 1940. That Division served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Central Europe. In 1950 it was called to serve in Korea. The National Guard built a new facility on Bryant and the Armory was turned back for City use in 1972.
Roller Skating in the Drill Hall
When Lowell Thompson was the local commander of the Armory, he came up with the idea of creating a public skating rink in the large vaulted ceiling “drill hall” (today is the Main Gallery of the Museum). On weekends, the Guard would put up heavy wooden barricades around the perimeter of the drill hall and allowed Edmond residents to rent skates. The newspaper advertisement for “LeGate Roller Rink” reveals that the Armory was serving the community with choices of recreation at the Armory in the fifties.
Who is Fred M. Stephenson?
Stephenson Park was named in 1934 by the City Council for then City Manager Fred M. Stephenson for his service to the City. Formerly known as “South Park,” the newly refurbished Stephenson Park of the thirties boasted of tennis and croquet courts, an elaborate rock garden in the ravine and the planting of trees and shrubs in 1934. The rock northwest wall entrance to the park was also a W.P.A. project built in 1934.
A Letter from 1935
The Armory was briefly put up for sale in 1972, but thanks to C.H. Spearman, Jr., the offer was withdrawn when Edmond officials revealed they had a letter dated and signed in 1935 from then state Adjutant General Charles F. Barrett stating that the armory would be returned to the City of Edmond if the guard ceased to use it.
Edmond All Sports
Then Mayor Fred Snyder deemed that the city would allow the Armory to be used primary by the Edmond All Sports Association for their recreation programs for storage and meeting rooms. In 1972, the property was legally transferred at the request of Governor David Hall, to the City of Edmond.
The Arts/Edmond Historic Community Center
In 1983, the city leased the building to the Edmond Historic Preservation Trust with the support of the City Council for renovation. The renovation was completed in time for the observance of the 1989 Edmond Oklahoma Centennial festivities. By 1983, the Trust had converted the Armory into the “Edmond Historic Community Center.” The center’s purpose was to serve the community by offering a venue for civic meetings, family reunions and birthday parties. Long-term tenants of the building included the Edmond Historical Museum, the Edmond Arts and Humanities Council, Contemporary dance groups and Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park.
Edmond Historical Museum Started in one Room
The Edmond Historical Museum first occupied the single room which today houses the Research & Genealogy Library. As the City of Edmond grew and new buildings were renovated and constructed for their use, the Museum eventually was granted use of the entire building. The large vaulted room, originally designed for artillery training has evolved to become the Main Gallery of the Museum. What were originally barracks, offices and storage areas now comprise the Museum’s administrative offices and research libraries. Storage areas that once held artillery, now are the vaults for the collection of historic artifacts that tell the story of the history of Edmond.
Baird, David, “Edmond Armory,” Historic Preservation Survey Inventory, prepared July 28, 1987.
Belote, Pam Terry, United States Department of the Interior National Park Service National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, prepared December 4, 1989.
Crowder, James L., Historic Edmond: an Illustrated History, Lammert Publications, Inc., San Antonio, Texas, 2000.
Edmond Booster, Armory Returns Home to Stay, February 10, 1972.
Edmond Sun, Last Muster is Met by Colonel Bryan W. Nolen, October 27, 1959.
Edmond Sun, Money Allotted for Edmond Armory, October 3, 1935.
Edmond Sun, Work Stated On New Armory to be Built Here, November 14, 1935.
Edmond Sun, Historic Trust Completes Armory Remodeling, 1989.
Jones, Linda J., Edmond Historical Museum Rich with History, Edmond Life and Leisure, August 24, 2000.