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The National Guard Armory

December 12, 2009

There was great hope for use of the "new" armory built on State Route 3 just outside the corporate limits of the village of Saranac Lake in the late 1950's. It seems like it happened only yesterday, and now the state and the National Guard are talking about closing the place and mothballing it. There are less than two dozen Guardsmen using the place.

The long, long road of red tape leading to construction of the armory had been plowed by Harrietstown Town Supervisor Hayward Plumadore starting in 1950. Attorney Plumadore later served in the New York State Assembly and in 1962 introduced a bill to purchase the old armory on River Street for the village of Saranac Lake.


Article Photos

The old armory ready to come down
(Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac lake Free Library)

For local use

In speaking about that bill introduction Plumadore said:

"We are very proud of the new armory which is available for local civic affairs and convention facilities. There is ample space for overflow crowds that cannot be handled elsewhere during the busy season. The drill hall with its adequate catering facilities will make available additional service for large dinner parties."

As far as I know the new armory was never used even once for a convention, a dinner or a meeting of any kind.

I checked with my pal, George Schaefer, who was a civilian employee at the armory for 30 years (he was in the Guard for about six years), and he doesn't remember the armory ever being used for local events. It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time.

If anyone knows that it was used for a purpose other than an armory, I would love to hear about it.


Financing for the Armory

In 1956 James E. LaPan was Harrietstown Supervisor, and here is a piece of an Enterprise story about the armory following a meeting of the town board:

"While no final action was taken, it was clear that the board intends to authorize purchase of about 120 acres from Raymond D. Blauvet for $13,000 and a 33-acre section fronting on Route 3 would be turned over to the state for the construction of the Armory."

The new armory cost $411,000 to build; the federal government contributed $325,000 and $86,000 was paid by New York state.


The old armory

The old armory on River Street was built in 1913 by the Saranac Lake Boys Club and later purchased by the state and used as an armory until the new one was built. The original construction cost was $10,835 but in 1955 a new heating and lightning system was installed at a cost of about $18,000.

That building later served as a gymnasium for North Country Community College until it was torn down for the reconstruction of River Street.

A bunch of us kids joined the Guard in 1947 when we were still in high school. We were not so much motivated by patriotism, although all the officers and non-coms at the time were our World War II heroes, but because the armory had a regulation size pool table, a television set, which not many of us had, and there was an indoor running track on the third floor above the gymnasium. Offices and the drill shed were on the second floor. When we all arrived on the scene, the two-lane bowling alley on the ground floor was being changed over to a supply room but there was also a large day room, lockers and showers.

The guys all felt pretty important because it was like belonging to a very private club. After school we would race down to the armory, which was kept locked and under supervision 24/7. The guy in charge would come to the door (wearing a sidearm) and, after proper identification, he would let us in.

There were 75 men in the company and it sure impressed us when we fell in by platoon for drill every Monday night, nearly filling that small gymnasium.

We were in Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Division, and our first company commander was the handsome Andrew Fortune who wore an Army Air Force patch on his uniform, for that is where he served in World War II. Now we thought, "How cool is that?"

The summer of 1948 was the first time the unit went for two weeks training to Pine Camp (now Fort Drum). Previously the company had trained at Camp Smith in Peekskill, but that first year we went by train to Pine Camp (in Watertown) and it took us about two days. They loaded us on a train in Saranac Lake and then parked us overnight (and fed us on the train) on a siding in Malone until other units joined us. Late the next day we arrived at Pine Camp but that's a story for another time.



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