The Villisca National Guard
Villisca Armory circa 1930s. Fourth Wall Films photo.
The Villisca Armory was built in 1912-13 with funds primarily raised by local
residents, a distinction from other Armories in Iowa. Located on the community square, up
until the year 2000 it was the oldest Armory building in continuous use since it was
completed in 1913. The Armory's Company F participated in the Mexican Expedition,
World War I and World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In addition to
being used for National Guard functions, including the annual Military Ball, the Armory
has served as the primary community recreational and social center for the town of
Villisca, hosting VHS basketball games, proms and other dances, local weddings, Saturday
night dances, and the annual Firemen's Ball. The
architectural/planning firm will evaluate and define the costs of restoration of the
Armory. Renovation will allow the building to
be self-sustaining while it houses artifacts and documents of Villisca's military history
and other historical materials significant to Villiscas history. (Written
by Roxanna Siebert, www.Villisca.com)
History of the Villisca Armory
by Janis Sue Enarson
As related in past news information, the town of
Villisca built the Villisca Armory in
1912. There were active military units in Villisca at least as far back as 1877. The
Highland Blues used the floor of the Opera House on 4th St as their drill
floor before the erection of the current armory.
From the beginning, the new building was used for many community events, stage shows, band
concerts, dances, plays, graduations, etc. as well as for the local National Guard unit.
Among the many community events held in the armory, was the Class of 1916 graduation
ceremony on May 25, 1916.
Twenty-six members were granted their diplomas, including Sylvia Enarson, for whom the
local elementary school was
Just one month later, Captain C.J. Casey received notice that the local guard unit was
called to assemble at the armory with orders placing them in federal service, anticipating
further aggression on the Mexican border. This was no doubt the
first time the unit had been activated since the armory was built.
On Sunday, June 25, 1916, the seventy-five members of Company F were called to assemble by
the bugler at the Villisca Armory. From there, they were led to the depot by members of
the Grand Army of the Republic, who more than fifty years
earlier had also been mustered in to serve their country and by former members of the
Villisca National Guard companies.
It was a festive gathering, with many townspeople out to support the troops, families
gathered at the depot for final goodbyes and the train locomotive decorated with bunting
and flags. The unit was sent to Camp Dodge for intensive training
before they were sent to Texas to be involved in the Border War.
After that time, Villisca men from our local unit went off to WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam
and the Gulf War.
Among the many books available that provide stories about the proud military history of
this community is a 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning book, An Army at Dawn, The
War in North Africa, 1942-1943, which includes stories of the 34th Red Bull
Division, and the battle at Kasserine Pass where Company F soldiers were killed or
captured and taken as prisoners of war.
As many know, Villiscas train depot was the scene of a Pulitzer Prize winning photo
taken of Company F member, Lt. Col. Robert Moore as his family met him on his return in
1943. Due to the unusual placement of the subjects, no
faces were shown and this iconic picture became a symbol of the many homecomings that took
place during and after the war.
Until 1959, when the current high school gymnasium was built, the high school and town
team basketball games were all held in the Armory. In those years, Villisca was part of
the Hawkeye Six and later the Hawkeye Eight Conference and
played much larger schools, such as Creston, Atlantic, Glenwood, etc Many young people
today wonder how the crowds could have been accommodated in that space. The fans were
seated in bleachers on each side, both ends and in the balcony.
There were also always some people standing in the hallway, looking in.
Many people remember fondly the old Cooking Schools in the Armory, which were
sponsored by local merchants, with home economists giving afternoon classes on food
preparation, featuring the newest appliances available at the
time. The merchants had booths all around the perimeter of the main floor, with prizes and
give away items for the crowd.
Chairs for the programs were arranged in the center of that area. As an added attraction
during this time, in the evenings the high school students presented one musical show and
the adult members of the community presented a big musical production of some type two or
Through the years, in addition to the many basketball games, such community events as
Operettas, Orpheums, Military Balls, Firemen Balls, proms, wedding parties,
auctions, Chamber of Commerce suppers, the Iowa State Chicken
Show, Donkey Basketball and many other events have been held in the Villisca
Ownership of the Armory was transferred from the Villisca Armory Corporation to the State
of Iowa in 1973 and in April of 2000, the building was transferred to the Villisca School
System. It was used as temporary classroom space during
the 2000-2001 school year, during the time the old high school was demolished and a new
one erected. Students were challenged with the theme to Be All You Can Be in the
Since that time, the building has been used for school
storage, weight lifting, fitness groups, and practice for youth volleyball and basketball.
Due to budget constraints, the school system does not have funds to adequately maintain
and repair the building. It was determined at a public meeting in 2007 that there was
community interest in performing a study on the feasibility of a major Armory restoration
project to make the building usable for the community and financially self-sustaining.