The Villisca National Guard Armory

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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 Villisca’s history. (Written by Roxanna Siebert, www.Villisca.com)

The 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
later named.

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, Villisca’s 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 three evenings.

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 Armory.

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 Armory”.

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.

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