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A History of Portsmouth Armory

 
NATIONAL GUARD ARMORY  (continued)

Portsmouth NH State Armory in 2005 / J. Dennis Robinson at SeacoastNH.com

The State Guard Moves In

By 1915 several other cities and towns, especially nearby Dover, were clamoring for their own armories. The state could not afford to build them all at once, but since the Head House of the Portsmouth Armory had already been built and accepted by the military, the state's Committee on Military Affairs recommended to newly-elected Governor Spaulding the bill for the final $10,000 appropriation to complete the Drill Hall in Portsmouth, rather than waiting another year while the other armories were being started. (6) New contracts went out to bid, and the local firm Sacco and Wood lost out to the Wallace Construction Company of Laconia. (7) The Drill Hall was completed in 1916, after several weeks of bad weather delayed the project. (8)

The first occupant of the armory was the already established local state guard unit, the 1st Company, Coast Artillery Corps, New Hampshire National Guard. This unit can trace its lineage directly to A Company, 3rd Regiment, New Hampshire National Guard, organized on 8 November 1894 in Portsmouth. (9) The 3rd Regiment was assigned to fill New Hampshire's quota of one regiment for the Spanish-American War. The Portsmouth boys were mustered into Federal service on 10 May 1898 as A Company, 1st New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry at Concord, and left on 17 May to Camp G. H. Thomas in Chickamauga, Georgia. The regiment was assigned to the Third Brigade, First Division, First Army Corps in preparation for departure to Santiago, Cuba. However, the campaign was almost over, and the order was revoked. The regiment was then directed to move to Puerto Rico, but that order was also cancelled. The regiment was then moved to Lexington, Kentucky, and then returned home to New Hampshire. The regiment was mustered out on 31 October 1898 at Concord, then reverted to its previous designation. New Hampshire reorganized its regiments in 1900, dropping the 3rd Regiment. The Portsmouth unit was then designated B Company, 2nd Regiment on 20 January 1900. The state again reorganized the guard in 1909, creating the 1st Infantry, headquartered in Nashua, and the Coast Artillery Corps, headquartered in Portsmouth. The Portsmouth unit then became the 1st Company, Coast Artillery Corps on 15 April 1909. (10) Other Coast Artillery Corps units were based in Dover (4th Co.), Laconia (2nd Co.), and Exeter (3rd Co.).

The public was invited to look over the new armory building on March 24, 1916 during the formal inspection of the 1st Company, Coast Artillery Corps by Captain W. A. Wilson, U.S. Army, and Inspector-General William Sullivan of the New Hampshire National Guard. (11) On Monday evening of May 22 the armory was decked out for a formal military ball following its official. Adjutant General Charles W. Howard of the New Hampshire National Guard formally turned the property over to Captain Clarence P. Bodwell, commanding officer of the 1st Company. The military ball was attended by over 200 guests, which included noted city personalities, as well as officers of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps stationed at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Naval Prison, and Marine Barracks in Kittery, Fort Constitution in New Castle, as well as officers from other companies of the New Hampshire Coast Artillery Corps. The band from the Naval Shipyard in Kittery played under the direction of Band Master A. DeNunzio, U.S.N. At intermission of the dance program, refreshments of ice cream, cake and punch was served by Andrew Jarvis, proprietor of Nichols Candy Store in Portsmouth. During the one-hour intermission guests toured the armory, then danced on until one o’clock in the morning. The ball was considered a grand success. (12)

A Bit of Excitement

In April of 1917 an incident near the Armory caused quite a commotion in the adjacent neighborhood. An anonymous resident telephoned the city police at 12:30 AM to report sounds of shooting near the Armory. Three police officers rushed to the scene and found several members of the guard with guns, on a hunt in the rear of the building. The police learned that the shots were fired by the sentry on duty, who claimed that he discovered three men prowling among bushes behind a residence on Richards Avenue. The guard said he ordered the men to halt three different times, and getting no response, fired three shots. The prowlers then took off running, going in three separate directions. With the gunfire, and the arrival of the entire guard soon afterward, the neighborhood was aroused and excited all night. (13)

The Armory and the 1st Company hosted a masquerade party in July 1916, attended by about 200 guests, most in costume. The judges for the event were Mayor Ladd, Councilman E. Curtis Mathews, Jr., and Fred M. Sise, president of the city Board of Trade. Prizes went to Miss Hope Waldron, most beautiful costume, gold wrist watch; Mrs. Beatrice Allen, most original costume, lady's silk umbrella; Joseph Stickles, most handsome costume, traveling bag; and to James H. McCarthy, most original men's costume, umbrella. Dancing was held after the awarding of the prizes, until about 1 AM. An intermission was held at 11 PM, in which ice cream and cake were again served by local proprietor Andrew Jarvis. (14)

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

The Portsmouth area suffered from war anxiety in 1917, as the Naval Shipyard in Kittery was put on a war footing. Local troops were mustered into service at Portsmouth on April 12, 1917, and drafted into Federal service on August 5. The state Coast Artillery Corps was reorganized, with the 1st Company, Coast Artillery Corps was redesignated as the 4th Company at Fort Constitution the next day, and then later redesignated the 9th Company, Coast Defenses of Portsmouth, on August 29. The other units of the state Coast Artillery Corps became the 5th (Laconia), 6th (Exeter), and 7th (Dover) Companies at Fort Constitution, later redesignated the 6th, 7th, and 8th Companies, Coast Defenses of Portsmouth. The Coast Artillery companies never left the state during the war, but remained in service at Forts Constitution, Stark, McClary and Foster guarding the harbor entrance. The troops were demobilized from Federal service at Fort Constitution on 19 December 1918. (15)

Minor renovations followed. In 1920, the armory had a cinder driveway cut in and graded 25 feet out from the rear of the building, and a new access door was built in the rear to the basement level, to accommodate various coastal artillery motor equipment. (16) Because the South Mill Pond is tidal, the surrounding area was prone to flooding after a rainfall, and the basement of the Armory flooded regularly.

More reorganization followed the war. The Portsmouth unit was redesignated A Battery, 197th Artillery Regiment (Anti-Aircraft), Coast Artillery Corps on February 16, 1922. Redesignated D Battery, 197th Artillery Regiment (Anti-Aircraft), Coast Artillery Corps on February 12, 1923, and redesignated again to D Battery, 197th Coast Artillery Regiment (Anti-Aircraft) on April 23. 1924.

Defending New Hampshire

The 197th Coast Artillery Regiment, New Hampshire National Guard, was organized and Federally recognized on June 30, 1922, consolidated from various units of the 1st New Hampshire Infantry and the several companies of the Coast Defenses of Portsmouth. The regiment was composed of the following units, spread across the state: the Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Battery in Concord, the First Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (Gun) in Portsmouth, Headquarters Detachment and Combat Train in Charlestown (moving to Claremont in 1926), A Battery (Searchlight) in Concord, B Battery (Gun) in Dover, C Battery (Gun) in Laconia, D Battery (Gun) in Portsmouth, Second Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (Machine Gun) and Headquarters Detachment (later becoming the Combat Train in 1939) in Newport, E Battery (Machine Gun) in Nashua, F Battery (Machine Gun) in Berlin, G Battery (Machine Gun) in Keene, H Battery (Machine Gun) in Franklin, Service Battery (later becoming the Supply Platoon and Maintenance Section of the Regimental Headquarters Battery in 1939) in Nashua, and the Medical Detachment and Regimental Band in Nashua. Annual service training was held at Plattsburgh and Pine Camp (now Fort Drum) in New York, and at Rye Beach in New Hampshire.

The regiment was initially outfitted with 75mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on White trucks. It also had a single 60-inch searchlight mounted on a Cadillac truck. The 75mm AA guns were soon replaced with M1918 trailer-mounted 3-inch AA guns towed by Series 1917 and 1918 Class B and FWD (Four Wheel Drive) trucks. The regiment also received a few of the pre-World War One 3-ton Liberty and GMC trucks that were overhauled by the regimental mechanics in Concord, and by the mid 1930's, fitted with pneumatic tires. By 1940 the regiment had been outfitted with newer ordnance and rolling stock. (17)

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