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Located at 511 Miller Street in Helena-West Helena (Phillips County), the Helena National Guard Armory is a one-story, brick-masonry structure constructed in 1937 and designed in the Art Deco style of architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 24, 2007.
Citizen-soldier militias have had a constant presence in the United States since the colonial era, but it was not until Congress passed the Dick Act—sponsored by Senator Charles W. F. Dick, chairman of the Committee on the Militia—in 1903 that the National Guard became an official partner in the nation’s armed services, receiving federal support for training, equipment, and pay. Arkansas’s state militia was organized into the Arkansas National Guard as a result of the Dick Act.
Seventeen armories were constructed as part of a statewide armory building program that was authorized by state Act 271 of 1925, which created a “Military Fund” to be used in the construction of armories. After the Great Depression hit Arkansas, most armory building was done through such New Deal agencies as the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Most of those armories reflect a restrained version of the Art Deco style, one of the more popular styles for the armories built during the period.
On October 25, 1935, the Arkansas Central Office of the WPA approved Project No. 2-54-6-501, which authorized $11,123 for construction of a new National Guard armory in Helena to house Battery G, 206th Coastal Artillery. In addition to its military use, the new building would be available for the full use of civic organizations and public institutions in addition to the local National Guard outfit, though the Helena World reported that the new building “was not to be commercialized nor rented to private concerns who make a profit from the use of the building.” In addition, the newspaper noted, the WPA agreed to pave the 500 block of Miller Street because National Guard regulations stipulated that all armories must be located on paved streets.
The building site was purchased from the Arkansas Utilities Company in mid-May, and excavation of the foundation of the structure commenced on October 16, 1936. The Helena World reported that the total project cost would be $30,000, which included $5,000 that was to be raised by local citizens, a task with which the local Chamber of Commerce would struggle throughout the spring and summer of 1937. On December 20, 1936, the World reported that the foundation was laid and construction was beginning on the superstructure, and on January 20, 1937, the newspaper reported, “Workmen have started erecting steel trusses for the roof of the building.”
Construction halted during February as the Mississippi River threatened to flood, causing thousands of people from throughout the Arkansas Delta to flee to higher ground, but by March 8, the World reported that “bricklayers and carpenters are busily engaged on the structure.” The newspaper’s final report on the new armory was on June 10, 1937, when it reported that the local Chamber of Commerce had accepted title to the armory lot that day, signifying that the local financial obligations had been met, with completion expected in the next few weeks.
The Helena National Guard Armory was home to Battery G, 206th Coast Artillery, which was formed in 1936 and served in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands during World War II. Following the war, the building housed Battery A, 455th Field Artillery Battalion from 1945 to 1956, followed by Battery B, 3rd Battalion, 206th Field Artillery from 1956 to 1967. That unit was reorganized into part of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 153rd Infantry in 1967 and was housed at the armory until its 1978 closure.
The building was turned over to the City of Helena, which designated it the Helena Community Center in March 1982, a function it continues to serve into the twenty-first century.
For additional information:“Armory to Be Available for Use of Public.” Helena World, September 4, 1936, p. 1.
“Armory Lot Acquired by C. of C.” Helena World, June 10, 1937, p. 1.
“Armory Work Goes Forward.” Helena World, January 20, 1937, p. 1.
“Citizens Make Pledge for Armory Here.” Helena World, December 30, 1936, p. 1.
“Committees on Armory Drive Still Working.” Helena World, January 14, 1937, p. 1.
“Helena National Guard Armory.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/!userfiles/PH0428.nr.pdf (accessed October 30, 2014).
“National Guard Armory Is Discussed by Members at Annual C. of C. Meeting.” Helena World, January 8, 1937, p. 1.
“Officials Due Here to Start on ANG Armory.” Helena World, September 28, 1936, p. 1.
“Work Resumed in County on WPA Projects.” Helena World, March 8, 1937, pp. 1, 8.
WPA Central Office Files, 1935–1937. Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Mark K. Christ Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Last Updated 12/12/2016
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