Craig Armory celebrating centennial anniversary
The building that now houses the Museum of Northwest Colorado broke ground in 1921
One hundred years ago this fall, a handful of men gathered together, with a slightly smaller handful of horses, and set to a task that would stand the test of time. Whether they knew the ground they were breaking would be the foundation of a century-year-old building generations hence, one can only speculate. But they were digging, then building, then building some more, with purpose.
The Craig Armory will mark its centennial anniversary this fall. And, though the building has gone through dozens of uses and changed a few hands over the decades, the same hard-angled, rectangular brick edifice stands in the selfsame spot today that those men and horses were digging all those years ago.
It all came about because of the fallout from a war half a world away.
“The United States passed the National Defense Act of 1920, and it reorganized the Army into three branches, the regular army, the National Guard and the reserves” said Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, which inhabits the building today. “As a result, the state was given money to go toward the National Guard issue. It was a response to World War I, the Great War at the time, and in early 1921, the Colorado General Assembly enacted a law to construct armories throughout the state.”
The call went out statewide that able-bodied men of every locale stand up to serve in defending the home front. Incredibly, in a town of about 1,300 at the time, 65 Craig men came forward within a week and some, and 10 days from the call, the 157th Infantry of the National Guard was established in Craig, and the need for an armory came with it.
“It didn’t take long to find the men,” Davidson said. “They had to meet once a month and there was probably a little pay involved — and they’d go once a year during the summer to camp. That didn’t hurt. All of them probably knew how to use a rifle, but they might not have marched before.”
Davidson said the men who inhabited the Armory in the early days were a mix of veterans from various American wars — as recent as World War I, and as relatively distant as the Spanish-American War — as well as new recruits who had never before served.
“It was the home of the Guard until the building out on the East side of Craig that now houses the Boys and Girls Club was built in the mid 1970s,” Davidson said. “About 50 years in the same place. But it was used for lots of things in the meantime.”
The Armory contained the town’s first basketball gym — though it’s a short court — and was the home to countless dances and socials of all kinds. But it remained the home of the Guardsmen until the need for more motor vehicle access necessitated the construction of the new building.
“The first time the Guard was dispatched for some labor unrest, a strike up at the dam between Silverthorne and Kremmling,” Davidson said. “That was in 1939, so this guard unit went up there to make sure no firearms went into that corridor going toward the dam. And it worked like it was supposed to — they were nationalized in September of 1940 and left Craig en masse — over 100 men, all the guard units that could go and more.”
Davidson believes the World War II loss was as many as 24 Moffat County men who were based out of Craig.
“Toward the end of the war they were involved in liberating Dachau,” he said.
Meanwhile and thereafter, the Armory has housed a swimming pool, lockers for players on the Fairgrounds football field, and, Davidson said, more than a few Craig residents’ first kisses.
“Anything to do with large public gatherings, you name it, it was used for those purposes,” Davidson said.
The building was the first in Craig to receive radio signal in 1924, with huge wooden towers built atop the Armory and a trained technician brought in to operate the machinery, Davidson said.
“Crazy to think about now, but that was the first,” he said.
After the National Guard moved to the new building in the 1970s, the county took over the deed with the restriction that it be used for public purposes. And it was, including roller skating, youth groups, pickle ball and more.
But, when the Museum, which started in 1964 and was then living in the County Courthouse, started to outgrow its space at the same time the court offices found themselves needing to expand as well, the logical destination for both became clear. In 1990, the Museum migrated to the Armory under County organization, and perhaps no better tenant could occupy the historic building to this day.
“We really represent a lot of what happened here,” Davidson said. “We try to show that in our exhibits.”
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