images of this Property
About this Property
This building stands out on Benefit Street as a significant piece of military history. The armory was built in 1839 a sum of only $3,000, 58 years after declaring independence from Great Britain and 50 years after the Revolutionary War. It was used during the War for the Union 1861–1865, the War with Spain 1898, the Mexican Border War of 1916, World War I and II, and the Korean War.
In 1906 the building was moved north about 80 feet. The new western entrance of the East Side Train Tunnel needed to be dug out directly below the structure. It now sits on the corner of Meeting Street and Benefit, when it previously sat on the corner of what must have been a very steep “Arsenal Lane.” See maps in gallery.
The structure continues to be a fine example of Victorian Gothic military architecture, and one which reminds residents of our revolutionary history.
The armory operates as a museum and contains a number of historical artifacts. It is light use as a meeting place for veterans associations.
One of the oldest armories in RI, second only to the Artillery Company of Newport, 1835, according to the Kentish Guard’s list of Historic Armories.
From the College Hill Historic District nomination form, Edward F. Sanderson & Keith N. Morgan, January 1976
Benefit Street Arsenal, Providence Marine Corps, of Artillery, Russell Warren, 1839. Victorian Gothic: traditional type for armories; gable roof set end to street with twin crennelated towers; lancet windows; handsome central Gothic doorway. Cement over rubble stone; moved from site just south.
From the National Register Nomination Form, 1970
The State Arsenal was completed in 1839 from the designs of Russell Warren for the First Regiment of Light Infantry; its cost was $3,000. It is a gabled structure of eighty by forty feet, constructed of chipped stone (flint) or rubble covered by Cement (which apparently at one time was a smoother coat than now and was all or in part incised or painted to give the effect of regular dressed ashlar). It is of two-storey height above a basement set into a steeply sloping hillside site — the site conditions being the same both before and after the building was moved. This basement does not show when only the buildings east entrance elevation on Benefit Street is viewed.
This façade, rising directly from the sidewalk, has a gabled centre section, which originally had battlements on the slopes of the gable, with a two-storey portal, slightly recessed, of pointed Gothic form. Only the lower portion of this heavily panelled and iron-studded portal, which is divided in two by a horizontal transom, contains workable doors. Flanking the centre section are two square, batt1emented towers pushed out from the front corners of the building; these towers have narrow slit-windows at three levels. The main body of the building runs back towards the west for a length of five bays and is very plain. Its tall windows are diamond-paned and are protected externally by strong, black-painted iron shutters.
Within, the main floor is given over entirely to the large drill hall except for a small vestibule inside the portal, a very shallow hallway, the stairs in the towers, a small janitor’s office and a lavatory. Three Tudor arches of good width and height occupy the main spaces of the drill hall’s east end: one contains the principal door into that hall; the other two accommodate auxiliary folding doors below and projecting balconies at stair-landing-level above. The second floor is divided into two large and one small rooms, a coat-room and anoTher lavatory. Space in the basement is taken by a museum room, a large storage room, kitchen, heater and lavatory areas.
Woodwork throughout the building is generally of dark-stained, simply panelled wainscot form, with some trim employing pointed arches and some panellihg done in the linenfold design. The drill-hall’s ceiling has exposed beams forming narrow compartments supposedly (supported by curved brackets around the four sides), and here the wood has been painted. The transverse beams have been given a slight concavity, or minimally arched effect, on their lower sides, and there are turned wooden pendants where major beams intersect — altogether the simplest of Gothic Revival decorative treatment.
The building was in 1906 moved a very short distance north to the corner of Benefit and Meeting Streets, when it became imperative to put a railroad tunnel under its original site. It has been excellently maintained both inside and out, its utility equipment etc. kept up to date. It is in frequent, though not constant, use.
The State Arsenal is in its locale a small but important example of early battlemented Gothic Revival architecture, a pseudo-fortress appropriate to its internal militia activities. It is one of the few excursions into the Gothic manner by Russell Warren, a Rhode Island native who was one of the outstanding architects in this and other states during the full first half of the XIX century. The arsenal is an important part of our architectural legacy, an important property of the state and also an important component of the College Hill Historic District, already a major listing, en bloc, in the National Register.
It was erected for the First Light Infantry, but that corps found itself eventually unable to complete payment for the building it had constructed. The building was then, in the 1850’s, taken over by the state, which leased back the property for a 1,000-year period at an annual rate of six-and-one quarter cents. During the Dorr Rebellion in Rhode Island, in 1842, state ammunition and state troops were housed in the arsenal along with the Marine Corps of Artillery and the Kentish Guards of East Greenwich, who had been called up to help protect the building.
When — later in the mid-XIX-Century — the infantry unit left to occupy larger quarters, the lease was taken by the Marine Corps of Artillery, and they have been there ever since. This latter volunteer military body was chartered in 1801 by the Providence Marine Society, an association of merchants and ship-owners, and was the first militia battalion of light artillery in the United States. It has been the parent body of all artillery sent in all wars from the Civil War through World War II. The corps has until the recent past used the building for drill and training, for many social events; it is officially seated there; it preserves its records, relics and portraits, its Barker Artillery Museum of World War II (named for one of its many members outstanding in wartime accomplishment) in the arsenal.
From a caption on a paper drawing in the John Hutchinson Cady Research Scrapbook Collection, Providence Public Library
This building was erected by the members of the organization, but delivered to the state, which paid off an indebtedness and gave the organization a 1000-year lease at the rate of six and one-quarter cents a year. In this arsenal was enlisted the most famous light batteries in the Civil War. The building is designated as the brooder house of the “Mother Battery.” It placed men in the field in 1861–65, 1898, and in France as a part of the famous 26th Division, A. M. E. F.
From Providence’s Benefit Street, Arcadia Publishing
On May 17, 1924, the Benefit Street Arsenal was the site of an illegal meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. Although often associated with the South, the Klan was relatively active in Rhode Island during the 1920s. Klan members arranged a meeting at the State Arsenal that attracted about 200 men. The group had not obtained a permit to meet on state property but had gained access to the building by claiming it was hosting a religious meeting. Later, however, Rhode Island’s Governor William S. Flynn denounced the Klan and subsequently banned the group from using state property for meetings.
A short article from the Providence Daily Dose has more information.
Transcriptions of the plaques present on the building:
Battery A. Ring Mexican Border June 28 – October 10 1916
1917 – 1919 World War I 103rd Field Artillery 26th Yankee Division, A.E.F. In commemoration of those who served in the Rhode Island units HDQ. Co. Batteries A, B, C. This memorial is dedicated by the Veterans Associations on the 50th Anniversary 1917 – 1967
43rd Division World War II HDQ. 43rd Division Artillery 103rd F.A. Bn. – 169th F.A. Bn. Feb. 1941 – Oct. 1945
Korean War Hdq. & Hdq. Try. 43rd Division Artillery 103rd F.A. Bn. – 169th A.A.A. Bn. July 1950 – July 1953
Providence Marine Corps of Artillery Chartered 1801 Mother of the Rhode Island batteries From this armory there went for service at the front. During the War for the Union 1861–1865, First Battery: Captain H. Tompkins Battery A, Captain William H. Reynolds Battery B, Captain Thomas F. Vaughan Battery C, Captain William B. Weeden Battery D, Captain John Albert Munroe Battery E, Captain George E. Randolph Battery F, Captain James Berger Battery G, Captain Charles D. Owen Battery H, Captain Jeffrey Hazard Tenth Battery, Captain Edwin C. Gallup Officers 96, killed wounded and missing 17 Enlisted Men 2277, killed wounded and missing 362
In the War with Spain 1898: Battery A, Captain Edgar R. Barker Officers 4, Enlisted Men 106
This tablet is placed by the Veteran Association, P.M.C.A. 1917