Located at 110 Main Street, the Cañon City State Armory is the longest continuously used armory in the state. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 1999 due to its historical significance. The National Guard in Colorado has a long history dating back to the American Civil War when the “Colorado Volunteers” were organized by William Gilpin, Colorado Territory’s first governor.
The history of the National Guard began on December 13, 1636 when the first militia regiments were organized in Massachusetts, which marked the beginning of organized militia in the United States. In Colorado, the “Colorado Volunteers” were organized on February 26, 1861 for the defense of the territory. The name National Guard was adopted by many state militias, and in 1916, all militias were required to officially be titled the National Guard due to the National Defense Act of 1916.
In the April 19, 1900 edition of the Cañon City Record, it stated that Cañon City had a fully organized company of the National Guard. The elected officers were Captain F. E. Thomas, First Lieutenant L.C. Hall, and Second Lieutenant H.H. Wilson. At the time of the article, 53 men had mustered into the guard at an average age of 23 years. The new guard was Company F, Second Regiment of Infantry, National guard of Colorado and was entitled to 70 men. The first headquarters were located in the Y.M.C.A. gymnasium at 511 Main Street, the upstairs level of the Sulphide Building. The organization later used the second floor of the Annex Building prior to the construction of the current armory.
In 1903, the Florence Military Band was appointed by Governor Peabody as the Second Regimental Band, Colorado National Guard. That same year, Jessie Peabody, the youngest daughter of Governor Peabody, was given a commission as a colonel and the honor of aide-de-camp on the governor’s staff. She was the first lady in the history of the state to receive the honor according to the Cañon City Times dated June 4, 1903. She was to be known as the “daughter of the national guard of Colorado” as the article reported. It is likely the position was only honorary with no duties expected from Miss Peabody.
The current armory building, at the corners of 1st and Main Street, was constructed in 1922. The architect was J. J. Huddart of Denver and is made of brick and concrete. The National Guard are not the only ones who have used to building over time. It was commonly used as a community space, and even as a gym for the high school. Events held there included poultry shows, concerts, meetings, and even basketball games.
The National Guard is called upon during times of local, state, and national emergencies. The National Guard in Cañon City, known as Howitzer Company 157th Infantry in 1921, participated in various conflicts including World War I. As for emergencies, in June 1921, the organization went to Pueblo to help the city after the disastrous flood. During the 1929 prison riot at Colorado State Penitentiary, the National Guard was called to help in the conflict. Along with their rifles, the men were equipped with a 155 mm howitzer and several machine guns. Rather than storming the prison, potentially leading to unnecessary death, the National Guard worked with police officers to clear the area filled with hordes of people and cars. They were also instrumental in the act that ended the riot: tear gas thrown into the cells. After the riot, the company stayed for a week as tower guards and outside patrols.
Happy Birthday, National Guard!
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.