Last week I described the events leading up to the building of the Armory at 416 North Broadway. It was built to serve the dual purpose of a storage and drill space for Company I, Third Minnesota National Guard, and a large gathering place for the community to enjoy.
In 1915, when the building was complete, for the first time the Red River Valley Farm Crop Shows were held at the new Armory. It had previously been held primarily at the Northwest School of Agriculture, but the event brought in so many visitors that the facilities there were not able to handle the crowds. In 1915, hundreds of people came in by train, and Crookston showed Governor Hammond and other State dignitaries Minnesota’s first corn palace!
The Corn Palace was built directly on the stage inside the Armory and was designed by Crookston’s notable architect, Bert Keck. The corn palace, built in the Tuscan style of architecture, was a half hexagon, fifty feet wide and fifteen feet height. The palace had six arches made of oats, red corn, white corn, flax, barley, and wheat. The foundation was made of corn. Unfortunately, I have found no pictures of the corn palace in our museum’s archives.
The formal dedication of the new Armory, which ended up costing a total of $36,000, was held on April 5, 1915. It was the biggest social event ever held in Crookston, and tickets cost $3.00.
The Armory was a sizeable structure. The front facing Broadway was 70 feet long, made of dark brown pressed brick. The building was also 142 feet deep. On the main floor was the drill hall or auditorium, which measured 90 feet by 57 feet, with a stage 57 feet wide and 20 feet deep. The stage had complete scenery for staging plays. That one of the main reasons for building the Armory was the hosting of the Red River Valley Farm Crops Shows was obvious from the four-ton elevator which brought livestock up to the stage for shows.
At the rear of the hall and on both sides were balconies which could accommodate 400 people. A total of 1200 could be seated on the auditorium floor, and chairs could be used to seat 400 more. On the second floor were officers’ and Army instructors’ quarters, and in the basement was a gymnasium 36 feet by 50 feet, and 15 feet high. The basement at one time had Crookston’s first bowling alley, open to the public.
The April 5, 1915 dedication of the Armory featured speeches by Mayor Tom Morris, patriotic music by the Citizens Band, and addresses by military officers from Duluth and St. Paul. The Armory was lavishly decorated with the national colors. One of the highlights was the entrance of Crookston’s Civil War veterans and their wives, as they made their way to seats reserved for them in front, accompanied by the playing of “Marching Through Georgia.” Colonel Frederick E. Resche of Duluth stated that “Company I of this city was one of the best companies in the regiment.” He gave much credit to architect Keck for a building that cost comparatively so little money as the Armory.” (“Crookston Weekly Times”, April 10, 1915). After the formal dedication of the Armory, the floor was cleared of seats and a grand march formed, led by uniformed Militia officers and their ladies.
In 1919, the Winter Shows became so large that the Red River Valley Livestock Association paid to have the new “Livestock Pavilion” built just to the south of the Armory. Here, judging of beef, poultry, and crops would be held.
Through the years, the Armory saw soldiers gather to go off to war, Winter Shows, balls, graduations, and concerts. At one time, the Armory was the site of a roller-skating rink, as Crookston joined the national craze. Fall festivals celebrating Armistice Day drew 1500-2000 people each night for four nights running.
The December 17, 1931 edition of the “Crookston Times” describes a Nativity Tableaux, featuring ten to twelve tableaux copied from paintings of the Masters, Scripture readings to go with the scenes, and sacred music and community singing led by T.W. Thorson. The Armory was donated for the service, through the courtesy of Captain Mickle Band of Company M, whose members served as ushers. Seven church choirs joined their voices for the event, along with seven trumpeters and the Central High School chorus. For this large event, the Armory was filled to overflowing, and the audience spilled over into the outer hallway.
The Armory served a different purpose in 1950, the year of Crookston’s biggest flood. The local National Guard was called to active duty to patrol flooded areas and handle boat transportation and evacuation. The Red Cross set up shop at the Armory and fed refugees there.
After World War II, the old Armory became a meeting place for teenagers and young adults. “Sock hops” were held on Friday nights, and entertainers such as Gorgeous George, Conway Twitty, and Bobby Vee performed there. Alice Cooper and his rock band were there on May 9, 1971.
Officially decommissioned in 1972, the Armory today is owned by Eric Rudnick, a local contractor. He stated that he stores his equipment in the building, but that most of the interior had been totally gutted before he took ownership. The troops going off to war, as well as the festivals and concerts and balls held at the Armory, are but a mere memory in the lore of the “Queen City of the Northwest”, Crookston.