Updated date:

Visiting the Springfield Armory National Historic Site

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.

The Springfield Armory

The Springfield Armory

I’m actually quite embarrassed to admit this, but despite living here in western Massachusetts for the last 25 years or so, I was not at all familiar with the unassuming red brick building that sits atop a hill overlooking Springfield. And while I like to think that I am somewhat learned in American History, I somehow totally missed the ball on this one. Located here right in my backyard is one of the most important sites in American history, a place that contributed greatly to victories in almost every conflict that this country has been involved in since the late 18th century. And to make matters only worse, my very own mother-in-law worked there as a teenager during the early to mid-1940s.

If you’re still wondering what the heck I’m talking about, I am referring to the Springfield Armory. In operation from 1794 until it was closed in 1968, the Springfield Armory was responsible for designing, testing, and manufacturing the weapons and armament that supplied our armed forces from the War of 1812 right up until the Vietnam War.


Springfield Armory Museum

Springfield Armory Museum

If you are visiting Springfield, Massachusetts and have an interest in American history then make the time to stop by the armory. Designated a National Historic Site in 1974, and managed by the US National Park Service, the armory is a timeline of almost 200 years of American history. From the early handcrafted methods of our forefathers to the introduction of industrialized processes and improved manufacturing methods, the armory museum covers it all. During the height of World War II, the Springfield Armory employed over 14,000 workers, many of them women who were members of the WOW, Women Ordnance Workers. I must admit that I went to the museum with tempered expectations not knowing if it would be worth our time but came away duly impressed and humbled by what I saw and learned.

WOW.  Look familiar?

WOW. Look familiar?

The Blanchard Lathe.

The Blanchard Lathe.

The Blanchard Lathe.

The Blanchard Lathe.

The red brick building that houses the museum today was the Main Arsenal in the armories heyday and now contains the largest collection of US Military small arms in the world. From the muskets of late 18th century pioneers, to the modern day M14 that is still used in limited service today by American Military personnel, the Springfield Armory will show you the evolution of the weapons that have given our armed forces an advantage in conflicts for over 200 years. With one section devoted to weapons, and another area dedicated to the development of the machines and methods used in the manufacturing process, it's a fascinating piece of American history that many folks may not be familiar with.

In my opinion, the M1 rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised.

— General George S. Patton

visiting-the-springfield-armory-national-historic-site
visiting-the-springfield-armory-national-historic-site

For much of its existence the armory had two main locations, the Hilltop campus where the current museum is located and the Watershops, which was built along the Mill River about a mile south from the Hillshops. Water power was a necessity prior to the advent of electricity and powered the machines that did the grinding, polishing and forming of the barrels. It was here in the Watershops that my mother-in-law worked during the early to mid-forties. The Watershop building, with its two distinctive clock towers is still standing today and although now privately owned is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.

Aerial photo of the Watershops site

Aerial photo of the Watershops site

Aerial photo of the Hillshops.  The museum is the building top left.

Aerial photo of the Hillshops. The museum is the building top left.

Our visit to the armory started with a show and tell tour with one of the well versed rangers, Robert Holmes, who explained the evolution of three of the armories most famous products: the Krag-Jorgenson, the bolt action 1903, and finally the semi-automatic M1 Garand. The 1903 was instrumental in giving our troops an advantage in WW1 while the M1 made its debut in 1936 and was the primary rifle used by our troops and allies during WW2. Over 3.7 million M1 Garand rifles were produced by the end of World War II right here in Springfield, an amazing testament to the hard working men and women who kept the armory running around the clock to support the war effort.

Ranger Robert Holmes explaining the Krag-Jorgenson..

Ranger Robert Holmes explaining the Krag-Jorgenson..

Ranger Robert Holmes with the M1 Garand.

Ranger Robert Holmes with the M1 Garand.

John Garand, inventor of the M1 Garand rifle spent 15 years perfecting his design. The rifle was finally approved by the US Army in 1936 and went into full production in 1940, just in time to support the buildup and eventual entry of the United States into World War II.

Garand was employed at the Springfield Armory from 1919 until his retirement in 1953 and was awarded the Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1941, and the Medal for Merit in 1944, for his contributions to the war effort. He even met President Franklin D. Roosevelt and personally presented him with a M1 rifle when FDR came to the armory in 1940, certainly a big deal for Garand, the armory, and the city of Springfield.

Visitor Information

Springfield Armory National Historic Site

  • One Armory Square
  • Springfield, MA. 01105
  • (413) 734-8551

Memorial Day through Oct 31, open daily 9 am to 5 pm

November 1 to Memorial Day Weekend, open Wed to Sun, 9 am to 5 pm

Museum entry is FREE. Plenty of parking available.

The M1 Garand.

The M1 Garand.

From its humble beginnings with a mere 40 employees producing a few hundred muskets a year, to its lofty status as one of this countries primary armories supporting every armed conflict, the Springfield Armory offers visitors a fascinating glimpse of American history. Open daily from 9am to 5pm the armory is free of charge to visitors. Be sure to take advantage of the daily ranger led tour and interpretive talk highlighting a specific topic of relevance to the armory. A twenty minute documentary film is also available for visitors to watch. I am certain that you will come away from your visit with a heightened awareness and appreciation of the historical significance of the Springfield Armory.

The NPS Rangers are always excited to talk with a former worker of the armory.  Museum curator Joanne Gangi-Wellman and Robert Holmes with Mary Alice Butler (Lynch).

The NPS Rangers are always excited to talk with a former worker of the armory. Museum curator Joanne Gangi-Wellman and Robert Holmes with Mary Alice Butler (Lynch).

Historical Timeline of the Springfield Armory

  • 1777:​ During the Revolutionary War, George Washington approves the site and establishes the Arsenal at Springfield, Massachusetts to manufacture, repair and store muskets and weapons.
  • 1787: Shays’ Rebellion takes place at the armory.
  • 1794:​ A US Military armory is established in Springfield, MA to make the 1795 Flintlock Musket.
  • 1798:​ The Watershops site is established on the Mill River to provide water power.
  • 1818:​ The first replicating machines are put into use at the armory.
  • 1819:​ The Blanchard Lathe is put into production at the armory. The only surviving one in existence is at the Armory Museum.
  • 1843: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow pens his poem “The Arsenal at Springfield”, after visiting the Armory.
  • 1862: The only other US government armory located at Harpers Ferry is destroyed during the Civil War leaving the Springfield Armory as the only manufacturer of weapons for the government.
  • 1892: The bolt-action Krag-Jorgensen rifle is adopted by the US Military and used during the Spanish-American War.
  • 1903: The Springfield M1903 rifle goes into service with the US Military using a five-round magazine. The M1903 would be used during World War I.
  • 1919:​ John Garand starts working at the Armory and begins development of the M1 semi-automatic rifle.
  • 1936: The US government approves the design of the M1 Garand rifle.
  • 1940: Building 104 is completed and will lead the mass production of the M1 Garand, widely credited as being “the greatest battle implement ever devised”.
  • 1943: Mary Alice Lynch of Holyoke starts working at the armory in the Watershops site. Her duties include grinding, working on the 50-caliber gun barrel, and working on gun clips in the Clip Shop.
  • 1968: In April of 1968 the US Government closes the Springfield Armory after determining that private industry can manufacture the weapons at a lower cost.
  • 1974: The Springfield Armory is established as a National Historic Site.
Ranger Holmes showing us historical photos of the armory from the WWII era.

Ranger Holmes showing us historical photos of the armory from the WWII era.

© 2016 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 15, 2020:

It’s a fascinating place. My mother-in-law actually worked there during WWII. We took her with us when we visited and the museum curator came out to meet and chat with her. Definitely an important piece of American history.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 15, 2020:

Visiting places like this help to bring history alive. Thanks for telling us about this national historic site. The only armory I have visited is the one on Rock Island in Illinois.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 02, 2016:

Thank you teaches. There is so much history here in New England, the Springfield Armory is just another wonderful example. Thanks for stopping by, have a great week.

teaches12345 on September 02, 2016:

This would be a great place to visit when visiting Massachusetts. There is so much history to learn and it will help us find a piece of the what made America great.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 29, 2016:

Hi Linda, thank you. This was really a place that I didn't even know existed until my mother-in-law started talking about it. And even then it was years before we managed to visit. But I must admit it was very interesting and free to boot. I hope your experience is as rewarding. Have a great week.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 28, 2016:

Museums with free admission can be wonderful places to visit. Thanks for sharing the interesting information, Bill. Up to now, I've never considered visiting an armoury myself. Your article has persuaded me to see of an old armoury in my area offers tours.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 28, 2016:

Thank you Bill. It's amazing the interesting places right in our backyard. The armory here in Springfild is a fascinating piece of American History. Have an wonderful week.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 28, 2016:

That would be a fascinating trip through history, right up my alley, and you did a great job, as you always do, of taking us along on your journey. Well done, Bill.

Happy Sunday to you!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 28, 2016:

Thank you Flourish. They definitely deserve all the publicity they can get. They did a great job with the armory museum and the NPS Rangers who staff the site are enthusiastic and very engaging. We really enjoyed our visit. Thanks again and have a great day.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 28, 2016:

Hi Karen. I've lived in western Mass for over 25 years and just learned of the armory a few years ago. Took another couple of years to actually visit. Very interesting place. Thanks for stopping by have a great day.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 28, 2016:

Your article gives the site some of the needed publicity is deserves. I think it would interest many history buffs and gun enthusiasts.

Karen Hellier from Georgia on August 27, 2016:

I grew up in CT but didn't know about this Springfield Armory. Love the pictures. Thanks for sharing!