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Armory gets listed on National Register of Historic Places

Taken July 24, 1944 in one of the rooms of the former National Guard Armory in Worthington, this photo shows Red Cross workers and volunteers making dolls out of mens' socks. The dolls were then sold for $1. (Special to The Globe)1 / 4
The National Guard Armory is shown in 1923, a year after its construction was complete. (Special to The Globe)2 / 4
In 1926, the National Guard Armory in Worthington hosted the Nobles County Egg Show and Poultry Show. (Special to The Globe)3 / 4
An early image of the National Guard Armory in Worthington. (Special to The Globe)4 / 4

WORTHINGTON — For the third time in as many years, a Worthington landmark is being added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Last week, the Nobles County Historical Society learned its application for listing of the former National Guard Armory was accepted. The designation comes nearly six months after the Nobles County War Memorial Building was added to the register. The bandshell in Worthington’s Chautauqua Park was officially listed in July 2015.

The armory is the seventh Worthington landmark and 13th Nobles County site to be included on the national register.

NCHS Board member Jerry Fiola spoke Monday about the more than two-year process to seek national registry status for the armory. Initially, the historical society applied for a legacy grant through the Minnesota State Historical Society to fund a qualified building evaluator’s assessment of the structure.

“They also do a social history of the building,” he said. “They’ll go and do research in various community archives, looking for artifacts related to the armory.”

The evaluation was completed in March 2016 and submitted to the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO), with a recommendation the armory be listed for two criteria — its social history and contribution to community life, and its architectural significance.

SHPO provided some feedback, including a request that more documentation be provided to prove the building’s architectural significance. Consultant Greg Gaut of Winona, who completed the initial evaluation, did additional research, and in an application for inclusion on the registry was submitted in late March of this year.

A state review board approved the application and forwarded it to the U.S. Department of Interior, which maintains the National Register of Historic Places. The federal department agreed with the state’s recommendation and formally approved the listing Nov. 27.

Fiola said plans now are to get a plaque for the building identifying its designation on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We want to continue to gather additional information to interpret the building,” he added. “We want to continue to build the archive.”

The NCHS continues to seek information from the public about the social aspect of the building, from the teen dances it hosted to its use as a collection point or gathering spot for community events.

Meanwhile, Fiola said the building — purchased by Nobles County in May 2015 for $225,000 — continues to be evaluated for future use.

“We just had a separate legacy grant through the State Historical Society to do a feasibility study about the potential use of the armory for the Nobles County Historical Society Museum and the Art Center,” Fiola said. The 170-page study was received by the NCHS last week.

Fiola said a phased approach to the building’s renovation is being considered to make the project more affordable. The initial proposal presented by Falls Architecture Studio in early 2016 detailed an $8- to $12 million renovation of the building to be used as a museum and art center.

Fiola said a seven-member ad hoc community group created by NCHS will spend the next few months going through the feasibility study to look at the project.

“It’s a county building, so ultimately what happens with the building is their call,” Fiola said. “The community will need to decide if it’s an appropriate use and how to raise money.”

The armory provides more than 25,000 square feet of space, which Fiola said could be used completely by the historical society and the art center in the future.

“We are prepared to use a smaller space in the interim, if that’s what it takes to make the project affordable,” he added.

The armory was built in 1922, and decommissioned 70 years later along with 11 other armories in the state. The Minnesota National Guard cited the lack of expansion space, the building’s need for repairs and upgrades and lack of handicapped accessibility for its closure.

The armory was in private ownership from 1994 until May 2015, when it was purchased by the county in hopes it could be renovated into a new library. The space, however, proved inadequate for the library’s needs.

Fiola said the building is structurally “in pretty good shape.”

The county continues to lease space in the Armory Business Center to ISD 518 for use by its gymnastics program. The current lease continues through December 2018, and it’s anticipated the gymnastics program will be moved by then into its new location along Crailsheim Drive.

“The space easiest to access for us would probably be the gymnasium space,” Fiola said. “In light of that, the soonest we could envision (renovations) is when the county and school complete the gymnasium lease.”

With its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Fiola said the armory will be eligible for grants to help defray some of the expenses in renovating the building.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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