WORTHINGTON — At Worthington’s historic Armory, the roof is new, the missing balcony is back and the wooden gym floor has been lovingly restored, complete with era-authentic basketball boundary lines. Now, the public is invited to donate to the project and reserve a tour of the building during King Turkey Day.
“Since King Turkey Day brings many people to the community, the Nobles County Historical Society (NCHS) Board and Capital Campaign Committee decided it was a good time to finally get the public fundraising effort going,” said Beth Rickers, NCHS executive director.
The board seeks to raise at least $500,000 in public donations, with any additional money raised going toward fully funding exhibits and an endowment that will allow the building to be maintained in the future.
“We hope Nobles County businesses, individuals and families will consider contributing generously to the effort in order to preserve this historic building and all the treasures that tell the stories of the families, farms and businesses that built Nobles County,” Rickers said.
In the future, the historical society will erect a windmill on the armory lawn — an image used in its logo — to track the campaign’s fundraising progress.
“The Armory is one of the last buildings of historical merit in our community that can be saved. It is on the National Register of Historic Places,” Rickers said. “There's been a lot of grumbling about historic buildings that have been torn down over the years, and this is a chance for people to come together and actually save a historic property.”
To kick off the fundraising, the historical society will offer guided tours of the Armory by reservation only, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Limited tours are also available Friday afternoon; all tours must be reserved in advance.
Anyone interested in reserving a tour should call the NCHS office at 376-4431.
A historic restoration
Built in 1922, the Worthington Armory served as the headquarters and training space for Minnesota National Guard units stationed in Worthington, but it was also a major community gathering space for dances, egg shows, clothing drives, pancake feeds and boxing matches. In 1992, the Worthington Armory was decommissioned. For a time, the building was used for other purposes, such as gymnastics practice and meets by Worthington High School.
“The Armory project became a reality when Bob and Patricia Ludlow pledged $1 million to the effort to utilize the historic Armory building (as) a new Nobles County museum in September 2018,” Rickers said. “The condition was that the City of Worthington and Nobles County combine efforts to match that donation.”
They did, and the work began, with the fundraising campaign planned to be completed in its entirety in September 2020.
“We should have wrapped up the fundraising a year ago, but COVID-19 changed all that,” Rickers said. “It also delayed some aspects of the construction, although we were able to raise enough capital despite the pandemic to keep the construction phases going.”
COVID-19 was a major challenge for the fundraising efforts, as prices for building materials rose, the availability of materials fell and face-to-face meetings for fundraising stopped, said Marty Rickers, the campaign fundraising chairman and brother to Beth Rickers.
“We have to preserve the past for the future people,” Marty said. “I want my kids and grandkids to know what happened in Nobles County from the onset of the county … and the only way to do that is to have a place like the armory museum.”
The Armory restoration is well underway, and the historical society has already begun its move there from its current location in the basement of the Worthington branch of the Nobles County Library — artifacts, office equipment and all.
“There’s a lot of stuff to move … thousands and thousands of items that are boxed up and were stored down in the current museum, which wasn’t nearly big enough to display much of it,” said NCHS President Art Frame. “So we’ll have a lot of material to be … displayed for the public.”
Some areas, including a community meeting space on the second floor and an organized, climate-controlled storage space for historical artifacts in the basement, remain under heavy construction.
“Many people may not realize that the Make History at the Armory Capital Campaign has already been going on for a while,” Beth Rickers said. “The committee initially reached out to potential benefactors in a direct but quiet way to get the campaign off the ground.”
Thus far, the historical society has raised about $3.5 million, including the $2 million the Ludlows, the city of Worthington and Nobles County contributed to the project. Companies that have pledged to the project include First State Bank Southwest, Worthington Federal Savings Bank, United Prairie Bank, Bedford Industries, Johnson Builders and Realty and a number of private donors.
“To complete the restoration to its best possible potential and preserve it for the future is going to take an investment from Nobles County residents,” Beth Rickers said. “We hope people will consider making a donation to the project and help us to preserve the past for the future.”
“(The Armory) has been going for a hundred years, and we hope to be able to keep it going for another hundred years,” Frame said.
How to help
Donations can be sent directly to NCHS, P.O. Box 614, Worthington MN 56187. For more information on the campaign or to schedule a small group tour, call the NCHS office, 376-4431.
For gifts of $5,000+, pledges can be made to the campaign that can be paid over a five-year period. Pledge cards are available.
“This may be especially appealing to senior citizens who must take a required minimum distribution from their retirement accounts,” Beth Rickers said.
NCHS has also created a grain account with New Vision Co-Op, which will allow farmers to donate grain directly to the capital campaign — which may help them reduce their taxable income while they contribute.
“It’s a way for them to give,” Frame said.