The Night They Dedicated The Armory

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, September 16, 1934

The Night They Dedicated the Armory
By Howard Burba

            For years it stood on the narrow point of land formed by the junction of the old hydraulic race with the Miami and Erie canal. Its turreted walls lent it an air of such sternness as marked the feudal castles of the old world in early days; the picturesque canal and swift-flowing hydraulic, their tiny waves lapping those walls, served as its moat.

            Situated on the fringe of the business district, and away from the more frequented lanes of horse-drawn traffic, there was a quiet sedateness about the old National Guard armory building at Sixth and Tecumseh streets that lent it dignity. Save for drill nights, when the clocklike tramp of guardsmen and the dull thud of rifle butts at a command of “ground arms” all was silent within its walls. On rare occasions, in tribute to some famed warrior or in honor of some visiting military dignitary, celebrations of a social nature gave it an air of festivity.

            Here on more than one occasion pulses ran high as business-like commands rang out following the receipt of an order for military service in some Ohio trouble zone. On those accasions there was excitement enough about the old Armory to more than make up for its quietude during ordinary times. Out through its heavy oaken doors in twos and at double-quick time local guardians of the peace and dignity of the commonwealth poured forth on more than one occasion, hurrying to entrain in a campaign from which not all of them might return.

            Only those citizens now grown gray about the temples can think back forty years to the gala night on which the Armory was formally dedicated when local militia companies, making up a proud and efficient part of the Ohio National Guard, accepted it as their permanent place of abode. Older citizens will, at mere mention of the date, quickly call to mind the colorful event; many of them will remember, possibly, a few of the more impressive phrases which fell from the lips of the orators who officiated on that occasion.

            The date of the dedication was Feb. 23, 1894. Up to that time the two local companies of militia, G and I, had been housed in various halls about the city. None were conveniently arranged for the safe storing of guns and ammunition, nor were they so constructed as to withstand the sway caused by hundreds of feet marching in perfect unison. So after several years of active campaigning and political wire-pulling the state agreed to cooperate in the erection of a modern home for its military units in this city. The preliminaries were faithfully carried out, and architects and builders had united in the erection of what at the time was pronounced one of the most modern structures of its kind to be found anywhere in the United States.

            Great preparations were made by the local militiamen for the dedication of the new building, and it was a gay audience which presented itself at the doors of the new structure when they were thrown open to the public for the first time a little more than forty years ago.

            “The occasion of the opening of the new and spacious armory of the local detachment, including Companies G and I of the Third Regiment Infantry, was observed last night and was an event to which there was attached great enjoyment to both members of the infantry and the public,” said a local newspaper on the day following. And then we learn the interesting details of that celebration as the reporter of forty years ago set down the facts. This he did in this language:

            “The beautiful armory, situated on Sixth St., bordering on the canal, contained fully 1200 people, the gallery being crowded to the utmost capacity, while a portion of the drill floor was similarly occupied. The booming of cannon shortly after the hour of 7 o’clock signaled the event, which had been looked forward to with a considerable amount of expectancy of pleasure since the announcement of the proposed dedication as soon after Washington’s birthday as possible.

            “The first call was sounded at 8 o’clock followed by the assembly of the guards and the adjutant’s call a few minutes later. Part first opened with the battalion parade and review, followed by a selection by the Third Regiment band. The drill by the Phoenix Light Infantry, Co. G, and Gem City Light Infantry, Co. I, followed and was exceedingly pleasing to the audience, the guards going through the maneuvers with exceeding gracefulness and reflecting much credit on their respective captains, John A. Miller and Perry W. Weidner.

            “The literary exercises of the evening, which were in part an oratorical feast, opened with prayer by the Rev. E. W. Lounsbury.

            “In behalf of the two companies Capt. John A. Miller in a few appropriate remarks delivered the opening address. The speaker expressed true words of pleasure at being able to greet such a large concourse of friends. He apologized to the audience for his brief remarks by telling them that he was not an orator, but what might be lacking in the way of eloquence from him would be furnished by those who were to follow.

            “Capt. Miller’s brief remarks were followed by a delightful German zither duet rendered by Messrs. George E. and George H. Shepherd.

            “ ‘The National Guard’ was the subject of an eloquent address by Hon. Charles H. Bosler. The tributes paid to the achievements and duties devolving on the national guard, both individually and collectively, was of a most admiring nature. He spoke of the benefits and influence for good of the O. N. G. Said the speaker.

            “ ‘He whose birth we celebrated yesterday pointed to this militia as one which might easily be resorted to in times of disturbances and invasions. A well organized militia is the best of the people’s protection. In times when our property, and lives as well, are in danger through sudden uprising, then are the national guards of the greatest benefit. The long list of riots in years prior to the establishment of our militia can never occur again. In those days we find millions of dollars ruthlessly destroyed and lives unmercifully sacrificed.

            “ ‘The wisdom of supporting a body such as the national guard has fully been proven. It is the duty of the national guard to put down rebellion and prevent evasion until an army can be formed and properly equipped. To the nation prepared, victory is sure and quick.

            “ ‘Organization must be begun before the storm bursts. If we leave the safety of the country to a paid army the military spirit of the people will die out. Military companies like those assembled about us will provide and hold a spirit of loyalty to our great country.

            “ ‘According to the individual, the benefits of the national guard are numerous and important. It affords that systematic physical development which in no other way could be attained. He can benefit both himself and his country. He learns to love and feel the sacredness of guarding and cherishing our sacred emblem, the American flag.’

            “Mr. Bosler’s address was followed by a solo, rendered by John J. Schaeffer. Mr. Schaeffer is the happy possessor of a clear and pleasing voice, and his effort last evening was much admired. He sang the brilliant and difficult Toreador song from ‘Carmen.’ “

            There resided in Dayton at that time and for a good many years thereafter one of the most widely loved ministers of the gospel ever to make this city his home. That man was the Rev. Dr. William A. Hale, leader in the Reformed church in this territory and in every movement for civic cleanliness and betterment brought forward during his long years in the ministry. At the time the armory was dedicated no program of a public nature was complete without his presence and his voice. It was fitting, then, that the chief address of the evening should have come from his lips.

            Earnest and eloquent to a degree which stamped him as an orator of signal ability; firm always in his belief in the greatest good for the greatest number; inspired by his immovable faith and love for humanity and every cause which had human welfare for its foundation stone, Rev. Hal selected as his subject for the armory address “Washington as a Solider and a Citizen.” The old files do not reproduce that address in full, but this brief abstract serves to show the deep-rooted patriotism of the pastor whom all Dayton loved:

            “There is no time so full of great inspiration as when we pause at the sacred festival and imagine what there has been in the past to make the present so desirable: what forces rushing forward from the bygone years make this event so sacredly conspicuous.

            “Age and youth are standing under the arch of liberty trying to read the legend that has been inscribed by the heroism of a republic. They breathe the air of a glorious day and reverently turn over the pages of history to find in the precept an example of the fathers’ cause for lawful pride and manly emulation of their virtues. The machinery of the nation was stopped for 24 hours yesterday to permit eight million pilgrims to perform their pious duties in memory of the manliest of men, one whose sublime understanding of liberty united with a prophetic patriotism resulted in the creation of this illustrious republic, and has placed the name of George Washington at the head of the nation’s saints.

            “The dates and deeds of his life are familiar to every school boy. The world has long since come to look on him as Israel looked upon Moses. He struck down the hand of despotism and gave to the world a life broader than biography, inexpressible in language. In the solider and the citizen we find the one the complement of the American citizenship is expressed.”

            The speaker at this point spoke at some length on the brilliant achievements of Washington’s life, including his consistency of purpose and persistency of aim, estimating his early manhood at its true value. Continuing, he said:

            “Without Washington there would have been no United States. He has left his impression upon the nation and imported the self-sacrifice of Valley Forge to that splendid military organization that yesterday impressed the nations of the earth with their powers and their conquests, but today are lost in the pursuits of peace. Well may the nation salute and reserve and adore the citizen soldier.

            “His biography is like the story of one of the prophets, revealing not only the hand of God in his career but the divinity there is in man when he loses sight of self in his comprehensive grasp of the necessities of his fellow-man. Hearts, home and heaven, like a sweet but mighty trinity, rested above his tent, leading his army in their seven years of war.

            “Washington must stand forever as the model citizen, ready in time of war to serve his country in arms and in time of peace to take his place in that larger army whose toil produces fabulous weather and develops the peace of the nation.

            “An armory such as this, occupied by young men ambitious to serve their country, thinking the thoughts of patriots, breathing the air of loyalty, going through the evolutions of their manual training with the idea before them such as has been created by the example of their fathers by an absolute law is a community blessing. A model city such as ours would not be complete without a school for the training of youth in that manual exercise of body and mind that is developed here. There is more argument in the uniform, arms and evolutions of a single company of soldiers than in the tongues of a thousand orators. The military organization is the right arm of justice.

            “To be a great American one must pass through the tuition of a sovereign. He must have clear ideas of personal liberty. He must learn that in this country men do not belong to the government, but the government to the men.”

            The deafening applause which followed the address was in itself a token of the esteem in which the speaker was held. Quiet restored, the audience was treated to a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” by Lawrence Butz, jr., and then came another short but excellent address by Harry Weidner, a civic leader of 40 years ago and member of a family that has done much toward the development of Dayton. Let us spend just a moment with the newspaper files to read what the reporter had to say about Mr. Weidner’s part in the program:

            “One of the most beautiful addresses of the evening was the one delivered by Mr. Harry Weidner on the subject, ‘America’s Devotion to Duty.’ In part Mr. Weidner spoke as follows:

            “ ‘First of all I wish to heartily congratulate the local detachment of the gallant Third Infantry on its new home. This armory is tangible proof of the military spirit of our great and glorious state. Ohio has within her confines a brilliant martial array, imbued with patriotic inspiration. No state, I honestly believe, can boast of legions superior in physical development, soldierly bearing, gallantry, resolution, courage and devotion to country and state.’

            “After paying this compliment to the boys in blue the speaker then entered upon his subject proper, saying that in the past when the ringing bugle blast had proclaimed grave danger, brave hearts have sprung to the defense of country; to the protection of sacred hearthstone; to the championship of honor.

            “ ‘Should our liberties again be assailed; should insults again be heaped upon us,’ he said, ‘I do proclaim that men would spring up on every side, with patriotism as taintless as the air, ready and willing to emulate the heroic deeds of their chivalrous and noble fore-fathers.’

            “Mr. Weidner then said that men who have infused into the institutions of their country their own brave spirits mankind never consigns to the ungrateful chambers of forgetfulness and death. With a keen eye of reverential love we still see Washington moving resplendent over the field of honor with the rose of heaven on his cheek and the fire of liberty in his eye. The general who could share with his men the hardships of Valley Forge, whose face mantled with blushes at the praise of admiring people, whose lips quivered with emotion as he bade final farewell to his companions in arms, the hero of an applauding world who knew yet to impress with living fervor the kiss of reverence on his aged mother’s brow. Yes! He is enshrined forever as sacred in the hearts of a grateful people.

            “Devotion to country has not been the distinguishing trait of one American alone, for it was this noble quality that characterized every act of Andrew Jackson’s life, declared the speaker. He then dwelled upon the sacrifice of America’s most distinguished statesmen and soldiers, eulogizing Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Thomas, Logan and Garfield. In closing the speaker said:

            “ ‘Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war. The blessings of peace constitute the true grandeur of a nation, and the best token of this grandeur is the happiness, intelligence and patriotism of the largest number of the people. In our great republic we enjoy these blessings in their richest fruition. Here education and patriotism, like twin sisters, are marching on, the one to enlighten and develop the mind of every human being, the other to bring reconciliation and fraternal love to the people of every part of our grand and glorious country.

            “ ‘Thank God we are again living in a spirit of national kinship, with thoughts atuned to harmony. The tempest of blood which drenched our land has ceased; the wail of humiliation is hushed; and the huzzahs of proud triumph are over. The cypress has draped the coffins of the vanished, and the laurel has crowned the victor’s brow. Deeper than lie the bones of the hallowed dead has every hate been buried; high as their immortal spirits have flown, let our affections rise; broad as was the measure of their devotion, let generous impulses abound.

            “ ‘Let our devotion to country glow with the same patriotic spirit that prompted Cominius to say:

                        I do love

                        My country’s good with a respect more tender.

                        More holy and profound than mine own life.

 

            “ ‘Like true soldiers, the flag of our country should ever be the object of our veneration. It is not simply a few yards of tricolored bunting, but a symbol of majesty and power. It is the emblem of our country, her greatness, her benificence, her power, her people, her institutions and her laws wherever may be seen or set the print of human foot, the touch of human hand or the beat of human heart sacredly dedicated to liberty, justice and right.’ “

            And then at a wave of the bandmaster’s baton the audience arose, while outside the hundreds, unable to gain admission, but who waited patiently for an opportunity to pass through the building on an inspection tour, uncovered their heads to the strains of “America.” The dedication of the armory had been appropriately staged; a new chapter had been written into the long and honorable military history of Montgomery co.

            For years the armory served the purpose for which it was intended, and then it became obsolete and was given over to commercial purposes. In more recent years it barely escaped the tools of the wrecking crew as the way was cleared for Dayton’s elevated railway system. The survey almost grazed the walls of the old structure. Evan though it was not found necessary to raze it the work of locating and grading Patterson Boulevard left it stranded high and dry above the new street level. However, it still stands, as staunch as was the patriotic faith of those thousands who have at some time in their lives passed happy moments within its walls.

            The armory has survived, almost as though it bore a charmed life, the transformations brought by progress to the section in which it stands as a striking landmark. It has earned its right to rest undisturbed for another half century, and it doubtless will be permitted to do so.