A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

History: Red Bank and Keyport Armories (1877 -1923)

Below are some of my research notes on the armories built in Red Bank and Keyport.

The Red Bank Armory was used by the NJ National Guard and US Army Medical Corps as well as for local exhibitions. It was relegated to storage of old tanks in the 1950s and fell into disuse. It was repurposed in 1998 as an ice skating venue.

The Keyport Armory was built by local militia in the late 1800s by a local organization. It was used as the main entertainment venue, eventually becoming a movie theatre in the 1920s. It became a shady movie house at some point and was eventually closed as Keyport revitalized Front Street. It is now a bank with an oddly grand frontage.

There are 235 editions of The Matawan Journal between 1900 and 1924 with online database hits on the word "armory." The notes below represent only the first dozen or so newspapers from that search, plus the result of a search on "Red Bank Armory," but do not include any research notes from The Red Bank Register. I'll update this research from time to time.

Canning Factory Lot Purchased for Keyport Armory (1877) 

Uriah H Dudley sold his canning factory lot in Keyport in 1877 for the use of the Keyport Armory, according to an index of The History of Monmouth County, by Franklin Ellis, 1885. (pp 706, 717)

Keyport Armory Listed as Ice Skating Rink (1907)

Billboard Magazine dated 7 Dec 1907, pg 45, listed the Keyport Armory, First Street, Keyport, as a skating rink with the capacity for 300 skaters and 400 audience. The venue was under the management of Sidney L Kane. The Skating Rinks section begins on pg 44 and is sorted by state. (See Google Books)

State Funding of Armories (1909)

The Vredenburgh Armory Bill authorized counties in the State of New Jersey to spend up to $25,000 to erect armories to house local troops of the state militia, according to the 22 Apr 1909 edition of The Matawan Journal, pg 4, col 1..Monmouth County freeholders were pondering building an armory for Troop H at Asbury Park. The newspaper's editor urged caution in making such an expenditure as the state militia disbands its troops without warning, making the investment a risk. The article noted that Keyport had had an armory of its own yet was disbanded by the state.

Keyport Armory Served as Entertainment Venue

The Young American Concert Band of New York would deliver an upcoming performance at the Armory of Keyport according to the 21 Mar 1901 edition of The Matawan Journal.

The 14 Feb 1907 edition of The Matawan Journal said the armory in Keyport would host the Twentieth Century Dramatic Club of Keyport for an upcoming performance of "By the Enemy's Hands." The 11 Apr 1914 edition of The Junior Eagle, Brooklyn, NY, described the play as a four-act military drama.

The Armory Theatre would show "A Slave Girl in New York," a modern comedy drama about corrupt cops and the underground in New York, according to the 28 Aug 1913 edition of The Matawan Journal.

The Armory Theatre would host a local St Patrick's Day ball in Keyport, according to the 17 Feb 1916 edition of The Matawan Journal, pg 4 col 2.

Keyport Armory Destroyed by Fire (1909)

The 1 Apr 1909 edition of The Matawan Journal featured a page 1 story about a major fire that destroyed the Keyport armory. Its metal ceilings and slate tile roof contained the fire and saved the nearby Pavilion Hotel and D. B. Mahoney's store.

"The Armory was built by the old members of Company G, Third Regiment. After their return from the railroad riots of 1877, most of the members put the money they received from the State for their services in a fund and bought the lot where the Armory stood. Contributions of cash from citizens of the place, timber by some of the farmers, and the work of the ladies of the town and the soldiers themselves brought about the building. The title to the property was held by the Raritan Guard Library Association, composed of members of the company who had contributed to its erection."

The destruction of the armory left no place for public entertainment in Keyport, according to the paper. The association that owned the building planned to consider whether to use the insurance money to rebuild it.

A facility called the Armory Theatre appeared in the newspaper in the years to follow, presumably the Keyport Armory risen from the ashes.

Red Bank Armory in Wikipedia

The Red Bank Armory was built in 1914 to house Troop B of the Red Bank Cavalry, a branch of the National Guard, according to Wikipedia. It is located at 76 Chestnut Street in Red Bank, New Jersey. It featured a large equestrian riding hall. It was converted to an ice rink in 1998.

Freeholders Approve $6,000 Funding for Red Bank Armory (1913)

The 1 May 1913 edition of The Matawan Journal (pg 4 col 3) reported that the Monmouth County Freeholders voted to approve the expenditure of $6,000 towards the purchase of the site of the new armory in Red Bank, but they were concerned that the State follow through on the arrangement and worded their resolution to include a number of caveats. 

Red Bank Armory Under Construction (1914)

The Red Bank Armory had been under construction for about a year and was expected to open on 1 November 1914, according to the 20 Aug 1914 edition of The Matawan Journal, pg 7 col 1. The building would initially be 42 x 134 feet, as well as a 100 x 200 foot riding hall. Another 64 feet of space was hoped for, but only if $30,000 for the construction could be obtained.

Friction After US Army Medical Corps Begins to Share Red Bank Armory (1915)

 The United States Army Medical Corps assigned an ambulance company to the armory in early 1915, not long after the new armory opened, according to the 22 Apr 1915 edition of The Matawan Journal, pg 2 col 2. Captain Peter P. Rafferty headed Ambulance Company No 1. His unit was overseen by Captain R. V. R. H. Stout, leader of Troop B of the New Jersey Militia at the time. The article -- Friction Over Armory -- discussed the tension between the troopers and the ambulance company personnel. Troop B had worked for years to get the armory and were annoyed that the medical unit were taking up so much of the space. The two groups didn't get along. The struggle finally manifested itself when Captain Stout filed official charges against a Colonel Hess of the ambulance company, who had conducted what Stout called an unauthorized inspection of the armory on 11 March.

Annual Automobile and Truck Shows Hosted at Red Bank Armory

The armory was used for the Annual Automobile and Truck Show for the week beginning 6 April 1918, sponsored by the Monmouth County Automobile Dealers Association, according to the 15 Feb 1918 edition of The Matawan Journal.

The annual auto show was scheduled to be held at the armory for the week beginning 16 April 1921, according to the 14 Apr 1921 edition of The Matawan Journal. 48 exhibitors from across the county were to participate, including a number of local garages that would now be considered auto dealerships. The event would include the usual orchestra music and dancing in the balcony.

The armory hosted the 12th annual auto show  was scheduled to be held 5 - 12 Mar 1927, according to the 18 Feb 1927 edition of The Matawan Journal, pg 4. The event was held under the auspices of the Monmouth County Automobile Dealers Association.

West Furniture Company Used Keyport Armory to Warehouse Overstocked Rugs (1921)

An advertisement run by West Furniture Company of Keyport in the 2 Jul 1921 edition of The South Amboy Citizen said that West was overstocked with rugs and had resorted to using the Keyport Armory's 12,000 square feet of warehouse space to store its carpets. Sounds like the facility had momentarily reached its nadir as an entertainment venue.

Armory Theatre in Keyport to Join Local Movie Theatre Chain (1923)

Burns & Schaeffer, owners of the Strand Theatres at Red Bank and Freehold, purchased the Armory Theatre in Keyport and plan to remodel it into a "first class moving picture theatre," according to the 2 Feb 1923 edition of The Matawan Journal. Henry V Vreeland, owner of the armory building, transferred the property on Wednesday. Also included in the deal was Sam Chin's Chinese laundry and a shoe repair shop,, both of which would be torn down to make a "handsome entrance" to the theatre on Front Street. 


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