Built in 1922, the Fort Morgan State Armory is located at 528 State Street in Fort Morgan in northeast Colorado (528 State St, 80701 Fort Morgan, United States). It served as headquarters of Company M, Seventeenth Infantry of the Colorado National Guard until 1996, when the guard moved to Denver and donated the armory to the city. Since its inception, the Fort Morgan State Armory served as a training facility for guardsmen as wells as a recreational facility, a POW dining hall, and a public events center. Today the rehabilitated armory operates as the Fort Morgan Recreation Center.
Fort Morgan and the National Guard
Located some eighty miles northeast of Denver, the city of Fort Morgan was founded in 1884 along the South Platte River near the site of an old military post by the same name. Its development was spurred by the Union Pacific and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroads, both of which built lines through the area in 1882. In the early twentieth century, Fort Morgan became a hub for the booming sugar beet industry. A beet processing factory opened in the city in 1906, and by 1920 farmers in Morgan County were harvesting thousands of acres of sugar beets.
In 1920, as Fort Morgan boomed, Congress passed the National Defense Act, which reorganized the army into three branches: Regular Army, National Guard, and Army Reserve. The National Guard in each state would be made up of enlisted men proportionate to the state’s population, with the federal government paying for supplies and training. As long as a municipality had community support, it could petition its state government for a National Guard unit.
In 1921 two local army officers, Maj. Rufus Johnson and Capt. Nelson Wells, proposed organizing a National Guard unit in Fort Morgan. The Fort Morgan Commercial Club approved the proposal on March 31, and a committee was formed to determine how many men could be enlisted. The state approved the city’s request in April, and by August a site was selected for the future home of Company M, Seventeenth Infantry of the Colorado National Guard.
In his plans for the armory, Johnson was adamant that the building not only serve recruitment and training needs but also function as a recreation center for guardsmen and veterans. To design the building, the state Military Department commissioned architect John J. Huddart, who worked on a dozen armories throughout the state. Huddart’s brick armories appeared fortress-like, combining the towers and parapets of the Gothic Revival style with Romanesque window arches on the façade. Classical columns on either side of the entryway marked the armories as government buildings. The design broke with the purely Gothic Revival or Romanesque armories elsewhere in the country, and some have referred to Huddart’s eclectic armory style as Mediterranean Revival.
Situated in the rear of the Fort Morgan State Armory was a sixty-three-by-forty-eight-foot drill hall, complete with a balcony and stage so it could double as a theater or ballroom. The building also featured offices, dressing rooms, a kitchen, a second-floor reception room, a gymnasium, and a basement swimming pool.
Denver contractors Danielson & Son finished the armory in June 1922. The building cost $45,000; as it did with all armories, the state chipped in $30,000. To furnish the building, the National Guard company sold yearly memberships to 100 local men. For $10 per year, members could use the armory’s pool, gymnasium, and showers. Among the first items bought by the company with membership dues were library tables, pool tables, and easy chairs. The city and guard officers paid for more chairs, tables, a soda fountain, and a cigar case.
In addition to training Company M, the armory hosted most of Fort Morgan’s large public events, including dances, speeches, fund-raisers, basketball games, plays, musicals, and boxing matches. The swimming pool was eventually converted into a storage room. During World War II, German prisoners of war were housed in the armory’s parking lot and fed in its dining room. The basement storage room was converted into a kitchen and the balcony dressing rooms were made into living quarters for the caretaker’s family. The building continued to be used for public events over the next several decades.
In 1996 the National Guard moved to Denver and donated the armory to the city of Fort Morgan, which continued to use it as a public recreation center.
In the early 2000s, Fort Morgan city engineer Mike Gay drafted plans to update the armory building and make it wheelchair accessible. In 2005 the city received $250,200 in grants from the State Historical Fund to rehabilitate and modernize the building. The armory received new aluminum double doors and a wheelchair ramp, as well as remodeled bathrooms and offices. Today the building serves as the Fort Morgan Recreation Center, featuring a basketball court with an elevated walking track and a weight-cardio room.