Skip to content
  • There are no suggestions because the search field is empty.

Florence's Fort Willingham Armory: From WPA Project to Community Hub

Florence Fort Willingham Armory

History buffs, this one's for you! Today, we delve into the fascinating story of Florence's Fort Willingham Armory, a building that served multiple purposes throughout its existence.

William H. Cromwell, Florence Alabama ArmoryThe armory's origin story goes back to 1935. The brainchild of W.H. Cromwell of the American Legion, the project secured President Roosevelt's approval as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiative. The WPA, a cornerstone of the New Deal, aimed to combat the Great Depression by creating jobs through public works projects. Under the plans, the armory would be located on the grounds that had previously been occupied by the Florence Civitan tourist camp since 1924 on the hill on the north side of East Tennessee Street.

Construction began in early 1936, employing around 30 local men. The two-story building, constructed of stone quarried from a nearby rock quarry owned by the city located on Cypress Creek, housed not just the National Guard but also served as a community center. This dual functionality reflected the spirit of the WPA, creating public infrastructure while fostering community engagement.

In 1939, the armory was named after Dr. Henry J. Willingham, president-emeritus at Florence State Teachers College. Officially becoming known as the Fort Henry J. Willingham armory. From the 1940s onwards, the venue hosted Golden Gloves boxing tournaments and wrestling matches, becoming a hub for local entertainment.

Sadly, the armory met its demise in 1981. However, its legacy lives on through a historical marker that stands sentinel on the site. The marker not only commemorates the armory's role in training National Guard units but also remembers its significance as a community center.

The story of Florence's armory reminds us of the enduring impact of New Deal programs. The WPA not just provided jobs during a critical economic period but also left behind a physical legacy that served the community for decades.

Do you have any memories of events at the Fort Willingham Armory? Share your stories in the comments below!