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Armory is new Guard museum

The storied Concord Armory has become the new home of the National Guard Museum and Archives, which preserves military documents and artifacts dating from Colonial times to the present.

The decision was made last year to move to Concord from the Worcester Armory, a Gothic revival “castle” built in 1891, said Lieutenant Colonel James Sahady, public affairs officer for the Massachusetts National Guard.

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“We started moving toward the end of June,” said archivist Keith Vezeau, reached at his new office at 91 Everett St. in Concord. “We are working back and forth.”

The museum is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Vezeau said, though the “final organization” of the facility will take about a year.

Al Magurn, a longtime Concord resident and veteran, said his hometown is “a natural place” for the collection of military memorabilia and artifacts.

“The history of Concord, the tie-in to the Independent Battery, it will be a natural spot,” said Magurn, who was a first sergeant serving at the Concord Armory full time from 1956 to 1983.

Sahady said the decision was made to move the museum and archives because the Worcester Armory is “an old facility that is substantially larger than required and requires substantial investment to make it fully appropriate.”

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In an e-mail, he stated, “The Concord Armory is more appropriately spaced for the Archives and Museum holdings and can be rehabilitated to an appropriate condition for this purpose at a more efficient cost.”

The Worcester Armory will be handed over to the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance and will be disposed of according to state law, Sahady said.

“Presently, the Concord Armory will fulfill the Massachusetts National Guard’s statutory obligation to maintain and manage war records and artifacts,” Sahady said. “The Mass. Guard’s long-term vision for Concord is to have a public museum that will accommodate regular visiting hours.”

The National Guard Museum holds the artifacts and documents of the Massachusetts National Guard, according to the museum’s website, including records related to the men and units of the Massachusetts Volunteer Regiments that fought in the Civil War.

“Displays in the museum depict the history of the Massachusetts National Guard beginning with its organization in 1636 as the Colonial militia. The Massachusetts militia began the Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775, at the battle of Lexington and Concord,” the site says. “Massachusetts Soldiers and units played a key role in winning American Independence. During the Civil War, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia Regiments were the first Northern regiments to mobilize, deploy, and shed blood in the Civil War.”

But if its walls could talk, the Everett Street armory, built in 1915, would divulge a fascinating narrative of its own filled with historical moments that rival any other Concord building.

Due to its ample floor space, the armory has been used for townwide fund-raisers and other events that require a large venue, including the Patriots’ Ball held every April. During the 1970s, Town Meeting was held in the great hall. The Girl Scouts and Emerson Hospital held huge rummage sales in the hall, and antique shows have regularly occupied the space.

Magurn said that in the 1950s, Middlesex Motors on Walden Street held a car show where cars were driven up the front steps of the Armory and parked in the four corners of the hall.

In 1960, the armory became the first home of the Boston Patriots football team, now the New England Patriots. The team used the armory for warm-ups and practiced across the street on Emerson playground.

Magurn said he would tiptoe into his office off the main hall while hearing then-Coach Lou Sabin excoriating his players.

He also recollects the time in 1957 that then-US Senator John F. Kennedy spoke at the armory to a crowd of hundreds at a Rotary meeting. Magurn remembers the direct way Kennedy would answer a question from the audience.

“He would repeat the question, and give a clear, straightforward answer,” said Magurn.

In 1975, President Ford came to Concord as part of the town’s bicentennial celebration, and used the armory as his headquarters, Magurn recalled.

“Secret Service took over the place,” he said. “They set up an elaborate phone system while the president was here.”

Betsy Levinson can be reached at betsy.levinson@gmail.com.

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