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The Olympia Armory is the oldest structure the SC Military Department currently owns. It was built in 1936/197 by the Works Progress Administration under the direction of Brigadier General James C. Dozier. In 1995, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The NRHP is a list of the nation’s historic places officially designated as worthy of preservation. Additionally, the armory is located in the Olympia Mill Village Historic District.
New Deal Era Armories
Prior to the 1930s construction program, the South Carolina Army National Guard possessed very few armories. The SCARNG owned two structures – the Beaufort Arsenal and the South Carolina State Armory in Columbia. The Beaufort Arsenal was constructed in the 1790s as a two-story stucco arsenal. Although useful to the SCARNG, the Beaufort armory was primarily used for storing military weapons and ammunition and lacked space for marching and close-order drill. By contrast, the South Carolina State Armory is a three-story brick commercial block style building built in 1905. By 1939, South Carolina had spent approximately $55,000 improving the Beaufort and Columbia. Despite these improvements, roughly 39 units were left renting private buildings as make-shift armories.
Space was not a new challenge for the SCARNG. Every Adjutant General from the Reconstruction period through the Depression lobbied the South Carolina General Assembly for funds for the construction of new armories; however, none were successful. In 1926, Governor Thomas G. McLeod appointed James C. Dozier as the Adjutant General. Shortly thereafter, General Dozier began petitioning for the construction of state-owned armories.
The timing was right for General Dozier as Congress appropriated $4.8 billion for civil works projects across the country. The same Depression that created the need for these New Deal appropriations also caused the number of National Guard recruits to rise. From 1933 to 1942, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA) embarked on the New Deal Armory Program which saw construction of 400 new armories across the southern and southwestern states.
Although funded under the same construction program, significant differences emerged between the WPA and PWA construction initiatives. The WPA focused on constructing small armories with unskilled labor, while the PWA used skilled labor to complete larger, cash-funded armories that were designed by professional architects. South Carolina alone received 46 armories from this New Deal construction program, almost 10% of the armories constructed under this initiative. By 1939, the WPA completed armories at Union, Timmonsville, Walterboro, Orangeburg, Easley, Spartanburg, Greenville, Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Jefferson, Columbia, Lockhart, Abbeville, Clinton, Greer, Lyman, Sumter, Laurens, Greenwood, Dillon, Florence, Lancaster, and Anderson. Additionally, the WPA was in the midst of constructing similar armories at Chester, Warrenville, Georgetown, Winnsboro, and Andrews. A 1939 article in The State highlights the significance of this building program:
This state-wide project, when completed, will be the greatest achievement that has been accomplished during the term of office of any adjutant general of South Carolina. It will give the state a network of handsome armories that will forever reflect upon the South Carolina National Guard”.
The “Final Armory Historic Context” developed in 2008 for the National Guard Bureau noted that 226 of the WPA and PWA armories remain today. The SCARNG retains one WPA era armory – the Olympia Armory. The status of the remainder of the SCARNG’s WPA era armories is mostly unknown with the exception of the other two listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The Fort Mill Armory in York County is an Art Deco Style building nearly identical to the Olympia armory. It was listed in the NRHP under Criterion A for because it “is associated with events critical to the development of Fort Mill.” Criterion C was also cited as the armory represents the only Art Deco style building in Fort Mill. The armory is no longer owned by the SCARNG and instead is used as a storage facility by the local school district.
The Hartsville Armory, Darlington County, is another WPA era building that has been listed on the NRHP. The divergence from the standardized plan that could emerge is evident in this armory. The two-story armory has 21 bays and is distinguished by a rat-toothed corbeled course and cast stone coping. The armory was listed in the NRHP in 1994 under Criterion C. At the time of listing, the SCARNG had ceased to own the armory and the Hartsville Recreation Department was using the facility as a community recreation center. As predicted in 1939, the New Deal Armory Construction Program significantly and permanently altered the SCARNG’s defensive landscape. Though by design small and insufficient for all training requirements, the WPA armories gave South Carolina units across the state their first permanent, physical home. As these units, their mission, and the military itself evolved, more space and ultimately larger armories became a necessity. This ultimately led the SCARNG to part ways with the majority of its WPA armories. Despite their ephemeral strategic utility to the SCARNG, these buildings represented a significant change in the ideology of armory construction. Since the New Deal armory construction boom, the SCARNG has continued to build permanent, department or agency owned structures. The goal so long pursued by centuries of SCARNG Adjutant Generals was finally realized and has since been maintained. This is the legacy of the New Deal era armory construction.