The National Guard Armory on Highway 78 in Leeds stood as a center of community activity for many years since 1953. Last week the Armory came down as a part of its planned demolition.
The heavy equipment operators took little time to dismantle the building but a wrecking crew can never destroy some things. People around the community hold fond memories of events the building hosted throughout the years it stood.
The 167th Infantry Regiment of the Alabama National Guard was stationed in Leeds beginning on February 27, 1839. The unit saw activity across six wars. The Seminole War, the Mexican War, the Civil War and both World Wars and Korea called upon the Leeds units to bear arms and defend the cause they stood for in battle. In 1917, the 31st Infantry Division, the “Dixie” Division was organized and saw action in WWI and WWII.
In 1953, Leeds High School teacher and coach Captain Robert E. Cummins was commanding officer of the 167th Infantry Division with its headquarters in Leeds. It was home to the 1151st Engineering Detachment as well. The 1151st left Leeds in August 1975 to move to Anniston. In their absence the 167th Combat Support Mechanized Unit took their place bringing vehicles and maneuvers back to Leeds.
In more recent years, it served as home to a Sea Cadet Corp as well. Beyond the military service the National Guard armory once teemed with activities for the community at large.
“My father worked as captain for the Leeds Fire Department when it was still all volunteers,” said Van Minor. “As a kid I remember fund raising events they sponsored at the Armory. I’ve seen donkey basketball, greased pig chases and even a greased pole climb. It was great family fun for everyone around here.”
The Armory served the area in many other ways as well. During large revivals it housed community services for worshippers.
“My step-father was in the National Guard. I remember going there with him often when I was a little boy,” stated Amos Armstrong. “I also remember a lot of church functions and revivals held there.”
In June of 1972, the Armory was the site of a dinner honoring Governor George C. Wallace. Plates were $10 each and reservations had to be made to accommodate all the diners. Ray D. Bass was keynote speaker for the event organized by the local members of the Wallace campaign.
The building served as the voting site for many Leeds residents for years. Citizens honored both their military and their right to vote under the Armory’s roof.
Beyond its service to the area as a place to raise money, hold civic functions and exercise the freedom to worship, the Armory was a site for the irreplaceable memories of innocent childhood to blossom.
“It was a piece of Leeds history,” said Armstrong. “The Armory was a piece of my childhood.”
The Armory served to entertain the young people of Leeds at times as well.
“When I was young we had no place for recreation in town,” said Alice Patterson Irwin. “The Armory was used as our skating rink.”
Families utilized the space as well.
“We had my grandfather’s 100th birthday party in the Armory,” said Glenda Smith of the Leeds News. “I also remember square dances that were held at the Armory when I was a little girl.”
The Armory was a common space the community enjoyed and utilized. It gave the students of LHS a safe place to congregate in preparation for homecoming.
“My first year at Leeds High School, we held our float party there,” said Stephani Payne an upcoming senior at LHS. “We had fun and our floats were safe until the work began again the next evening.”
The factors that led to the demolition of the Armory and the debate laid aside, the old Armory was a sentimental place that will live on in the memories of the residents here long after the site has been cleared of its rubble and debris.