Springfield Armory National Historic Site Springfield, Mass. Visited: April 1, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 11 of 353 NPS Website
WHAT IS IT? The United States’ first armory. The Site’s museum contains the second largest collection of firearms in the world.
BEAUTY (3/10) Atop a hill, near downtown, the Armory is one of four brick warehouse buildings that make up the Springfield Quadrangle. The buildings are imposing but not particularly beautiful.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (7/10) Nearly all of the firearms used in the North during the Revolutionary War were produced and designed here. The Armory’s output was significant in our country’s weapon production all the way through World War I. Designed and produced here was, among others, the Springfield ’03, the M-1 and the M-14. Private firearms manufacturers like Remington and Smith and Wesson were started by former Armory workers.
The Armory is also a fine example of the beginning of the modern Industrial Revolution. The idea of interchangeable parts began here. A gun-making lathe, designed and on display here, was later modified and shrunken for use in a mall kiosk near you to make keys.
CROWDS (5/10) Few people here. Two children accompanied by the father were mesmerized by video exhibits on how various rifles work.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5) Directions clear from Interstate 91. Lots of construction in downtown Springfield makes it a little difficult. Parking is easy. The museum is only one floor and a ramp to the entrance makes it easily accessible. Just be sure to check when the museum is open. At present it is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9-5.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5) A wonderfully eclectic and attention-grabbing selection of books regarding the history of firearms. There was even a children’s section. Most notably for the kids was The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss, a Springfield, Mass. native. The book is an allegorical tale on the futility and insanity of building more and more weapons.
COSTS (4/5) Free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5) The Rangers were not particularly helpful. Thankfully, the quality of the exhibits and self-guided tour makes them almost obsolete. If we had had advanced knowledge of guns and wanted in-depth questions answered we would have been disappointed at the Rangers’ elusiveness.
TOURS/CLASSES (7/10) There are no Ranger guided tours in the first floor of the Armory. The museum is fully self-guided. That being said, we have not seen a better self-guided tour than the one provided at the Armory. Despite our relative lack of interest in the museum’s focus, guns, the museum panels were so informative and so interesting that we could not help but be both intellectually curious and fascinated. The IKEA-like winding path through the museum was well thought out and never led us astray. The curator has done a wonderful job. What is it, anyway, with great museum design and Springfield, Massachusetts?
The 18-minute video was good, but since the theater in under repair, the video is shown next to the Ranger station. As a result, phone calls, Ranger conversation and visitor questions all make concentration on the movie quite difficult.
FUN (6/10) It is hard for us to have fun when surrounded by so many guns. Still, we were so impressed by the museum design and lessons on industrial manufacturing that we did have fun.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (5/10) If you are a gun enthusiast, you should find your way to the Springfield Armory. It is the second largest collection of firearms in the world, next to a museum in Leeds, England. In addition, private tours of the 2nd Floor (the majority of the collection) are available.
There is a strong desire here to educate. We were lucky enough to listen in on the curator explaining an unmarked exhibit to a web designer. He wanted to figure out a way to teach the piece’s history interactively. We learned that the two-story wood casing displaying 800 original and virgin rifles stacked upright was not just a neat contraption. It was the only remaining example of the way all guns were stored until the late 19th century when the U.S. Army decided the most efficient way to store guns was in boxes.
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