Print this Post

Cleveland Grays Armory – An iconic building that goes back to the days of private militia companies

April 2020

The Grays Armory is an iconic and historic building; one of the oldest buildings in downtown Cleveland that dates back to the days of volunteer private military companies.

The Cleveland Grays were formed in August 1837 to provide assistance to civil authorities and for the defence of the city, in light of the Canadian Rebellions of 1837.

Private military companies were common at the time because state politicians frequently underfunded and neglected government militia, or constitutional militia, companies.

Originally called The Cleveland City Guards, they changed their name the following year due to their gray coloured uniforms, complete with tall black bearskin head-dress. The unit motto is Semper Paratus; Latin for “always ready.”

The Grays even saw active service during the Civil War and the Spanish–American War.

During the Civil War, the Grays were the first company to volunteer for active service on 14 April 1861. The Grays served as Company E, 1st Ohio Volunteer Infantry; as a part of the 84th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and by 1863, as Company A, 150th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. While attached to these regiments, the Cleveland Grays took part in the First Battle of Bull Run, the defence of Washington, D.C. and the Confederate’s Valley Campaigns.

While the Grays Armory is last and best known armoury that housed the Cleveland Grays, it was actually their fifth home.

The original Grays’ armoury was located on the fourth floor of the newly-built Mechanics Block at the corner of Ontario Street and Prospect Street.

They moved to their second armoury in 1870, taking over a former fire hall on Frankfort Street.

On 20 March 1880, the Grays moved into the new City Armory on Long Street, along with the 5th Regiment, Ohio National Guard, until the armoury was destroyed by a fire on 8 December 1892. Equipment and guns belonging to the Grays were also destroyed.

The unit was able to recover very quickly and funds were soon amassed for the purpose of building a new armory. Until construction was completed in 1893, the company found a temporary home at the Gatling Gun Battery Armory on Sibley Street.

The current armory is an urban fortress, built in the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival-style. The main portion was four-stories high, along with a five-story tower in the northeast corner. The main entrance has an arch atop polished granite columns, with a black iron drop-gate and a gothic barrier between the front steps and the large solid-oak doors. The windows on the first floor have pointed iron rods bolted to the red brick walls.

The armory featured a 140 foot shooting range in the basement, an equipment room with lockers and a place for arms, a parade square, a billiard room, and a banquet hall.

While the Cleveland Grays had a proud history of service, the beginning of the end came with the dawn of the 20th century.

Military reforms in the early 1900s led to the introduction of the Militia Act of 1903. Further legislative reforms spelled the end of the official participation of private military companies with government military forces.

Members of the Cleveland Grays were permitted to serve with the Ohio National Guard (ONG) during the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916-17, also known as the Pancho Villa Expedition, an operation against Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa. However, they were not considered members of the Grays on attachment. They were no different than any other private citizen who volunteered.

It was the same stipulation when these Grays members were released from the ONG to serve in World War I, the last time members of the Grays served en masse, although individual members have served in later wars and conflicts.

After World War I, the Cleveland Grays were maintained as a social group and historical society, devoted to the promotion of patriotism and the preservation of the military heritage of Greater Cleveland. The Grays also act as an educational and philanthropic group.

The armory itself was frequently used for community events. As it was one of the largest auditoriums at the time, orchestras and opera companies frequently gave performances within its walls. The Cleveland Orchestra played their very first concert series at the armory in 1918.

Today, the Cleveland Gray’s Armory Museum, which houses various artifacts from the history of the unit, allows visitors to learn about the history and accomplishments of the Grays, all while taking in the beauty and majesty of the armory.

The Grays Armory can also be rented for special events such as private parties, weddings and receptions.

A 3 manual 17 rank pipe organ, originally from the Warner Theater in Erie, Pennsylvania, was installed in July 1970. The Western Reserve Theater Organ Society in Cleveland organizes several concerts each year utilizing the organ.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grays_Armory, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancho_Villa_Expedition, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/298, http://graysarmory.com.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/cleveland-grays-armory-an-iconic-building-that-goes-back-to-the-days-of-private-militia-companies/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>