New Canaan Now & Then: The Armory


1930s Syd Greenberg photo of Main Street opposite East Avenue. The Armory is indicated by the arrow. Courtesy of New Canaan Museum & Historical Society

‘New Canaan Now & Then’ is sponsored by Brown Harris Stevens Realtors Joanne Santulli, Karen Ceraso, Bettina Hegel and Schuyler Morris.

The Armory or “Armory Hall” was built by Noah Hoyt, the postmaster, as a two story shirt factory in 1840. 

The factory was used to make uniforms for the Northern Army during the Civil War and, when the war ended, the space was used to store arms and other war materials. The Armory stood at the rear of the post office building on the west side of Main Street opposite East Avenue. A photograph by Syd Greenberg  in the 1930s shows the buildings in the vicinity of the armory, including the iconic Cody Drugstore. In the 1930s James Cody owned the armory hall building. His daughter, Mary Rose Cody, provided a brief historic accounting in an article dated November 28, 1939. 

According to Mary Cody, in 1867, the building was occupied by the Starr Military Academy. The school was operated by Nathaniel W. and Mary A. Starr and their son, Oliver, who was a veteran of the Civil War. The Starr family was from Yonkers, New York. Mrs. Starr also purchased the building at the north east corner of Main Street and Old Norwalk Road to use as part of the school. There is some question about whether she also owned 518 Main Street, which she reputedly built as a dormitory or barracks for the cadets. This building was the longtime home of actress Cecil Spooner, who starred in the first motion picture filmed in New Canaan, “Nell of the Circus.” 

The military academy was well regarded and old timers reported that they remember the cadets marching through town. The New Canaan Era dated Jan. 22, 1870 reported “so high was the standing of the school, the students were able to go from it to the Norwalk Military Academy or to Westpoint.” Unfortunately, Mrs. Starr died suddenly of consumption in 1868 and her husband and son “skipped town” leaving a trail of debt. In 1869 local merchants filed attachments for their accounts including the brand new New Canaan Railroad which was left with a bill of $575.80. The debt was presumably for railroad fare for the cadets.

After the closure of the academy, the town used the upper floor as a school to accommodate the overflow of students at the Center School. On January 22, 1887 the property was sold to Samuel Whitney and Company. The Young Men’s Club held meetings on the lower level and a celebrated local quartet composed of Ira Woundy, Ted Benedict, Alex McKendrick, and Carl Raymond rehearsed there. The building became home to many local enterprises, including the shoe manufacturers Bliss, Fairty & Bishop and a print shop owned by Leonard Panella. The Armory Reading Room occupied the second floor of the armory, and it was in this room that the First National bank of New Canaan was organized on February 27, 1865.

During World War I the New Canaan Home Guards used the large space for military drills and the upper floors were used to store arms. Resident Frank Leslie, a member of the Home Guards, referred to the Armory as the “home” of the guards. The commanders were C.G. Morrow, Floyd Noble, and Ed Fairty. Mr. Leslie also recalled that when the New Canaan Cadets were in existence the building was referred to as the “Gunnery”. The New Canaan Cadets were organized around 1901 by Ed Burdette, who had retired from service after the Spanish American War. The New Canaan Cadets operated for approximately 10 years. 

The Armory building was torn down some time in the 1940s.

2 thoughts on “New Canaan Now & Then: The Armory

  1. Absolutely LOVE these historical articles! Thank you! If someone has been able to identify the context vis a vis current day location (eg store names) would they please post here? Thank you!!

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