Cleveland Grays Armory Museum

Who wouldn’t love working in a castle? I certainly did! This past semester I spent two days a week at Grays Armory, the most castle-like building I’ve ever seen. I enjoyed my internship at the Cleveland Grays Armory Museum immensely. For my internship project, I researched the architectural history of the Armory building. And what an interesting building it is! In addition, I also gave tours of the building when the Museum was open.

The massive Cleveland Grays Armory is located on the corner of Bolivar Road and Prospect Avenue in the heart of Cleveland. It’s hard to miss it—the Armory’s brick and sandstone facade certainly stands out among the tall skyscrapers and large sports venues of Downtown Cleveland. The Armory was built in 1893 to house the Cleveland Grays. Over the years, the Cleveland Grays have transitioned from an independent militia to a historical organization. Their mission, as stated by their website, is to “to preserve their historic Armory Museum, advance the military heritage of Greater Cleveland through public awareness and education programs, and support the men and women of our armed forces.”

A little background on the Cleveland Grays might help explain what I did for them this past semester. The Grays were formed in 1837 as an independent militia in order to augment what little police presence the city had at the time. In addition, there was unrest along the border due to revolutionary activity in Canada. The Grays were prepared to defend America’s northern border in case any  militant forces spilled into American territory. America’s northern border never had to be defended, but the Grays went on to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War. They also served as a unit in the Spanish-American War, the Mexican Border Campaign, and the First World War. As the Grays transitioned from a militia to a social club to a historical organization, they have participated in numerous parades and patriotic celebrations over the years.

This fall I worked as a docent at Grays Armory, helped organize the Grays’ guest speaker series for October, and researched and presented the architectural history of the Armory. Each aspect of my work over the course of the semester gave my invaluable experience in the field of public history.

In order to prepare for my internship, I attended a docent training at Grays Armory late in the summer. I spent the day learning the detailed history of the Cleveland Grays, and some of the history of the building. While I have been on numerous tour of historical location in my lifetime, I had never lead a historical tour before. It was very informative to see what goes on “behind the scenes.” In addition to learning about the organization, I learned about the safety procedures and professional standards all docents needed to follow. The Armory is open for tours the first Wednesday of every month, and I was fortunate to be able to give a multiple tours during my semester with the Cleveland Grays. It was a wonderful experience. I greatly enjoyed getting to talk with people about what got them interested in touring the Armory and having the chance to share the history of the Cleveland Grays with them.

Additionally, I assisted in organizing the October speaker of the Cleveland Grays’ Unwritten History speaker series. United States Marshal Peter Elliott, the longest serving Marshal in the history of northern Ohio, spoke to the Grays and guests from the public. Hearing about his career and the work of the United States Marshals Service was very enlightening. In order to help the event run smoothly, I wrote an ad for the event for local publications. I also contacted the caterer to order dinner for those in attendance and made sure volunteers were on hand to help check in the Grays and their guests. The night of the event, I even had the opportunity to introduce Marshal Elliot to the audience.

The largest portion of my time with the Cleveland Grays was spent creating an Architectural Tour of the Armory. The Grays wanted a specialized tour to offer in addition to their all-inclusive one, and I’m glad I was able to help them. For this project, I used primary sources from the Grays’ archive along with newspaper articles and other pertinent information from a variety of locations. I was even able to go to another amazing Downtown building, the Public Library, to do research. Becoming an expert on the architecture of the Armory gave me a deeper appreciation for the building. I also began to feel a deeper connection to the memory of the long-gone Grays who had spent time there since 1893. Once I gathered all the information I needed, I presented my findings in a PowerPoint to the Grays’ Museum Committee. I used their suggestions to finalize the presentation. It was then displayed during the Cleveland Grays’ 180th Anniversary celebration. I then created cards that future docents can use to give the tour I developed.

My time with the Cleveland Grays was both fun and educational. I appreciated the wide variety of tasks I was able to accomplish because I know that all the skill I developed will help me later in life, regardless of what career I pursue. Being a docent allowed me to gain experience sharing history with the public. Learning how to become a docent, along with the work I did to help plan the Unwritten History event, gave me a better appreciation of what it means to work in a museum setting. While I am familiar with historical research, the chance to present my findings in a more visual way with the Architectural Tour and PowerPoint gave me experience compiling and presenting my research in a different format for a non-academic audience. In addition, I gained wonderful mentors and many happy memories that I look back on fondly.

Here I am in the functional antique shooting range in the basement of the Armory. The range measures 60 feet long and ends in a 3/4 inch steel plate.
This photo shows the Cleveland Grays’ uniform, complete with the distincitve “shako” hat. A cannon captured in the Civil War and now in the posession of the Grays is also visible.
The Pioneer Room, on the second floor of the Armory, was reserved for Grays who were Civil War veterans (called Pioneers). Other Grays could only enter the room when invited in by a Pioneer, and even then they were not permitted to sit down. (Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Grays)
The Club Room is visible in the foreground of this picture. The Toasting Room, where the Grays’ annual New Year’s Day toast occurs, is visible in the background.
The first performance of the Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland’s first car show were both hosted in Grays Armory’s Drill Hall.