Weapons of War from Watervliet
With the purchase of 12 acres of land in 1813 in Gibbonsville (Watervliet), the Federal government created the Watervliet Arsenal to supply ammunition, harnesses and gun carriages to troops fighting the British on the western and northern frontiers of New York State. It is the nation's oldest arsenal. The Erie Canal, finished in 1825, ran through the Arsenal enclosure and provided water power for the gun shops and also convenient transportation, making the property valuable to the War Department.
Over the years, more land was acquired and new buildings constructed, including the East Powder Magazine, built in 1828, with walls of stone four feet thick. This is the oldest building in the Arsenal compound.
The Commander's residence known as Quarters One was built in 1842 and has been continuously occupied by the Commanders and the Arsenal. Stephen Vincent Benét (1898-1943), distinguished American poet and author, wrote the greater part of his first published novel "The Beginnings of Wisdom", while residing here when his father, Colonel J. Walker Benét, was Arsenal Commander from 1919-1921. The house is a modified Greek Revival style with walls of gray trimmed Canajoharie limestone of two foot thickness. The front entrance portico is flanked by Doric columns and an entablature above, with flat columns on each corner of the house. The porches were a later addition.
Until the 19th century, building materials had always been worked by hand. The potential of using iron in architectural structures began to be realized by the 1850's, and the fabrication of building components in cast iron was a revolution in construction techniques. The speed of construction and its lower cost compared to stone contributed to its adoption. The Iron Building was erected in 1859 to neet the need for a fireproof storage area at the Arsenal. The building was cast in sections by the Badger Architectural Iron Works, New York City, and was shipped by barge up the Hudson and assembled on its present site. It is an early example of prefabricated construction that is still used in part of its original capacity as a storehouse. All the principal structural elements, bearing walls, columns and beams, and all exterior surfaces except the roof and of cast iron. The roof trusses are wrought iron, as are the iterior stairways. This sturdy building has classical architectural details, transferred from stone to cast iron.
During the Civil War, the Watervliet Arsenal was kept in round-the-clock production to meet the demands for ordinance supplies, including gun carriages, cartridge boxes and accoutrements for cavalry horses. After the War, the Arsenal became a storage depot, until it was selected by the Army in 1887 for conversion to cannon production. With the advent of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Watervliet Arsenal was able to produce the nation's first 16-inch gun.
Time and again the Arsenal has faced lean years of inactivity and rumors of closing. There seems to be little likelihood of this at present, as it plays a major role in research and development of cannon, mortars and recoilless rifles, to complement its manufacturing mission. It has been, since its inception, important to the economic activity of Albany County.