National Guard Armory
d n english
Jackson,Tennessee’s National Guard Armory was the first built in Tennessee. It was located at the corner of Institute and Chester.
This area was originally owned by Dr. Butler in 1820’s and used as a racetrack. The land was donated and became the location of the Memphis Conference Female Institution until 1924.
According to the records I found the land was purchased from the Beare Company in 1929 for $23;974.00 to build the Armory. The original bid for construction of the building was
$91,000.00 with all the modifications the building end cost by the time of completion in 1932 was $280,000.00.
The Armory housed 4 units of the Tennessee National Guard and provided a place for many community functions.
Now to the story and memories of MrsJane Elizabeth Harris Parham, (1918-2009)
One afternoon I was visiting with Miss Jane she was telling me about growing up in Jackson. The conversation got around to her favorite music and her love for dancing.
“ oh dear, let me tell you about the music at the Armory .”
She started telling me about all the bands that came to the Armory .
“ People would come from all over West Tennessee Kentucky, and Mississippi to attend the dances. The main floor was for the Band and the dancers . There would be some tables but mostly chairs around the wall. Now in the balcony were the watchers. In other words there would be parents, siblings and music lovers keeping an eye on the dancers and enjoying the music. Us girls would dress up in our favorite dresses and dancing shoes. I danced to the Bob Crosby Band, the Buddy Rogers Band with his “girl singer” Marylin Maxwell, then there was the Ozzie and Harriet Nelson Band just to name a few of the bands” she said. I lost her there for a minute as she just sat there and smiled.
When she came out of her memory moment she told me this story.
It was in the 1930’s she could not remember the band but she remembered the dress. She told me it was a beautiful pink silk dress with a net overskirt , cap sleeves and backless to just above the waist. She added that of course her shoes were the same color as her dress.
“It was a beautiful dress the net skirt was attached to the dress right where my dance partner would put his hand. Well the night was hot and there were a lot of people dancing it was hotter inside than out. The dancing started at 9PM and ended around 2AM . Half way through the dance I felt the overskirt start pulling away from the dress. By the end of the night my net skirt had pulled all the way off . Dancers had stepped all over it I managed to rescue some of it. Needless to say I went home with what was left of my skirt over my arm. My poor net skirt but it was a great dance.”
In the 1940’s she told me she got to hear Perry Como with the Marvel Maxwell, the Ben Polack band with Harry James.
“I also saw Louis Armstrong,Cab Calloway, Clyde McCoy just to name a few performances I attended. Now one I did not attend was when Sally Rand the famous fan dancer was in town but I was told it was a sell out. Now on a different visit I remember in the 1950’s I took my son to the Armory to see Gene Autry he had a grand time.” She said
Miss Jane told me there were so many events held at the Armory. The many exhibits, the wrestling matches and so much more .
Then on April 29th 1965 the fire alarm sounded the Armory was on fire.
One of my favorite story from Harbert Alexander— He told me he was sitting at his desk at the bank. Like everyone else he left to go see the fire. Half way to the Armory he remembered there were live rounds stored there. “So I just turned around and went back to my desk.” He said
The National Guard Armory was destroyed but the memories that were made at this great building are still around. Many remember , go back in time and smile.