History departs historic arsenal
December 19, 2013
- Arsenal museum activity closes as part of a major reorganizing within Army Center of Military History
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Dec. 19, 2013) -- Robert Pfeil looked out his office this week into the bowels of the arsenal's museum, something that he has done thousands of times since he became one of the museum's curators in 2000, and thought about the long-term viability of that activity, as well as that of his career.
Although the museum activity has been officially part of the arsenal since 1987, the arsenal has been a warehouse of battlefield artifacts for the U.S. Army since the War of 1812. Although Pfeil's lineage doesn't go as far back, he has been a part of the arsenal since 1973.
Now, both may be near the end of their storied careers.
Since 2008, Pfeil has orchestrated nearly $1 million in improvements to the museum while enhancing the museum's community outreach efforts to tell the arsenal story. But as important as the museum has been to the arsenal in telling its story to internal and external audiences for 26 years, the museum closed on Oct. 1, 2013.
The closure was due to a major museum reorganization that is being conducted by the Army's Center of Military History. It is the arsenal's leadership understanding the museum will reopen in 2015 or 2016 as a "gallery" or similar type of museum activity.
For those who have visited the museum they may remember that as they entered the foyer they were met by a beautiful 1700s-era cannon. Now gone.
Just off of the foyer, was the exhibit hall where one may find such things as Civil War-era mortars to tubes manufactured in the late 1980s. They are gone, too.
Walking through the exhibit hall to the back two-thirds of the museum, one was once struck by the cannon, mortar, and artillery exhibits that ranged from the Revolutionary War to the Gulf War. In this back area was also the recreation of a late 19th century machine shop that was hand-built by one of the museum volunteers, Bob Rawls. Nearly all are gone with the exception of the machine shop, bunker buster bomb, and an 8-inch howitzer tube.
What one would find today is a shell of a cast iron building that was constructed at the arsenal in 1859. If only the walls could talk, but they can't. But, Pfeil can.
"When I now look out into the empty hallways and exhibit floors I feel heartbroken," Pfeil said. "I have seen so much growth of the museum since I arrived in 2000 that it pains me to see it all taken apart in about 45 days."
Pfeil said he is cautiously optimistic that the museum activity will reopen as a gallery in another year or two.
"Maybe now is the time for me to retire," Pfeil said. "A piece of me died when the doors closed and I'm not sure I should wait around for two years on just my hope that this magnificent building will reopen its doors."
The Center of Military History began removing the artifacts the last week of October and should complete its shipping by the end of December. Some of the artifacts are going to such places as Fort Drum, N.Y., Fort Belvoir, Va., Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Benning, Ga.
The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army-owned and -operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 200th year of continuous service to the nation on July 14, 2013.
Today's Arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $90 million.