PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. (April 25, 2013) -- As motorists entering Picatinny Arsenal drive through the installation's iconic Cannon Gate, the historic fixture may have become so familiar that it mentally blends into the background, much like one of the many trees lining the roadway.
To Irene Allen of Richmond, Va., however, the gate and its masonry wall hold a deep significance.
The 90-year-old Virginia resident recently fulfilled a life-time wish by visiting Picatinny and viewing the Cannon Gate and masonry wall that her grandfather helped build more than a century ago.
Depot mason Thomas Robinson, Allen's grandfather, helped lay the stonework and set the cannons in their stones, which was completed in August 1884. Robinson earned $2.75 per day for his work.
The Cannon Gate has four 8-inch Columbia cannons, vintage 1855, as gateposts with cannon balls on top of each post and the Ordnance seal in the center of both doors. Cornell Iron Works of New York City provided the iron gate work in 1885 for $475.
On her first visit to Picatinny, Allen was accompanied by members of her family, including two of her daughters, grandchildren, a great-grandchild and a cousin.
Allen said that she came back "for the children," so that they could witness their family's historical contributions to the installation.
"I wanted a picture of her, my daughter Kari, and my granddaughter at the gate for a four-generation picture," said Ellen Holt, Allen's daughter.
"One day little Kathryn may bring her children or grandchildren to the Cannon Gate to see her great-great-great grandfather's work. It's important to know at least some of your family history and to know that their relative sold his land to the Army to increase the size of the Arsenal and that he helped build history in New Jersey."
On June 28, 1918, Picatinny paid Robinson and his wife Elizabeth $7,500 for a 56-acre farm on Picatinny's eastern border. The house is no longer standing, but a stream called "Robinson's Run" still flows through the former Robinson acreage.
"Mom, over the years, had talked about her grandfather, the Arsenal and the Cannon Gate, so one day I decided to look it up for pictures and information, then I found Mr. Owens' (Picatinny historian Patrick Owens) e-mail address a few years back and wrote to him," Holt said.
"That's when he started looking into my great-grandfather Robinson's working there and found the actual records that verified my mother's memories," Holt continued.
"She was about 15 when he died and she remembered him pretty well."
Of Robinson's grandchildren, Allen and her 93-year-old sister, Katherine Picataggio, are the only two remaining.
Holt said that her mother also remembers that her grandfather completed masonry work at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, N.Y., and the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Robinson died in 1937 at the age of 79.
His family has carried on a military legacy. Allen's grandson, Capt. Michael Mandell is an Air Force officer.
Her granddaughter, Sara Mandell is presently a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Reserves. After graduating next month from the Boston University Dental School, she will go on active duty as a captain.
Allen's uncle, Thomas Robinson, Jr., retired after 35 years at the Arsenal. Allen has a cousin, Thomas Barrass, whose father Ernest Barrass also worked at the Arsenal for more than 30 years as a labor foreman.