92 Waverly Street, Yonkers
Constructed in 1886, the Waverly Street Armory was the first armory in Yonkers. With pointed turrets on each corner and iron gates, the massive building is reminiscent of a castle, and appears designed to intimidate. This fortress-like structure housed the Fourth Separate Company, a militia composed of local citizens and led by Civil War veterans. Previously, the militia had rented a space in another building, a common practice at the time. Partially thanks to the lobbying efforts of Yonkers Supervisor Read, the City granted the company $23,000 to construct a building of its own.
Built to house local militias, armories had long existed in the United States in some form. Unlike other armed forces, these militias were reserve groups composed of civilians. Their main job was to preserve public order, protecting the interests of the state during times of civil unrest.
Early militias arose primarily out of the fear of indigenous people attacking new settlers. However, during the second half of the 19th century, the justification behind armories and militias began to change. The early decades of the Industrial Revolution in the United States saw significant labor unrest. As a result, the U.S. ruling class increasingly viewed workers as a threat.
Yonkers, a heavily industrialized city, was no exception to this, as there was a great deal of sentiment in favor of labor unions among the working class. A key manifestation of worker agitation around the time of the armory’s construction was a huge strike at the Alexander Mills Carpet Works in 1885. Involving 3000 employees, the strike resulted in a significant win for the workers.
In the midst of these strides for workers rights, the Waverly Street Armory housed weapons and, at times, troops, providing a military presence within the downtown area. These troops were often mobilized to surrounding areas during episodes of labor unrest.
One such time was in April of 1900, when workers, demanding better working conditions and higher wages, went on strike during the construction of New Croton Dam, part of the New York City public water system. The Fourth Separate Company was one of several local militias sent in by Governor Roosevelt to intimidate strikers. While no shots were fired, the presence of troops effectively quelled the work stoppage.
Waverly Street Armory was vacated in 1918 after the North Broadway Armory (at North Broadway and Quincy Place) was built. This was also a time when the US government was beginning to see foreign countries as more of a threat than local uprisings, and thus the perceived need for elaborate armories for the purpose of urban defense was decreasing.
The armory building became a Polish community center in 1933; its massive drill shed made it ideal for large gatherings. Ironically, after the United Textile Workers Union succeeded in unionizing the Alexander Smith and Sons Carpet Mills in 1938, the union held a rally in the building’s auditorium.
In recent years, the space has hosted a mayoral inauguration and housed a Polish catering business. In 2014, a private entity purchased the armory; it now serves as a wedding venue called Castle Royale. The name pays homage to the building’s first life as a fortress, while obscuring its role in the militarized policing of workers of the turn of the century.
From the Yonkers (Metro North) train station, a 0.6-mile (15-minute) walk.
To learn more:
Robert M. Fogelson, America’s Armories: Architecture, Society, and Public Order, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1989.
“Strike at Croton Dam,” The New York Times, October 2, 1901.
Susan Levine,. “‘Honor Each Noble Maid’: Women Workers and the Yonkers Carpet Weavers’ Strike of 1885.” New York History, Vol. 62, No. 2, 1981: 153–176.
Marilyn E. Weigold, Yonkers in the Twentieth Century. Albany: SUNY Press, Excelsior Editions, 2016.