& Tom McEvoy
In 1747, Benjamin Franklin formed the Associated Regiment of the Foot (the “Associators”) for the protection of settlers as they moved west from Philadelphia into what was thought to be hostile Indian territory. Men from the West Chester area joined the “Associators” in what would eventually become today’s BRAVO Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Over the period of time from then until now this, and all the previous National Guard units, have served in every armed conflict the Country has been engaged in.
In the early 1900’s a young graduate from Bucknell University, John C. Groff, came to West Chester to practice law. Recognizing his duty to America, Groff joined the Army and served in both the Mexican Border Campaign and World War I. Upon returning to West Chester after his WW1 service he was instrumental in the 1916 construction of the Armory on North High Street. The Armory was designed by Philadelphia architect Philip C. Johnson, who designed a number of armories in SE Pennsylvania. It was named the Major John C. Groff Memorial Armory shortly after his death in 1928.
In addition to providing quarters for the National Guard units, the facility has played an important role in the life of the West Chester community. This was anticipated when the Armory was originally built as evidenced by an article in the April 20th, 1916 local paper which wrote “Besides furnishing quarters for the local military organization, the armory will be rented for dances, conventions, suppers, fairs, etc.” In the 1940’s it was the site of the first Chester County Historical Society Antiques shows and it routinely hosted Saturday night dances, including one featuring the band of Spike Jones, Jr. Other organizations using the Armory included the Health & Welfare Council, Goodwill Industries, Kiwanis Clubs and the Civil Air Patrol.
In May of 2012, the Guard broke ground on a new facility in northeast Chester County and the historic Armory was declared excess and put up for sale. After the purchase of the Armory in December, 2015 by the Uptown!BravoTheatre, LLC, the roughly year-long construction project to rehabilitate the Armory into the Uptown!Knauer Performing Arts Center began in May 2016.