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Woolsey formally announced as superintendent of Armory

Date: 5/29/2012

May 28, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — James Woolsey, the new superintendent of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, doesn't want the armory museum to be known as an "undiscovered treasure," but rather "a discovered treasure."

Although on the job since March, Woolsey was formally introduced to the public at a news conference and reception at the Armory museum on May 24. He assumes the position after serving as the director of interpretation and visitor services for the American Battle Monuments Commission in Paris, France, where he was responsible for 24 American military cemeteries and 25 monuments in France, Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, Tunisia, Philippines, Mexico, Italy and Luxembourg.

Although it is quite a transition from Paris to Springfield, the California native said it was a bit of a homecoming for his wife, whose great grandfather worked at the Armory from 1880 to 1910.

Woolsey explained that the Armory site has "always been a different kind of a park — a partnership."

The Springfield Armory was first an arsenal in 1777 stockpiling American weapons during the Revolutionary War. It was commissioned as one of two federal armories in 1794, making guns for the American military. The Armory did so until 1968, when it was closed.

Woolsey noted the Springfield rifle, the M1, was given the credit for helping to win World War II by Gen. George Patton.

Speaking at the event, Congressman Richard Neal alluded to the complex negotiations between state, Springfield Technical Community College officials and National Park Service representatives in 1978 to make the only National Park site in Western Massachusetts a reality.

"It was anything but an easy procedure," Neal recalled. He was a mayoral aide at the time to Mayor William Sullivan.

Woolsey noted that since the opening of the site in 1978 the number of visitors have ranged between 17,000 and 20,000 annually. Attendance at other National Park sites has "mushroomed" since the 1970s and recent statistics show that currently 10 million visitors come the National Parks and bring with them an economic impact of $440 million.

He wants to take steps to increase attendance at the Armory. He noted the museum staff is archiving papers and documents left by the Armory staff so they can be accessible to scholars. He is also working to improve the drainage infrastructure of the site, which he said is 150 years old.

Woolsey would like to restore and re-open the Byers Street entrance to the site and is intending to find a new use and restore the commanding officer's quarters, which are next to the museum. He said another goal is to re-design the landscaping to bring it closer to how it looked when the Armory was in operation.

He intends to re-work the exhibits, some of which date back to the opening of the museum in 1978, using current technology. He noted how other parks, such as Gettysburg, have a phone application that acts as a guide for visitors. Signage directing visitors to the museum is also lacking, he said.

He would also like to re-design the Armory's website, so the hundreds of weapons it has in its collections, but are not on display, can be accessible to scholars and gun enthusiasts.

Speaking of his new assignment, Woolsey said, "Springfield seemed like a great opportunity."

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