Exploring Picatinny's History in Buildings and Landscapes

The Arsenal's Historic Districts

  • Administrative and research area collage
  • Ordnance area collage
  • Former rocket test area collage
  • NARTS area collage

Overview

Picatinny Arsenal began as the War Department’s powder depot in 1880 and evolved into one of the Army’s most important armaments research and development centers.  The post has many historic buildings – some dating to its earliest years, some built following an explosion that devastated much of the base in 1926, and some from the World War II and Cold War eras.  Many of these buildings are included within Picatinny’s four official Historic Districts. These Districts, described in the sections of this web site, are recognized as significant not just for the buildings themselves, but because of the work that took place within them.  Each Historic District provides a unique way to look back at Picatinny’s role in the development and production of weaponry for the US armed forces, the national and global contexts within which certain types of weaponry were developed and produced, the challenges met in the process of bringing designs into production, and the men and women who worked here – from scientists, researchers and technicians, to wartime ordnance workers, to base support staff.

Picatinny Historic Monument Sign

Often, over time, buildings become obsolete and fall into disrepair, and some of the buildings within the Historic Districts have had to be demolished. In some cases, buildings were abandoned because ongoing research and development work required construction of new, modern facilities to replace the old ones. Small arms testing and pyrotechnics are examples. In other cases, the functions structures were built for – such as rocket testing – are no longer part of Picatinny's mission. Because the Historic Districts are protected by the National Historic Preservation Act, the structures within them must be studied and recorded prior to demolition. In compliance with Federal law and a Programmatic Agreement signed by Picatinny Arsenal, the US Advisory Council for Historic Preservation, and the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, this web site has been created as a means to provide a historic context in which to understand these structures and to record them for posterity.

Each Historic District page has several tabs at the bottom containing history highlights. There is also a map and a link to an inventory of all historic buildings in the district, with a photograph of each. For each building scheduled for demolition, there is a link to more information, including additional photographs and original plan drawings. Audio clips from interviews with men and women who worked in each district can be found on the history tabs or on tabs for individual buildings.

Picatinny Historic Districts Overview Map

(click for zoomable image of Picatinny showing locations of historic districts)

A note on building numbers: Picatinny Arsenal today is divided into areas with distinct number series, and the structures within the areas are numbered sequentially. Thus, the "1500 Area" has buildings numbered 1501, 1502, etc. For those who work on the post, the areas usually are referred to by their numbers. In some cases, a Historic District includes all of the buildings in a numbered area, but in others it is only a portion of an area.

Picatinny Timeline:

  • 1880-1902 - Army Powder Depot - storage phase
  • 1907 - Army's first smokeless powder plant established at Picatinny
  • 1907 through WW II - manufacturing phase, beginning of research and development work
  • 1926 - explosion at adjacent Naval Ammunition Depot destroys much of Picatinny
  • 1927-1930s – rebuilding of Picatinny, with WPA contribution
  • WW II –expansion of administration, research, and production, with 18,000 employees
  • 1946 - rocket engine testing begins at the Naval Aeronautical Rocket Laboratory (former Naval Ammunition Depot)
  • 1946 through 1970s - Cold War Era weapons and ammunition development
  • 1977 – Armament Research and Development Command established at Picatinny. The lead organization on Picatinny is now the U.S.Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC).