Cannon Gates

Exploring Picatinny's History in Buildings and Landscapes

The Arsenal's Historic Districts

Cannon Gates
  • 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. Overall, by utilizing the digital landscape of the internet, this website documents Picatinny Arsenal as an operating historic military landscape demonstrating built resources that may or may no longer exist.

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.

Historic documentary videos are also available on YouTube.com.

Picatinny Historic Districts Overview Map

(click on the image for a separate close-up view of Picatinny 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:

  • 1880-1907 - Army Powder Depot - storage phase
  • 1907 - Army's first smokeless powder plant established at Picatinny. First Explosives Loading of Large Caliber ammunition
  • 1907 through 1920's - Manufacturing, and research and development (R&D) work. Establishment of Testing Facilities and Chemistry Labs. Characterization of Explosives and Energetic Materials. Picatinny was the only U.S. Army facility capable of loading large caliber High Explosive shells at the start of World War I
  • 1926 - Explosion due to lightning strike at adjacent Lake Denmark Naval Ammunition Depot destroys much of Picatinny
  • 1927-1930s – rebuilding of Picatinny, with Works Progress Administration (WPA) contribution
  • 1941 - 1945 – World War II – expansion of administration, R&D, and production, with 18,000 employees. Development of experimental and specialty fuzes and detonators. First assembly of new tank ammunition in 1944. High Explosive (HE) loading of all munitions from hand grenades, to artillery shells, to 2,000 lb aircraft bombs
  • 1946 - rocket engine testing begins at the Naval Air Rocket Test Station (NARTS - formerly Lake Denmark Naval Ammunition Depot)
  • 1946 through 1970s - Cold War Era weapons and ammunition development- includes the Super Bazooka, Atomic Annie, Warheads and rocket engines for the Honest John, Nike Ajax, Pershing Missiles
  • 1977 – Armament Research and Development Command (ARRADCOM) established at Picatinny. The Manufacturing and Production mission ends, but Picatinny retains pilot plant and prototyping capabilities
  • 1983 - Reorganization: Mission renamed as the Armament Research and Development Center (ARDC)
  • 1986 – ‘Engineering’ added to Mission organization name and formally becomes known as the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC). ARDEC wins the Army Center of the Year award. Development of 120mm Tank Ammunition and warhead section of the Patriot Missile feature during the Gulf War
  • 2019 – Reorganization: ARDEC becomes the CCDC Armaments Center, and RDECOM (Research & Development Engineering Command) becomes the Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) shifting as a subordinate to the Army Futures Command (AFC) from previous subordination to the Army Materiel Command (AMC). (timeline courtesy of Picatinny CCDC-AC Historian Jeff Ranu, 2019)

Additional info can be found at the following weblinks:

1982-84 Historic American Engineering Record Documentation, listed in the Bibliography and Links webpage under Historic American Engineering Record, 1984a, Picatinny Arsenal.

1985 Historic Properties Report

Major Buildings at Picatinny Arsenal by Year of Construction (from 1982-83 Historic American Building Survey documentation)

Picatinny Arsenal's Oldest Buildings Still Extant