I won't deny, we stopped at Springfield Armory National Historic Site because it was on the way and the kids wanted another Junior Ranger badge. The Armory wasn't on our list when we planned the trip. However, it was in the perfect spot to break up a long drive from Vermont to Connecticut.
When we arrived at the sprawling armory we didn't realize we were there. Much of it has been converted into the Springfield Technical Community College. Once we did figure out where the visitor center was it became apparent that we had been driving through the Armory the whole time. In fact, it's 55 acres in the middle of Springfield, Massachusetts. (About 20 acres are managed by the National Park Service.)
It was pretty clear not many others had the Springfield Armory on their list either. There were only a few other people inside when we arrived even though the air conditioning was a welcome relief from the heat outside. Inside the big space was divided in two.
On one side the exhibits focused on the industrial aspects of the Armory. I was completely enamored by Blanchard's Lathe. A tiny model demonstrates how the big machine duplicates wooden stocks for rifles. I stared and stared. It's amazing it was built way back in 1882. And that's just one of the machines on display.
The other side is devoted to the weapons themselves. Lots and lots of weapons. Not surprising since the Armory designed and built weapons for almost 200 years! My favorite was the "Organ of Muskets." It has more than 600 muskets arranged in a two-tiered rack that kind of looks like a musical organ. What appealed to me was that it had an artistic quality that was lacking in the historical displays of the other weapons. (Don't get me wrong. I'm not all about art. The musket struck by lightning was amazing, too. Especially since the paper cartridge was still intact!)
Being just about the only ones in the visitor center meant we got as much Ranger attention as we wanted. The Junior Ranger guides had the kids searching across the people, machines, and weapons in the park. Some were a little tricky for an eight year old, but perfectly suited for 10 and up. When they completed their tasks the Ranger loaded them up with hats, pencils, books, stickers, and of course, the coveted badges.
This great experience wasn't really unique, though. In each of the five National Parks we visited on the trip we found the Rangers to be excited to interact with the kids. I don't think they're friendlier than West Coast rangers, but I think the mission of education and outreach may resonate more strongly at historical parks than the landscape parks we're used to. Regardless, they were uniformly great.
So is the Springfield Armory worth stopping at? You bet. In fact, if you're on the East Coast you should arrange your itinerary to make time for it.