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Tour of the Watervliet

Arsenal Museum


As part of the Troy Irish Genealogy Societies continuing interest in touring areas of historical importance in the Troy, New York and surrounding area, TIGS arranged for a tour of the Watervliet Arsenal Museum on Sunday, November 6, 2005. The tour was announced on the TIGS mailing list and 20 individuals responded to the invitation.

The tour was conducted by Mr. John Swantek, the Public Affairs Officer and Museum Director at the Arsenal. The Museum, by the way, is open to the public, and can be visited without prior arrangements. The museum also has a library and research facility whose archives provide resources for historians and genealogists. A more detailed description of the Museum can be found at:

The Watervliet Arsenal, founded in 1813, is the oldest continuously operating arsenal in America. During the interesting and informative tour, Mr. Swantek told the story of the Watervliet Arsenal and the history of the "big guns". On display were many of the "one of a kind guns" from over the past 400 years. Of particular interest, was the cannon on display which is depicted in the famous painting "Surrender of General Burgoyne". There are only two of these cannons in the world and the Arsenal has one of them. The famous painting of General Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga, was painted by John Trumbull (1756-1843) and is in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capital Building in Washington, D.C. where it has been on display since 1826.

Another item of local interest on display in the Museum is one of the famous Meneely bells. Meneely bells, made in Troy and Watervliet, during the period 1826 to 1951, can be found in buildings all over the world. The most famous Meneely bell was the reproduction of the original cracked Liberty Bell, which was made for the U.S. Centennial in 1876. That bell hangs today in the belfry of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA.

Home of the museum is the "Iron Building" which is made entirely of pre-fabricated cast iron plates, cast and wrought iron trusses and sheet steel roofing. Built in 1859 as a warehouse, the "Iron Building" is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. As you drive along Interstate 787 and pass the Arsenal property, you can get a great view of the "Iron Building" which is the strikingly beautiful cream colored building easily seen from the highway.

At the end of the tour, I donated to Mr. Swantek for the Arsenal collection, a document that I have had in my possession for over 50 years. The document, dated October 19, 1885, was an original Bill of Lading for a shipment of one box of waist belts, gun slings and cartridge boxes from the Watervliet Arsenal, West Troy, New York (now Watervliet) to Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland. My oldest brother, Joseph McGrath (1925-2005), worked at the APW paper mill in Menands, New York after his discharge from the Navy following World War II. That paper mill purchased government scrap paper and Joe would bring home various interesting documents for his younger brother. The Watervliet Arsenal Bill of Lading was one of those documents saved from the shredder. Our father, James J. McGrath, Sr. (1900-1974), along with many other relatives, worked for years at the Arsenal and I am sure that influenced Joe when he saved that particular document. The document was donated to the Arsenal in my brothers memory.

Bill McGrath
Clifton Park, NY

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