My Georgia History

Augusta Arsenal

President George Washington came to visit Augusta in May of 1791. While he was here, he told George Walton and others that we should consider building an arsenal on the river. In 1816 they started building the arsenal where the mills are today.

President James Monroe visited Augusta on May 16, 1819 to see the new arsenal. 34 men were stationed there.  At that time there was no canal, it was built in 1845, and the Arsenal was outside of Augusta proper.  In 1820, one of the young soldiers had just gotten married and was on leave for his honeymoon.  The Arsenal Commandant, Matthew M. Payne, was visiting the Freemen Walker family, at their Bellevue estate up on the hill. A fever epidemic swept through killing everyone in the Arsenal.  Although Payne contacted the fever, he recovered, giving credit to the healthier location of Bellevue on the hill. He recommended that the Arsenal be moved.

Freemen Walker decided he would be willing to sell 70 acres of his 71 acre estate. The one acre he would not sell was the family cemetery.  It wasn’t until 1826 that Congress authorized the purchase.  The Arsenal relocated in 1826 and 1827.  They took some of the buildings apart, down by the river, put them on wagons and hauled them to where they are today. It’s interesting to note, they drove over a new road, called the plank road. It would later be called, Walton Way.  It was called the plank road because at the foot of the hill it had been swampy, so they had to lay the planks to make it passable.

If you go to Augusta State University you’ll see many of the old Arsenal buildings, plus Freemen Walkers’ house, Bellevue.

The buildings were re-built in 1826 just as they looked down by the river. The present quadrangle and brick wall with firing holes was the way it looked down at the river.  One of the Arsenals most well known soldiers was Lieutenant William T. Sherman who spent six months here in 1844.

At the start of the Civil War in 1861, the Arsenal was surrendered to the Confederates.  George Washington Raines took control of the Arsenal and the Gunpowder Mill down by the river. The Arsenal repaired weapons and made weapons for the Confederates.   It was also a hospital, toward the end of the War.  In May of 1865, the Arsenal was returned to the Union.  During World War I, the Arsenal became a center for the repair of small arms and rifles. After 1918, only a small force was stationed at the Arsenal.  During that time, the “Works Progress Administration”, the WPA, did a lot of work, paving the roads and fixing up the buildings. The Second World War saw a lot of growth at the Arsenal. In May of 1941, the Arsenal was closed to the public.  The Arsenal had a work force of 1800 people, 600 of whom were women.  The most important function was the manufacturing of bomb sights and other lens instruments, such as telescopes and periscopes for submarines.  The Arsenal also housed German prisoners of war.  They would use them as farm laborers, while others did road work.  After the war in the 1950s, the government closed the Arsenal.  The Richmond County Board of Education received the property, but that’s another story.  By the way, on the corner of Katherine Street and Walton Way, be sure to check out the free museum. Its located in the old guard house of the Augusta Arsenal.


Written by Mark Woodard

Research resources:

  • The Story of Augusta. Cashin, Edward J. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Company Publishing. (1996)
  • Augusta, A Pictorial History. Callahan, Helen. Richmond County Historical Society Publisher. (1980)
  • Confederate City, Augusta Georgia 1860-1865. Corley, Florence Fleming. (1995)
  • Memorial History of Augusta, Georgia. Jones, Charles C. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Publishers. (1890)
  • The Brightest Arm of the Savannah, The Augusta Canal 1845-2000. Cashin, Edward J. (2002)

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