Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
Veterans Affairs National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers

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Please note that this text-only version, provided for ease of printing and reading, includes 23 pages and may take up to 10 minutes to print. Printing this page will print the introduction, the three essays, the list of sites, and all of the descriptions for the sites featured in the itinerary. If you would like to print a specific section, click on one of the links below, and mark the section you would like to print.

Introduction
History of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers
Daily Life at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers
Volunteering at Veterans Affairs Facilities
List of Sites and Descriptions
Maps(print separately)
Learn More(print separately)
Credits(print separately)

Introduction

The National Park Service's Heritage Education Services and Federal Preservation Institute, in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs Historic Preservation Office, the National Preservation Institute, and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, proudly invite you to explore the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. This Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary highlights the 11 branches of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, all of which are listed or have been determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

All 11 branches of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers are active Veterans Affairs Medical Centers. Visitors to these facilities can view the historic buildings and landscapes in addition to providing valuable volunteer services to assist the veterans and the historic resources at the facilities.

Quick Facts:

• The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was comprised of 11 branches.
• Built after the Civil War to care for Union veterans, these 11 National Home branches were managed by an independent, Congressionally appointed Board of Managers.
• The newly created Veterans Bureau took over management responsibilities for the 11 branches in 1930.
• In 1989, the Veterans Administration, as the Bureau became known, was elevated to a Cabinet-level Department, now called the Department of Veterans Affairs.
• The Department of Veterans Affairs manages more than 1,500 facilities located in all 50 States and 5 American territories.
• For more information, see the VA website.
The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers travel itinerary offers several ways to discover and experience the historic places that shaped and illustrate the history and development of the National Home branches and the Department of Veterans Affairs:

• Descriptions of each featured branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers on the List of Sites highlight its significance, photographs and other illustrations, and information on how to visit.

Essays with background on important themes in the development of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers offer context for understanding historic places featured in the itinerary. Visitors can read about the History of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Daily Life at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, and Volunteering at Veterans Affairs Facilities

Maps help visitors plan what to see and do and get directions to historic places to visit.

• A Learn More section provides links to relevant websites such as tourism websites with information on cultural events and activities, other things to see and do, and dining and lodging possibilities. This section also provides a bibliography.

View the itinerary online or print it as a guide if you plan to visit in person. The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers itinerary, the 50th in this ongoing series, is part of the Department of the Interior, National Park Service's strategy to promote public awareness of history and encourage visits to historic places throughout the nation. The itineraries are created by a partnership of the National Park Service; the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers; and Federal, State, and local governments and private organizations in communities, regions, and heritage areas throughout the United States. The itineraries help people everywhere learn about and plan trips to visit the amazing diversity of this country's historic places which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service and its partners hope you enjoy this itinerary and others in the series. If you have any comments or questions, please just click on “comments or questions" at the bottom of each page.

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History of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers
"...to care for him who shall have borne the battle..."

--President Abraham Lincoln,
Second Inaugural Address, Saturday, March 4, 1865
Veterans Services in the United States

After the American Revolutionary War, the Federal Government paid pensions to those veterans who had service related injuries.  The government expanded this pension system in 1818 to include any veteran who needed assistance, making clear that the pension was a reward for service, not a charity.  In 1833, as a result of heightened demand, Congress created the Bureau of Pensions to administer these benefits.  Congress passed the General Pension Law in 1862 to make benefits available to Civil War veterans who had service related injuries or disease.

Established in 1811, the first institution in the United States for servicemen was the U.S. Naval Asylum in Philadelphia.  In 1851, the U.S. Soldiers Home in Washington, DC opened for men with service related disabilities or men who had at least 20 years of service.  To be eligible for these homes, a soldier paid into the system through pay deductions over the course of his career.

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers

Charitable organizations and concerned citizens had long recognized the need for a place to care for disabled veterans.  The injured and debilitated men who returned home from the Civil War needed long term care, often more than their families could offer.  As volunteers, they were not eligible for care in the homes serving career military veterans. Even though these veterans were eligible for pensions, it was not always enough to help them cope with their injuries or chronic illnesses.  Many people believed that creating a home for veterans was the best way to care for these disabled men. 

Legislation for the creation of the National Asylum of Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was introduced to Congress on February 28, 1865. Both Houses of Congress quickly passed the legislation, and President Lincoln signed the bill in March 1865, just a month before his assassination. In 1873, the name was changed from National Asylum of Disabled Volunteer Soldiers to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, to remove any stigma attached to the term "asylum."

As described by the Board of Managers, “the Home is neither an [sic] hospital nor alms-house, but a home, where subsistence, quarters, clothing, religious instruction, employment when possible, and amusements are provided by the Government of the United States.  The provision is not a charity, but is a reward to the brave and deserving.”  The Board of Managers envisioned a system of branches located across the country.  The Federal Government built three branches within the first year, and the system grew to 11 National Home branches by 1929. 

What was the National Home for Disabled Volunteer
Soldiers like?


The ideas and designs of men like Frederick Law Olmsted and Andrew Jackson Downing influenced the design of the National Home branches, most of which date from the era of grand campus design.  The National Home branches had large campuses, generally more than 100 acres each, far enough away from the closest town to keep the veterans away from vices.  The National Home branches offered a wide array of architectural styles including Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Stick styles.  Each National Home branch contained barracks, a dining hall, a hospital, a cemetery, and recreational facilities.  The types of recreational facilities offered included beer halls, parks, lakes, zoos, theaters, and libraries.  In addition to recreational opportunities, the men could work during the day to make additional money.  Most of the branches had farms that employed the members and provided food for them to eat.  Other branches offered jobs such as working in a shoe factory or at a printing press.  The National Home branches were regulated by a military structure.  Originally, the men at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers were called inmates, but by the 1880s, the term was no longer in use.  The residents were known as members, soldiers, men, and beneficiaries (member will be used throughout the itinerary). 

National Cemeteries

The high number of casualties of the Civil War created a need for military burial space.  In 1861, the first military cemetery opened at the U.S. Soldiers Home, in Washington, DC.  In 1862 Congress created a more permanent solution, authorizing the president to buy land for cemeteries.  President Lincoln created 14 cemeteries in 1862 and subsequent presidents created an additional 59 by 1870.  Most of these cemeteries were near battlefields, campgrounds, and hospitals.  The 1867 Act to Establish and Protect National Cemeteries directed the secretary of war to enclose cemeteries “with a good and substantial stone or iron fence” and mark every grave with a small headstone or block.  An 1873 law authorized money to pay for headstones, which were to be white marble or granite 4 inches thick, 10 inches wide, and 12 inches long.  This law also made every honorably discharged veteran eligible for a burial.  All 11 National Home branches had a National Cemetery either on the campus or in the surrounding community. In the 1930’s, cemeteries were created in metropolitan areas to allow veterans to be buried near where they had resided.  In 1973, these National Cemeteries were transferred from the Department of the Army to the Veterans Administration. 

How was the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers managed and funded?

A 12-member Board of Managers ran the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and included, as ex-officio members, the president, secretary of war, and the chief justice.  Congress appointed the remaining nine members. The board was responsible for establishing the branches, inspecting the sites, monitoring the finances, and reporting to Congress annually. 

Initially the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers received funds appropriated from fines against officers and soldiers.  As the system grew, the Board of Managers needed a more consistent source of income, so in 1875, Congress began using appropriated funds to support the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

Development of each of the National Home branches

The first branch, the Eastern Branch, in Togus, Maine, opened November 10, 1866, on the site of a former resort that went bankrupt during the Civil War.  The board selected this site because the buildings were already in place, which allowed the branch to open quickly.  Soon after, the Board of Managers opened the Northwestern and Central Branches in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Dayton, Ohio, respectively.  The board managed the creation of the Northwestern and Central Branches from land purchase through building construction. These branches exemplify the campus design of the National Home branches. 

The Southern Branch in Hampton, Virginia opened in 1870.  The board wanted a branch in the South to serve African American veterans from the United States Colored Troops, but few actually entered the Home.  The location was quite popular with other veterans though because of the mild climate.  In 1885, the Western Branch, in Leavenworth, Kansas, was the first branch to open west of the Mississippi River.  This new branch responded to a change in policy that allowed veterans with non-service related disabilities to be members at National Home branches.  Continuing to create western branches, the board opened the Pacific Branch in Santa Monica, California, in 1888.

The Board of Managers built the Marion, Indiana and Danville, Illinois branches in response to a growing need for space as a result of increased membership at the National Home branches.  Constructed in 1888, the Marion Branch was the last one built in the Picturesque style.  The board opened the Danville Branch in 1898.  A Tennessee senator’s argument that much of eastern Tennessee opposed secession and provided a significant number of volunteers for the Union convinced the Board of Managers to open another southern branch.  The board also believed that the southern climate would be beneficial for men with respiratory conditions, who would be more comfortable in the milder climate and low humidity.  The newly created Mountain Branch in Johnson City, Tennessee admitted its first members in 1903.  The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago influenced the design of its Beaux Arts style grounds and architecture, moving away from the Picturesque style to a more formal, grid-like campus. 

The Board of Managers built the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs, South Dakota, in 1902 as the only National Home branch established as a medical, rather than residential facility.  This branch specialized in gastrointestinal and respiratory conditions as well as skin diseases.  Men stayed only as long as they benefited from the treatments, after which they could return to another branch or leave the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers system entirely.  The location was hard to get to, so not as many veterans went there as expected. First established in 1876 as the New York State Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home, the final branch was in Bath, New York. The Board of Managers acquired the site in 1929 to accommodate the increasing number of members after World War I.  The site was advantageous because no new construction was required, and it was already operational.

Who was eligible for Membership?


The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was initially open to any Union soldier who could prove a connection between service and his injury.  Congress loosened the eligibility requirements for the National Home branches in 1871 to include veterans of the War of 1812 and Mexican War, so long as they did not fight against the Union in the Civil War.  In 1884, membership at the National Home branches was expanded again to include any honorably discharged soldier or sailor, who could not support himself due to a disability.  The disability did not have to be a service related injury.  In 1900, Spanish American War veterans became eligible.  Despite these increases in membership, the branches continued to see a decline in population as aging Civil War veterans died. 

Confederate veterans were never allowed at the National Home branches, but several southern States established similar homes which were funded and managed by either State governments or private organizations. These homes were closed by the 1950’s when the last Civil War veterans died. 

African American soldiers were allowed membership at the National Home branches, which established a policy of racial equality; in the decades following the Civil War the level of equality became less and less.  While African Americans were at the same facility and received the same benefits, they were segregated within the facility and slept in separate barracks and ate at different tables.  Few African Americans took advantage of the opportunity even though 10 percent of the Union Army was African American. By 1900, only two and a half percent of the members at the National Home branches were African American.  The Hampton branch in Virginia was designed to encourage African American members, but it was not successful because not that many more African Americans went there. 

World War I dramatically increased the population of the National Home branches, though this new population had different needs.  The World War I veterans were primarily younger men who needed short term medical care or help with psychiatric problems. After World War I, women veterans entered the National Home branches in low numbers.  The Danville Branch built a barracks for women, but in 1924, less than half a dozen women were there.  In 1928, membership was extended to women who were nurses. 

Transition from the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers to the Veterans Administration

The Southern Branch was transformed into a medical hospital during World War I. The influx of veterans after World War I and the differing needs of the newer veterans put a strain on the existing veteran care medical facilities.  The National Home branches transitioned into hospitals and medical facilities to care for the World War I soldiers and veterans. When President Hoover signed Executive Order 5398 on July 21, 1930 to create the Veterans Administration (the VA), the order abolished the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and its Board of Managers; at that time the National Home branches were reorganized as the Bureau of National Homes within the VA. In 1989, the Veterans Administration was elevated to Cabinet status and renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs. The transition from permanent homes to short term medical care is reflected in the architectural changes at the National Home branches. After the creation of the Veterans Administration, building and campus design became more standardized. Over the years, the VA has continued to improve facilities to serve the changing needs of veterans; however, the unique campuses and architecture of the original National Home branches remain, providing insight for visitors as to how the Federal Government cared for and continues to provide for veterans.

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Daily Life at the National Home for Volunteer Soldiers
“I feel what I get here is mine. 
That the government owed me a debt contracted 25 years ago,
the consideration for which was the weary march,
the desperate fight and the hopeless imprisonment.”

--New member of Marion Branch in 1890. 
The goal of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was to care for the disabled Union veterans of the Civil War.  The administration of the National Home branches was a unique mix of strictly regulated military structure and a warm, home-like environment. 

Military Structure

The veterans living at the National Home branches were subject to the Articles of War, which dictated how soldiers should conduct themselves in war.  This approach gave the men at the National Home branches a structured environment so they knew what to expect on a daily basis. 

The residents were organized into companies of 150 men, commanded by a captain. Every morning, one captain designated as “Officer of the Day” inspected the buildings and grounds to ensure that all regulations were observed.  A branch governor, normally a Civil War veteran as well, managed each National Home branch.  A deputy governor, secretary, and treasurer supported the branch manager. Later the National Home branches added additional managerial positions including a quartermaster, surgeon, and chaplain. 

The men at the National Home branches were required to wear uniforms.  The United States Army had a surplus of uniforms following the Civil War, so the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers adopted the uniform of the Army as its uniform.  Once the surplus ran out, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers continued to have uniforms made.  This was required until the Veterans Administration took over management of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in 1930. 

Daily Routine

The veterans slept in barracks.  Each member had a bed, a chest for his clothes, and a chair.  A typical daily schedule for men at the Danville Branch:

 
5 am
Reveille
 
5:45 am
Bugle call for breakfast
  12 noon Dinner
  5:30 pm Supper
  7:30 pm Fatigue call
  7:45 pm Sick call (Captains report those who are ailing to the surgeon)
  9 pm Drums sound the tattoo
  9:30 pm Bugle taps

The men ate in large dining halls.  The menus for the week were posted in the dining hall.  A sample menu from the Eastern Branch:

Bill of Fare
Sunday
Breakfast-Baked beans, brown bread, butter, coffee
Dinner-Boiled ham, bread pudding, molasses, bread, coffee
Supper-Prunes or crackers, bread, butter, coffee
Monday
Breakfast-Mackerel, potatoes, bread, butter, coffee
Dinner-Boiled beef, vegetable soup, bread, molasses
Supper-Apple sauce, bread, butter, tea
Tuesday
Breakfast-Eggs or fish hash, bread, butter, coffee
Dinner-Corned beef, potatoes, pickles or vegetables, bread, tea, molasses
Supper-Gingerbread, bread, butter, tea
Wednesday
Breakfast-Meat hash, bread, butter, coffee
Dinner-Roast beef, potatoes, pickles, bread, tea or coffee, molasses
Supper-Apple sauce or prunes, bread, butter, tea
Thursday
Breakfast-Baked beans, bread, butter, coffee
Dinner-Corned beef, potatoes, vegetables or pickles, bread, coffee, molasses
Supper-Crackers, bread, butter, tea
Friday
Breakfast-Mackerel, potatoes, bread, butter, coffee
Dinner-Fresh fish, potatoes, bread, tea, molasses
Supper-Gingerbread, bread, butter, tea
Saturday
Breakfast-Meat hash, bread, butter, coffee
Dinner-Roast mutton or veal, potatoes, pickles, bread, coffee, molasses
Supper-Cheese, bread, butter, tea

The Central Branch held weekly prayer meetings in addition to morning and evening services on Sundays.  Most branches offered both Catholic and Protestant services for the men and had chapels specifically designed to accommodate the two separate congregations.

The National Home branches held daily court to deal with infractions of members who did not follow the rules. Examples of infractions included bringing liquor onto campus or disorderly conduct.  Punishments ranged from detention in the guard house to a fine or being deprived of pay for labor, to the extreme of expulsion from the National Home system.  In general, the punishments were applied sparingly; The goal was to provide structure but not have too heavy a hand. 

Education and Training


The initial intent was for the men to reenter society if possible. To make the transition easier, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers offered education and job training opportunities.  The Central Branch opened a school in 1877.  The Board of Managers offered to transfer anyone who wanted to attend school to the Central Branch.  The school taught arithmetic, algebra, English, grammar, and natural philosophy.  The school sought to accommodate physically disabled veterans. For example, teachers taught veterans to write with the opposite hand.  By 1881, the school had 82 students and one teacher.  The school closed in 1883 because of low enrollment rates.  The Board of Managers attributed this to the advancing age of the members.

The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers initially tried to develop job training programs, teaching veterans new skills that would accommodate their disabilities.  The Central Branch offered bookkeeping and telegraphy training but eventually stopped due to lack of interest.  The National Home branches resumed job training programs and vocational rehabilitation programs in the 1920s for World War I veterans.

The National Home branches also provided an early form of occupational therapy.  The Board of Managers believed keeping the members engaged in work activities helped “patients to replace morbid ideas with healthy, normal ones to incite interest and ambition and assist to restore a lost or weakened function either mental or physical.”  The type of work the men did varied depending on the branch at which they lived.  Central Branch had cigar making and stocking-weaving shops.  The Eastern Branch had a shoe factory.  Men could work at blacksmithing, tinsmithing, knitting and tailoring at the Southern Branch.  At all of the branches, men helped to construct buildings, care for grounds, repair buildings, and care for the ill.  Most of the branches had farms where men did the farm work as well.  The National Home branches sold some of the food but used most of it to feed the men at the branch.  The Eastern Branch had 150 acres of arable land.  They grew beets, hay, beans, cabbage, and strawberries.  By the 1870’s, more than 2,000 men (about one third of the members) had jobs that helped support the National Home branches.  The men were able to earn spending money through these programs.  At the Eastern Branch in 1879, the wages varied from $5 to $25 per month for each man. 

As the population at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers aged, fewer men could engage in these activities; the National Home branches started hiring more outside workers.  In the 1920’s, the National Home branches reintroduced some of the programs for the World War I veterans.  For example, blind veterans were taught to weave using a special loom.  These occupational therapy programs were integral to the success of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, because they gave the members a sense of productivity and provided structure to their daily lives.

Leisure Time Activities


The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers provided a multitude of recreational activities for members. The Board of Managers wanted the branches to feel like home so the board ensured that members had attractive places to live and plenty of activities to keep them busy, such as libraries, concerts, and zoos.

Campus Design

The Board of Managers planned all but three of the National Home branches’ campuses.  The board planned the National Home branches during the time when campuses were designed according to the ideas of the Picturesque Movement. Mountain Home was the only branch not designed in the Picturesque style; it has a Beaux Arts campus layout.  The National Home branches were designed like parks, creating a relaxing, enjoyable environment for the members.  Central Branch had over 25 acres of flowers and sub-tropical gardens.  Battle Mountain Sanitarium planted 1,000 apple, cherry, pear, and plum trees in 1919.  Many of the branches had lakes on the campuses. In addition to creating a scenic setting, the lakes provided opportunities for the men to participate in recreational activities such as swimming and boating.  The Central Branch had swans on its lakes. 

The campuses were constantly being improved and modernized.  Battle Mountain Sanitarium added electric lights to the pathways. Some of the branches used surplus or outdated military equipment for decorations.  The Danville Branch had several cannons placed around the campus, but they were removed around 1943.

Diversions

The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers provided a wide array of activities and events for members. Most of the National Home branches offered libraries for members to use.  The libraries were generally filled with books and newspapers donated by friends and families of the members.  Some of the branches received money to fund their library from the Carnegie Library program.  The library in Togus had 22 daily newspapers and 115 weekly ones.  Overall, the libraries were very popular with the members.  On average in 1898, 310 members visited the library daily at the Southern Branch.

The National Home branches had theaters for the members to watch plays and other performances.  The Horatio Ward Fund supported many of them, and they became known as the “Ward Memorial Theaters.”  The annual report from Battle Mountain Sanitarium in 1915 indicates that the entertainment for the year included dramatic performances, vaudeville shows, concerts, readings, and bi-weekly movies.  The proceeds from the canteens or home stores at each branch funded these performances.  Some branches had amusement halls where activities such as pool and card games were made available to ambulatory patients.  The Central Branch offered bowling alleys, bagatelle tables, and billiard tables.  The Eastern Branch hosted dances for the veterans and members of the community in the amusement halls, though according to one member, not many of the veterans danced, perhaps only 20 out of 1300 members; however, the families with children in the community would come and dance. 

Some branches even had zoos or menageries.  The Central Branch had a deer park, bird cage, pond with alligators, a menagerie with a great bear of the Rocky Mountains, buffalo, and a monkey house.  Some of the branches offered athletic competitions for the members.  Golf courses and baseball fields were available at several of the branches.

Each branch had a Home Band that would play concerts throughout the year.  The Home Band provided music for the daily raising and lowering of flags.  In the summer, the Battle Mountain Sanitarium had almost nightly concerts; sometimes there would be concerts in the afternoon too. In the winter, concerts were held inside in the chapel or amusement hall building. Band concerts and gramophone music also entertained bed-ridden patients.  These concerts and other activities were intended to help keep the veterans’ morale high. 

Organizations

The veterans at the National Home branches were members of a variety of national organizations, whose local chapters often met at clubhouses at the National Home branches.  The largest and most influential of these organizations was the Grand Army of the Republic, known as the GAR, which advocated for the rights of veterans.  This organization, formed after the Civil War for Union veterans, had considerable political power in local, State, and national politics.  The national membership of the Grand Army of the Republic increased from 60,000 to 400,000 during the 1880’s.  It also funded the stained glass windows of Lincoln and Grant in the chapel of the Western Branch.  Other organizations such as the Union Veteran League and Naval Veterans Association had local chapters at the branches.

Visitors

People from the local community and other visitors took advantage of the recreational opportunities at the National Home branches as well.  In the 19th century, it was typical for people to visit institutions such as this as well as insane asylums and prisons.  The increased awareness and interest in social reform drew people to these sites.  People also visited because the National Home branches had beautiful campus designs with grand buildings located on prominent sites.  They were seen as places of tranquility in an increasingly urban and industrial society. 

In a guide book for the Eastern Branch, member Wes Weitman claimed that “visitors go into every building, look into every room, and examine every nook and corner.”  He and others felt this was good because it held the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers accountable.  If care was poor, then the visitors would notice and report it immediately. 

Businessmen quickly realized the tourism potential of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.  Transportation was often provided to the National Home branches.  The local manager of Mountain Home built a street car line to go between the branch and Johnson City to bring visitors and members back and forth.  In 1904, Pacific Branch was included in a tour of Los Angeles known as the “Balloon Route” that visited sites in West Los Angeles.  Amenities for visitors such as restaurants and hotels popped up at many of the National Home branches.  The Central Branch estimated 100,000 people a year visited the branch in the mid-1870s.  Visiting these sites also helped establish the link between the Federal Government and citizens in a time of very little Federal presence in most areas. 

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Volunteering at Veterans Affairs Facilities
“We need your service right now, at this moment in history.
I’m not going to tell you what your role should be; that’s for you to discover.
But I’m asking you to stand up and play your part.
I’m asking you to help change history’s course, put your shoulder up against the wheel.

And if I -- if you do, I promise you your life will be richer,
our country will be stronger, and someday, years from now,
you may remember it as the moment when your own story and the American story converged,
when they came together, and we met the challenges of our new century.”


-- President Barack Obama, April 21, 2009
Visiting the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers branches is different from other tourist destinations because they are still active medical centers managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The services offered by the VA have expanded from the time of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers to encompass education and training, medical care, compensation and pensions, home loan assistance, insurance, vocational rehabilitation, and burial rights in the National Cemeteries.  The National Home branches have been modernized to accommodate the expanded services for veterans. 

To help the VA provide the best possible service to veterans and to show veterans that you appreciate their service to the country, volunteer at a National Home branch or at another VA medical center or cemetery.  Veterans Affairs medical centers and cemeteries offer a multitude of opportunities for community service, service learning, and civic engagement. Volunteers are “indispensable to providing America’s veterans with quality medical care.”  Nearly 127,000 volunteers in VA’s Voluntary Service donated more than 11 million hours in 2008, which equals 5,519 full time employee-equivalent positions.

Individuals, school groups, church groups, students, and businesses are encouraged to volunteer at medical centers and cemeteries.  Children are welcome to volunteer at cemeteries, but the age requirement for volunteering at medical centers varies from State to State.  Even if children are too young to volunteer at a medical center, they can help in other ways, for example, by participating in historic preservation related activities at the National Home branches, writing letters to veterans, or collecting items to be donated like new toiletry items or magazines.  VA facilities also provide service learning opportunities for students. Teachers and others interested in developing service learning activities for students will find helpful suggestions and other information on the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places website. Possible projects for students include giving guided tours of the historic medical facilities and conducting oral history interviews of veterans.

The VA’s Voluntary Service provides information about volunteer opportunities at the VA and specific programs.  The VA requests that each volunteer submit an application before volunteering.  Most of the National Home branches have a website dedicated to information regarding volunteering at the medical center and who to contact, for example, the Eastern Branch in Togus, Maine’s website.  To find VA centers near you, please see the VA’s website

Volunteers at a VA medical center help to keep the daily operations running smoothly.  Nearly 7.9 million veterans were enrolled in the VA health care system as of October 2008, and the VA served 5.5 million veterans in 2008.  The VA has grown from the 11 National Home branches featured in this itinerary to 153 medical centers, with at least one in each State, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.  Volunteers help the VA maintain a high level of services and activities for veterans.  Volunteers assist in offices or pick up veterans for their appointments.  Volunteers allow the VA to offer additional activities for veterans such as sporting competitions or short courses.  Many volunteers also visit with patients to keep them company, since many of the veterans do not have family or friends nearby to visit.  Spending time with veterans can have a profound effect on the volunteer as well as the veteran.  One student volunteer stated that after having spent a semester talking to a veteran named Sam, “I knew then that we are all here to help one another, not to pass judgment. Sam taught me that only deeds done to help other human beings are worth doing, and I remain grateful to him for that lesson.” 

The VA manages 128 National Cemeteries in 39 States and in Puerto Rico.  Volunteers are needed here to help maintain the cemeteries and the 2.9 million gravesites.  For information on volunteering at National Cemeteries, visit the National Cemetery Administration's Volunteer website or contact a National Cemetery near you. 

As health care professional Margaret Kruckemeyer at the VA medical center in Dayton says, "heritage heals," meaning that preserving the past at the historic National Home branches for veterans and others to experience serves as a building block for a better future. Volunteer activities relating to historic preservation can be helpful to the historically significant National Home branches. The National Home branches require continual maintenance and attention to the buildings and landscapes.  These historic medical centers need help from volunteers to ensure these buildings and landscapes are preserved and that the public is educated about their significance; they are important parts of our national heritage.  Contact the National Home’s volunteer coordinator to find out about possible activities to help maintain the historic resources of the campus or carry out other historic preservation activities related to the National Home branches.  Some of the National Home branches have organizations dedicated to the preservation of the historic resources.  The Central Branch in Dayton, Ohio’s group is called the American Veterans Heritage Center whose mission “is to increase awareness of veterans' issues, recognize veterans' contributions, endorse patriotism, promote tourism, and enhance the neighborhood by preserving and developing the Dayton Ohio Veterans Affairs Historic District.”  The group is currently focused on restoring the chapel, library, administrative building, and clubhouse. In 1999, it stabilized the church and received a Federal matching grant from Save America’s Treasures to repair the chapel’s floor.  The remaining $17 million for restoration is being raised from donations.  The organization in Milwaukee, Friends of Reclaiming Our Heritage, hosts a living history event on Memorial Day each year that features encampment military personnel of all military eras. These “friends of” organizations promote the history and preservation concerns of the VA medical centers. 

In addition to volunteering at a National Home branch, businesses and institutions are encouraged to engage in public/private partnerships with VA facilities to adaptively reuse historic buildings.  A number of the historic buildings at VA Medical Centers have been replaced by larger hospitals, which now dominate the campuses, but the historic buildings could be reused for another non-VA related purpose. The Danville VA Medical Center sold several buildings to the Danville Area Community College in the 1960's. The Mountain Home branch in Johnson City, Tennessee formed a partnership with the local university, Eastern Tennessee State University, to reuse many of the historic buildings for the university’s medical and pharmacy schools.  This partnership continues to forge the close relationship between the university and the medical center, in addition to preserving the historic buildings on the campus.

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List of Sites (Click on the name of any site in the list to go directly to a specific text-only version found below)

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers

Bath Branch
Battle Mountain Sanitarium
Central Branch
Danville Branch
Eastern Branch
Marion Branch
Mountain Branch
Northwestern Branch
Pacific Branch
Southern Branch
Western Branch

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Bath Branch

The Bath Branch (now the Bath VA Medical Center) in Bath, New York, was founded as the New York State Soldiers and Sailors Home.  New York State leased and eventually sold the facility to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers Board of Managers in 1929 after its membership declined.  Set along the Cohocton River, the Bath Branch still has 30 historic pre-1900 buildings designed in the Georgian Colonial, Victorian, and Stick styles. The diversity of buildings illustrates the wide variety of services the Bath Branch provided for veterans.  The cemetery, dating from 1879, is located in the northwestern corner of the campus. 

Toward the close of the Civil War, the citizens of New York saw the need for a soldiers home to care for disabled veterans.  The State legislature drafted a bill to establish such a home, but the bill failed partly because families felt they could take care of the disabled veterans themselves.  Shortly thereafter, it became apparent that some families could not care for their disabled veterans and other veterans did not receive the support they needed.  In 1872, the State passed a law to establish a State home but did not appropriate any money for its construction.  The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Union veterans association, decided to raise $100,000 to build the State home.  The area around Bath, New York, contributed $23,000 to the efforts, so the GAR decided to locate the State home near there. 

The cornerstone of the New York State Soldiers and Sailors Home was laid on June 13, 1877, and it opened to veterans on Christmas day of 1878.  The Grand Army of the Republic, the GAR, built the first three buildings (Buildings 33, 34, and 35) on the campus.  These buildings were heated with steam radiators from a central heating plant and used gas lighting.  Currently Building 33 is used as the Human Resources office.  Building 34 is a domiciliary where members live. Building 35 is the Voluntary/Canteen.  The State of New York built several additional buildings after the GAR used its funds for the first three buildings.  These buildings include staff quarters, a hospital (Building 29), and Union Chapel (Building 39).  The State Home functioned much the same way as the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers branches.  The men lived at the branch and had the option of participating in many activities.  The branch maintained a 241 acre farm.  In 1917, the branch sold $17,186.72 worth of farm and garden produce.  The branch had a bowling alley installed in 1885 and a moving picture plant in 1909. 

Veterans had to be residents of New York for at least one year to become members of the New York State Soldiers and Sailors Home.  Membership peaked in 1907 with 1,907 members.  Over the years, the Grand Army of the Republic petitioned the Board of Managers to incorporate the New York State Soldiers and Saliors Home into the National Home for Disabled Volunteer system. In 1928, the branch only had 192 members.  At that time, the State again sought to transfer ownership of the Home to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.  This process took almost two years.  In 1929, the New York State Soldiers and Sailors Home became the Bath Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, one year before Executive Order 5398 consolidated the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Veterans Bureau, and Bureau of Pensions into the newly created Veterans Administration.  The Federal Government leased the facility for 10 years, and in 1932, the State formally deeded it to the Veterans Administration, ending State ownership and management requirements of the facility. 

The National Cemetery, north of the parade ground, was established in 1879 for burial of State Home residents.  The cemetery officially became a National Cemetery when the State transferred the Home to the Federal Government in 1929.  The 40 foot granite monument was dedicated in 1892 to the memory of soldiers and sailors who served in the Civil War. 

The Bath Branch is located at 76 Veterans Ave. in Bath, NY.  The Bath Branch has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey. The facility is open to the public, and visitors can drive through and walk on the grounds, visit the cemetery, and view the historic buildings.  Visitors should check in with the Director’s Office upon their arrival at the facility.  If visiting after hours, check in with the police.  Volunteers maintain a museum (in Building 29) during the summer.  It is open Monday-Saturday from 10:00am to 2:00 pm, but closed Tuesday and Sunday.  If visitors have a large group, they can schedule a tour through the Director’s Office. Tours are also available in the off-season.  The National Cemetery is open from dawn until dusk each day.  For more information about visiting the Bath Branch, please see the Bath VAMC website. Please respect the privacy of veterans utilizing the facility.

Volunteers are an integral component of the Bath VAMC.  Volunteers assist with patient recreation activities such as bingo and chicken barbecue dinners.  Volunteers also staff the museum.  For more information about volunteering at Bath VAMC, please visit this website.

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Battle Mountain Sanitarium

Battle Mountain Sanitarium (now part of the Veterans Affairs Black Hills Health Care System) was part of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, which provided care for Union veterans after the Civil War.  It was the first and only National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers built solely as a short-term sanitarium for veterans with lung or respiratory problems, not as a long-term home.  Unlike the other National Home branches, veterans went to Battle Mountain Sanitarium for brief intensive treatment. Upon completion of their treatment, they were transferred to another National Home branch. Battle Mountain Sanitarium opened in 1907, offering veterans a complete array of services including plunge baths and an amusement hall.  Located in the town of Hot Springs, South Dakota, the Sanitarium, made from local pink sandstone, rises above the town on a bluff to the northeast of the resort section of the town at an elevation of 3400 feet.  A majority of the buildings predate 1930, and many of them are still used for their original purposes.  The curving road system that winds through the facility is also original.  The National Cemetery is located in the eastern section of the campus.

Founded in the 1880s as a warm water mineral springs health resort, the town of Hot Springs became a popular destination for regional health seekers by 1900.  Tourists enjoyed the benefits of the waters and the mountain scenery.  The local effort to build a National Home branch began in the 1890s.  The possibility became likely after an inspector for the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers inspected a State Soldier’s Home in the area and stated that he was impressed with the therapeutic qualities of the water.  After this, 30 veterans from the Western Branch went to the State facility, and the treatments improved their health.  In 1898, the Grand Army of the Republic formed a committee to convince Congress to locate a National Home branch in Hot Springs.  In 1902, Congress passed legislation authorizing the new facility; the bill allocated $150,000 for the construction of buildings and $20,000 for equipment.  Battle Mountain Sanitarium opened in 1907 for its first patient, Charles Wilbert, from the Marion Branch. 

Since the Sanitarium was not a long term residential facility, veterans only stayed as long as they benefited from the treatment.  The Sanitarium treatment options included bathing in or drinking the mineral waters. This treatment particularly helped veterans with musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and respiratory conditions and skin diseases.  Once cured, or no longer improving, the patients went back to their residential branch.  Between 1908 and 1909, 865 Civil War and Spanish American War veterans received treatment at the facility.  While the treatments were beneficial, inspectors complained that the facility was too isolated and difficult for veterans to reach; the trip was especially strenuous for very ill men.  By World War I, tuberculosis treatment became the primary focus of the Sanitarium. 

Thomas Rogers Kimball of Omaha designed the original buildings at Battle Mountain Sanitarium in a Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style using local sandstone.  The facility was also inspired by the Romanesque Revival style that was prominent in the town of Hot Springs.  George E. Kessler designed the landscape of the campus.  In 1915, the construction of 204 pink sandstone stairs, referred to as the Grand Staircase, connected the resort district of Hot Springs to the Battle Mountain Sanitarium.  The campus remains largely intact and unaltered from when it was a National Home branch with the addition of only a few new buildings. 

The original building complex from 1907 is in the radial or panoptical hospital design.  Kimball designed the buildings in a circular arrangement with the wards projecting out like spokes on a wheel.  An inner circular arcade connects the wards and service buildings.  The center of the circle is an open courtyard with a fountain.  This design allowed for the separation of patients based on the type of disease they had, to avoid contagion.  Kimball placed a service tunnel under an arcade for utilities and a tram for food distribution.  To make cleaning easier, all of the angles in the building were rounded off.  This radial complex connects 11 buildings: the Administration Building (Building 1), Mess Hall (Building 2), Hospital Wards (Buildings 3-8), Plunge Bath (Building 9), Maintenance/Engineering Building (Building 10), and the Library/Auditorium (Building 11), a 1911 addition.  Most of these buildings still serve their original functions. 

Just south of the main hospital complex is the residential section.  Kimball designed residential quarters for the staff living on the campus in a Colonial Revival style with some Tudor details.  These include the Governor (Building 23), Chief Engineer (Building 24), Treasurer (Building 25), and Quartermaster’s Quarters (Building 26).  The Chaplains Quarters (Building 27), in a Neoclassical style, dates from 1910.  These buildings are still used as residences today.  Also from 1910 is the Neoclassical Nurses Quarters (Building 20), now used as a day care center. Post World War I growth led to a building campaign in the 1920s to construct more staff residences.  Neoclassical Duplex Quarters (Buildings 28 and 29) date from 1920 and 1927; one is still used as staff residences and the other as transitional rehabilitation housing. The 1926 Neoclassical nurses’ quarters (Building 21) have been used as apartments for employees since the 1950's. 

Because of the influx of veterans with tuberculosis, the increasing need for space led to construction of the Main Hospital (Building 12) in 1926 to the east of the original building complex. The number of veterans at the Sanitarium grew as veterans who were not members of another National Home branch became eligible for tuberculosis treatment at the Sanitarium.  Other historic buildings on the campus include a Conservatory (Building 16), Stable/Carriage House (Building 17), Bandstand (Building 19), and Root Cellar (Building 35). The Conservatory (Building 16) is the sole survivor of its kind from the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers era.

The cemetery at Battle Mountain Sanitarium dates from 1907 and became a national cemetery in 1973. The cemetery has several monuments in it.  Dedicated in 1914, the Battle Mountain Monument is a 32-foot tall obelisk tower situated on the cemetery’s highest point. The inscription on the monument reads “National Home, Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Battle Mountain Sanitarium, 1914” “In Memory of the Men Who Offered Their Lives in the Defense of Their Country.”  The Squire Monument is a granite block memorial erected in 1940 to honor Army Chaplain Guy P. Squire. He served in the Spanish American War and World War I, and later served as chaplain at the Hot Springs VA Medical Facility.  The Veterans of Foreign Wars, District 10, erected the monument.  The cemetery is currently closed to additional internments. 

The Battle Mountain Sanitarium is located at 500 North 5th St. in Hot Springs, SD.  The Sanitarium is included in the Hot Springs, South Dakota Historic District which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Sanitarium has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  The facility is open to the public to drive through and walk around the campus.  The only building open to the public is a small museum located in Building 11 that is open from 7:00am to 5:00pm from Memorial Day through September or October and otherwise by request.  The museum displays military records and ledgers in addition to old medical equipment.  Visitors are asked to be respectful, as the Sanitarium remains a residential facility for veterans. The National Cemetery is open from dawn to dusk. For more information, please see the VA Black Hills Health Care System website. Please respect the privacy of veterans utilizing the facility.

To volunteer at or donate to the Battle Mountain Sanitarium, visit the VA’s Voluntary Service webpage and fill out an application, selecting the Hot Springs Campus as where you would like to volunteer.  An employee from the facility will contact you with additional information once your application has been received. 

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Central Branch

Established in 1867, the Central Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton, Ohio (now the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center) was one of the three original branches in the National Home system, which provided medical and rehabilitative care to Union veterans after the Civil War.  The Central Branch was the first branch laid out using a decentralized plan with a grid pattern for the streets and a Picturesque style landscape for the parks and gardens surrounding the campus core.  This campus plan served as a model for the remaining National Home branches and later VA hospitals. Located east of the modern medical facility, 28 pre-1930 buildings survive including the Putnam Library (Building 120) and the Home Chapel (Building 118).  In addition to the numerous buildings from the National Home period, the Central Branch also illustrates its transition from a Civil War era domiciliary to modern VA medical facility, as illustrated by the 1940 Colonial Revival Patrick Hospital (Building 302).  Elements of the Picturesque style landscape like the lake and the grotto arch still remain on the eastern edge of campus.  Dayton's still-active National Cemetery dates from 1867 and includes the graves of veterans who served as early as the Revolutionary War and the first U.S. Colored Troops admitted to a National Home branch.

The Board of Managers wanted to place a National Home branch in the lower Midwest to serve the large veteran population in the area.  The board’s secretary, Lewis B. Gunkel, a Dayton native, convinced the board to locate the new National Home branch in Dayton, Ohio.  The City of Dayton donated $20,000 for the purchase of land for the facility.  In 1867, the board acquired 380 acres of farm land to the west of Dayton and began construction immediately. 

Thomas Budd Van Horne, a veteran and chaplain, designed the Central Branch.  Van Horne laid out the campus with a grid pattern for streets with the major thoroughfare dividing the barracks from the administrative offices to mimic a small village.  This layout created small neighborhoods or sections on the campus.  Van Horne designed large parks and open spaces around the streets and buildings.  While the administrative buildings were laid out in a grid pattern, the parks and open space had a curvilinear pattern with extensive walking paths and gardens.  Mr. C. B. Davis designed the gardens.  The natural feel of the gardens and the parks provided the veterans with an enjoyable place to spend their time, since they could not return to work.  The gardens and parks were so attractive that tourists made day trips out to the Central Branch to enjoy the natural beauty.  The Board of Managers reported that 100,000 people visited the Central Branch annually in the mid-1870’s. 

The historic core of the Central Branch is on the eastern portion of the campus.  This section consists of buildings from both the National Home era and the early Veterans Administration era, which are intermixed throughout this part of the facility. The western portion of the campus houses the modern hospital and parking lots.  The National Cemetery occupies the entire northern portion of campus. The architectural styles of the original buildings from the National Home period vary, but the buildings are mainly in the revival styles popular in the last quarter of the 19th century.  The buildings that have survived are reminders of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers' goal of providing veterans with a homelike environment and a place to recreate. 

Dedicated in 1870, the Soldiers Home Chapel (Building 118) is the oldest building at the Central Branch and the first National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers stand alone chapel.  The Gothic Revival chapel features a bell tower that holds the 1876 “Centennial Bell,” which was made in New York from cannons captured from Confederate forces during the Civil War.  Both Catholic and Protestant services were held in the chapel until the construction of the Catholic Chapel (Building 119) in 1898.  The Catholic Chapel, also built in the Gothic Revival style, is made of yellow brick with buttresses supporting it.  The small bell tower has an octagonal spire rising from a square tower.  The altar’s centerpiece is by Heinrich Schroeder, a widely known altar/pulpit builder for Catholic Churches.

Just south of the chapels, the Administration Building (Building 116), also known as the Headquarters Building, was constructed in 1871 in the French Second Empire style.   Across from the Administration Building, the modified Flemish-style Putnam Library (Building 120) dates from 1880.  The library closed in 2000.   Now the American Veterans Heritage Center, Inc., which advocates for and assists in the preservation of the historic district, uses the building for offices.  Just south of the Administration Building is the old Bandstand (Building 113) that dates from 1871 and was the focal point of the parade ground.  Highly ornamental ironwork and wood trim decorate the exterior of the Italianate structure.

Located just west of the recreational buildings, the Italianate style Liberty House (Building 225) served as an amusement hall from the time it was built in 1870 until the construction of a new clubhouse in 1881.  After that time, the building served as officers’ quarters.  Additional revival-style staff quarters from the period between 1870 and 1885 surround the Liberty House. 

The 1881 Clubhouse (Building 129) provided a place for the veterans to play billiards and other games, in addition to being a meeting space for clubs.  The two-story Renaissance Revival style brick building has quoined corners on a stone base. The interior has a central hallway that divides the building into two sections.

In 1868, Frank Mundt, a landscape gardener, began planting vines in rock crevices at Grotto Springs on the lower east side of the historic district.  The landscaping became quite elaborate over time.  The stone steps, Grotto Arch constructed around 1900 of roughly hewn lime stone, and two springs remain.  Nearby is the Swan House (Building 111), a small wooden gazebo-type structure built in the Stick style with 12 columns supporting the square-shaped hipped roof. 

The early Veterans Administration-era buildings on the campus date from 1930 to 1959.  The peak of this new construction at the Dayton VAMC was between 1936 and 1940 when the medical center received funding from New Deal programs.  These buildings were erected quickly to provide jobs for men and in preparation for war in Europe, as tensions mounted.  Centrally located on campus, the three-story brick Colonial Revival Patrick Hospital (Building 302) dates from 1940.  The building is currently used for outpatient mental health services.  Just west of the hospital are two Colonial Revival domiciliary facilities (Buildings 409 and 410) and a Dining Hall (Building 411) also from 1940.

The historic cemetery to the north of the campus is largely intact.  The cemetery design is attributed to Chaplain and Captain William B. Earnshaw, who worked on National Cemeteries in Tennessee as well.  He arrived at the Central Branch in 1867 with the first residents and stayed there until he died in 1885. The Dayton Soldiers’ Monument was created in 1877 to honor the veterans buried in the cemetery.  The cemetery is still active and enlarged as needed to make room for more veterans.

A number of the historic buildings at the Central Branch are in need of restoration.  The American Veterans Heritage Center works to promote the preservation of the Central Branch's historic resources.  Its first goal is to restore the Soldiers Home Chapel, and the organization has successfully restored the floor of the building to make it safe to walk on again.  The next projects include the Patient Library, Clubhouse, and Administration building.  All of the funding for restoration comes from donations. 

The Central Branch is located at 4100 W 3rd St. in Dayton, OH.  The Dayton National Cemetery is the subject of an online lesson plan, A Nation Repays Its Debt: The National Soldiers' Home and Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. The Central Branch has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey. 

The facility is open to the public to walk around and drive through.  For information on guided tours, contact the Public Affairs Officer or the American Veterans Heritage Center.  The American Veterans Heritage Center also manages a museum which is open from 8 to 4:30 on Wednesdays or open by appointment.  Dayton VAMC maintains a virtual museum about the facility's history. The National Cemetery is open from dawn to dusk. Please see the Dayton VA Medical Center’s website for more information. Please respect the privacy of veterans utilizing the facility.
Those interested in volunteering at the Dayton VA facility should contact the Chief of Voluntary Services, whose contact information can be found on the Dayton VA facility website.  During Fiscal Year 2008, nearly 2500 volunteers donated 155,719 hours of their time to assist veterans.

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Danville Branch

The Danville Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (now the VA Illiana Health Care System, Danville Illinois) opened in 1898. The Danville Branch is important both for what it illustrates about the evolution of medical facilities for veterans in the United States and for the architectural significance of the buildings at the facility.  The hospital, chapels, library, specialized clinics, residential buildings, and other amenities together convey a comprehensive approach to health care for veterans.  From the beginning, the branch offered shelter, education, training, employment, and recreation in a planned community which was a showplace with beautiful gardens and recreational facilities open to the public. The historic district also includes a National Cemetery with the graves of thousands of veterans. The restful campus is set in a tree strewn landscape with low scale buildings and curving roadways that wind past the golf course, pond, quarters, hospital ward buildings, Greenhouse Clinic, and agricultural fields that once provided work and therapy for patients.  The National Council of State Garden Clubs placed a plaque on the curving entrance road designating it a Blue Star Memorial Highway as a “A tribute to the Armed Forces that have defended the United States of America.”

Joseph Cannon, a congressman from the Danville area, used political influence to get the branch located in Danville, because he knew the facility would bring Federal money and jobs to the area.  He also thought the branch would increase the number of Republican voters in the area, thus gaining him more supporters.  His influential role in establishing a National Home branch in Danville earned him the title “Father of the Home.”  By 1910, 4,257 veterans were at the branch.  The Danville Branch became a neuropsychiatric hospital in 1935, after the National Home branch became a part of the Veterans Administration, and today provides a variety of services to veterans.

Two circular areas are focal points of the branch that is now divided between the VA medical center and the Danville Area Community College.  The perimeter of the northern circle had 15 Continued Treatment Wards where veterans slept.  Ten of these handsome, brick Georgian style buildings remain (Buildings 5-14).  In the center of the circle, the Georgian Revival General Mess Hall (Building 17) provided veterans with services including the dining hall.  The Danville Area Community College bought most of the buildings in this circle in the mid-1960s.  The Continued Treatment Wards are currently used for classrooms and other activities related to the community college.  The VA still owns four Wards and uses them as resource and administration buildings.  The staff quarters are scattered about to the south and west of the circle.

A Carnegie Library (Building 48) is at the bottom of the northern circle. Built in 1905-1907 in the Classical Revival architectural style, the finely detailed library is of brick with a stone foundation.  Located nearby, the octagonal Band Stand (Building 56) is also in the Classical Revival style, standing prominently with Ionic columns supporting an open cornice.   To the south of the circle of Continued Treatment Wards is another circle. The two remaining historic buildings in this area include the General Medical and Surgical Building (Building 58) and the chapel (Building 49).  The Georgian Revival style General Medical and Surgical Building dates from 1934 and has a three story central projecting entry pavilion with Doric columns. At the top of the circle, the Late Gothic Revival style Chapel Building from 1901 includes an east wing for Catholic services and south wing for Protestant services. The two wings are joined by a flat roofed bell tower.  The remainder of the southern circle is new construction. 

The western edge of the campus is rolling terrain with winding roads that lead to the golf course and gardens with a pond and ornamental footbridge.  This area was once the site of Lake Clements, a boating pond that provided recreation for veterans.  The lake was drained in 1940 and replaced with a golf course in 1949.

The National Cemetery dates from 1898 when the Danville Branch opened. The cemetery was originally a small plot to the east of the two circles on campus.  In 1901, a new cemetery was laid out in concentric circles on 30 acres to the southeast of the original cemetery.  Ninety-nine graves from the first cemetery were moved and reinterred in the new cemetery.  The cemetery now contains thousands of veterans' graves.  A Civil War Soldiers Monument, designed by sculptor Clark Nobel, was dedicated at the cemetery on Memorial Day in 1917.  Clark Nobel sculpted the bronze life-sized figure of a Civil War soldier holding a musket.

The Danville Branch is located at 1900 E. Main St. in Danville, IL.  The Danville Branch has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The facility is open to the public, and visitors can drive through and walk on the grounds, visit the cemetery, and view the historic buildings. The Chapel (Building 49) and Carnegie Library (Building 48) are open to the public.  The National Cemetery is open from dawn to dusk. For more information on the medical facility, please see the VA Illiana Health Care System, Danville, Illinois website. Please respect the privacy of veterans utilizing the facility.

To find out about opportunities for volunteering at the branch, visit the VA Illiana Health Care System, Danville, Illinois website that provides contact information, the application, and information about different types of volunteer activities such as greenhouse volunteer and library assistant. 


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Eastern Branch

Togus, which opened in 1866, was the first branch established as a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Known as the Eastern Branch, (now the Togus VA Medical Center), the Home offered a place for disabled veterans to live if they could not care for themselves or their pensions did not provide enough financial support. The facility retains its peaceful, rural landscape that the Board of Managers felt was integral to the well-being of the veterans.  Only a few buildings from this early period remain including the Governor’s House (Building 1), completed in 1869. It is the only original building surviving at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Togus, and is designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior. The campus underwent a period of modernization and updates during the 1930s in order to transform it into a modern medical facility. Buildings from this period provide examples of Great Depression-era architecture.

In 1866, soon after Congress authorized the establishment of a National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, the Eastern Branch opened on the site of a former heath resort for the wealthy.  Horace Beals purchased a 1,900 acre tract of land in 1859 and built a 134 room hotel, a race course, bowling alleys, bath house, and other recreational facilities.  He wanted to create a resort spa to rival Saratoga Springs.  Unfortunately, the Civil War broke out shortly after he completed his project.  The resort failed, and he went bankrupt. The project became known as “Beal’s Folly.”  After his death during the Civil War, his widow sold the property and buildings at a loss to the Board of Managers for the new National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.  The Board of Managers thought the property was an excellent site because buildings were already there, and veterans could move in immediately.  In addition, the isolated setting provided “moral benefits” for the veterans and kept them away from the temptations of the city.  Within a year, more than 200 men lived at the National Home branch, the majority of them from Maine, Massachusetts, and New York, though veterans came from all over.  More than half the veterans were foreign born, including a large Irish community. 

In January 1868, a fire broke out that damaged or destroyed all of the major buildings on the campus.  Following the devastating fire, a building campaign commenced to replace the resort facilities with buildings constructed especially for the branch, including three large dormitories, an amusement hall, barn, workshop, and the Governor’s House.  All of these were made of brick in an attempt to fireproof them. Over time, most were destroyed by fire or demolished, with the exception of the Governor’s House. 

The Governor’s House (Building 1) has changed little since its construction in 1869.  The two story brick mansard roof house originally had a full-width open veranda looking out over the campus.  The only major change to the exterior of the house has been the replacement of the verandah with a narrower enclosed porch.  To the northeast of the house is a lake, and to the northwest and west is a large park-like area with trees. Several other staff quarters from the late 19th century remain as well, including two near the Governor's House (Buildings 2 and 4). The southern end of campus has a small residential area with staff quarters from 1896-1900 (Buildings 15-21 and 215-216).

In response to an influx of returning veterans after World War I, Congress created the Veterans Bureau in 1921, followed by the Veterans Administration in 1930. The Eastern Branch and the other National Home branches were expanded to accommodate a new generation of veterans; the campus experienced a major building campaign. In the early 1930's, the new medical center director, Malcolm Stoddard, sought to transform the campus into a modern medical facility. Stoddard received Public Works Administration money to modernize the facility, which, over the course of the decade, added 20 new buildings. Located in the northern section of the campus, the General Medical & Surgical Hospital (Building 200) provided veterans with the newest technology. To the right of the hospital is the Nurses Quarters (Building 209), now used as a Medical Administration Building. To the left of the hospital is a 1937 Theater (Building 210). Originally designed for live performances, it is now a movie theater that continues to provide entertainment to the veterans.

The National Cemetery at Togus VA Medical Center has two sections: East Cemetery and West Cemetery. West Cemetery was established at Togus in 1867, shortly after the Eastern Branch opened. The cemetery is located on top of a hill at the western end of campus. In 1947, a new cemetery opened on the eastern side of campus, referred to as East Cemetery. Both cemeteries are closed to new interments.

The Eastern Branch is located at 1 VA Center in Augusta, ME.  The Governor's House has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file:  text and photos.  Eastern Branch has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  The public can walk and drive through the campus.  The National Cemetery there is open from dawn until dusk.  For more information please visit the Togus VA Medical Center website.  Please respect the privacy of veterans utilizing the facility.

Volunteers at the Togus Medical Center help make the medical center a better place.  During fiscal year 2008, 308 volunteers donated 53,569 hours to the center.  Veterans Service Organizations joined together to rehabilitate old staff quarters to create the Beal House, which provides overnight accommodations for veterans' family and friends.  Beal House is especially important given the remote location of the facility and the harsh Maine winters.  This service is provided to family and friends for free. For more information about volunteering, please see Togus Medical Center’s volunteer website.


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Marion Branch

The Federal Government built the Marion Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (now the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System) because Civil War veterans were growing older and more often sought assistance at the National Home branches. Even after construction of the Western Branch in 1885 and the Pacific Branch in 1888, the National Home still needed more space.  The Board of Managers selected Marion, Indiana, as the location for a new branch in 1888 because of its natural gas supply. The Marion Branch was the last to be designed in the 19th century Picturesque landscape style with curved roads, naturalistic plantings, and irregular green spaces. Many of the historic buildings from the first phase of development and much of the park-like landscape remain at the Marion Branch. Early buildings include the brick barracks (Buildings 1-6), original hospital complex (Buildings 19-22), the Stinson Memorial Theater (Building 47), the chapel (Building 65), and staff quarters (Buildings 34-37). The National Cemetery is in the eastern section of the campus.

First settled in 1826, Marion, Indiana, was a small, slow growing Midwest town until the discovery of natural gas in the 1880s led to a big boom.  At that time, the uses of natural gas had just been discovered.  Given the nature of natural gas, the gas could not be transported far from its source, so towns with natural gas became boom towns.  This was one of the primary reasons Congressman George W. Steele Sr. was able to convince the Board of Managers to locate a new National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Marion. Congress approved the new branch in 1888 and appropriated $200,000 to build it.  The residents of Grant County, Indiana, were responsible for supplying the natural gas to the branch and covering the cost of building the wells for the gas.  Construction began in 1889, and the first barracks in Marion were completed by the end of the year.  The branch officially opened March 18, 1890.

Membership at the Marion Branch rose to 1,782 by 1901, but later declined due to the advancing age and increased deaths of Civil War veterans. In 1920, the Board of Managers approved a proposal to convert the Marion Branch into a neuropsychiatric institution, the primary function of which was to care for “nervous and mental patients,” who were mostly World War I veterans.  Other members at the time were transferred to different branches, mainly the branches in Milwaukee and Danville. 

The Dayton architectural firm, Peter and Burns, designed the original buildings and the 212 acre site in a Picturesque manner using curving roadways and irregularly-configured green spaces.  The firm placed Steele Circle in the center of the campus with buildings arranged around it.  In the center of the circle is the Mess Hall and Kitchen (Building 122) that dates from 1937 and replaces the original one destroyed by fire. Built in 1889-1890, the original six barracks (Buildings 1-6) sit to the west of Steele Circle. These nearly identical buildings in the Georgian Revival style are placed in two rows of three. The main difference between the buildings is the two different roof types. Buildings 1, 3, and 5 have a hipped roof with a hip dormer while buildings 2, 4, and 6 have a gable roof on the center pavilion. The first hospital at the branch is east of Steele Circle. The hospital complex of four buildings (Buildings 19-22) started with only Building 19 in 1889. The original Queen Anne-style hospital (Building 19) is currently used as a credit union and barber shop. The hospital complex expanded in 1890 with the addition of three buildings (Buildings 20-22) to the sides and rear of the main hospital. These are similar to the barracks in style and design. Recreational facilities are to the south of Steele Circle. These buildings include the Stinson Memorial Theater (Building 47) and the headquarters (now the Canteen, Building 50). The Stinson Theater from 1891 houses a 140 seat auditorium with a stage and orchestra pit. North of Steele Circle is the Gothic Revival Chapel (Building 65). The Chapel has two sanctuaries: one for Protestants on the south side and the other for Catholics on the north side of the building. Both sanctuaries have several stained glass windows. To the west of the Chapel is a series of six Colonial Revival duplex quarters (Buildings 26-31) from 1921 that are known as Doctors’ Row.

The 1920s saw an increase in construction as a result of the additional benefits offered by the War Risk Insurance Act and the change from a facility where veterans could live out their lives to a neuropsychiatric hospital.  In the 1920s, three new buildings (Buildings 15-17), on the western end of campus behind the original barracks, were constructed to house new patients.   The Office of Supervising Architects of the U.S. Treasury Department designed these buildings as part of a growing trend to standardize and increase the efficiency of design and construction.  Adjacent to Buildings 15-17 is the new medical facility, the focal point of the campus today.  A new geropsychiatric building dates from 1996 (Building 172) and another new building from 1999.  

The National Cemetery from 1890 is in the eastern section of campus.  The original part of the cemetery is laid out in a circular pattern.  When the cemetery expanded north in the 1920s, the new section was designed in a grid pattern.  A Civil War memorial monument from 1900 divides the two sections of the cemetery.

The Marion Branch is located at 1700 E 38th St. in Marion IN.  The Marion Branch has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.  The facility is open to the public, and visitors can drive through and walk on the grounds, and visit the cemetery. Visitors must check in with the police before entering the facility.  It is best to contact the Public Affairs Officer for the medical facility at (765) 674-3321 to schedule a time to visit.  The National Cemetery is open to the public from dawn until dusk.  For more information on visiting the medical facility and Marion, Indiana, please see the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System website. Please respect the privacy of veterans utilizing the facility.

Volunteers are an important part of the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System and help make the patients' stays more comfortable.  There are various volunteer assignments; see this website for an up to date list of volunteer positions. 


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Mountain Branch

Established in 1901 and commonly referred to as Mountain Home, the Mountain Branch (now the Mountain Home VA Medical Center) is in Johnson City, Tennessee, close to the border between Virginia and North Carolina. Set in the Smoky Mountains, the campus, by design, commands views of the beautiful mountain peaks and valleys.  The formal Beaux Arts campus contrasts with the wildness of the surrounding natural setting.  The landscape, most of the historic buildings, and the National Cemetery remain intact, with modern hospital facilities concentrated predominately in the eastern portion of the campus.  The medical center is associated with the James H. Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), and the medical school has rehabilitated a number of the historic buildings to use as classrooms.

Congressman Walter Preston Brownlow was instrumental in establishing another National Home branch in the South.  To convince the Board of Managers, he cited the high number of Southerners who fought for the Union in the Civil War and the fact that the Board had recently built a National Home in Virginia.  He felt the mountains of Tennessee provided a good climate for veterans, especially those suffering from respiratory conditions.  The new branch opened for its first patient in 1903.  Brownlow became the local manager of the branch and worked hard to provide the best amenities he could for the veterans there.  He obtained funds from Andrew Carnegie and others to establish a library and started a streetcar line to transport veterans and visitors from the branch to Johnson City.

Mountain Branch became a tuberculosis facility, because the Board of Managers determined that mountain air was good for the patients.  Mountain Branch and Battle Mountain Sanitarium (in South Dakota) treated tuberculosis. Patients from other branches who could travel came to one of these two branches. In 1911, the campus was modified to serve new veterans’ needs by building a tuberculosis cottage and reserving a ward in the hospital for very ill tuberculosis patients.  This was done to keep the highly contagious patients separate from the non-tubercular patients on the campus.  These tubercular patients were even prohibited from going to any social activities for fear of contagion.  In 1921, Mountain Home officially became a tuberculosis sanitarium in response to great concern about the spread of the disease, especially after the outbreaks during World War I.  The facility added a tuberculosis ward for African Americans at this time and medical staff was increased to handle the increased number of patients. 

Mountain Branch is characterized by its hilly terrain and intermittently wooded slopes.  Joseph H. Freedlander designed the original plan and buildings for the branch.  Freedlander laid out the Beaux Arts brick veneer buildings in formal symmetry facing southeast so patients could view the Great Smoky Mountains in the distance.  The branch is typical of the Beaux Arts style with its wide streets and open landscape spaces.  This uniformity is different from other National Home branches, which generally used a variety of architectural styles and had grounds designed in a picturesque or romantic manner.  The few new buildings on campus are in a style sympathetic to the Beaux Arts buildings that Freedlander designed, which gives the campus a cohesive appearance. Carl Andersen may have been responsible for the landscape design; after his death a local newspaper noted that he was the chief landscape architect for the branch.  

The main boulevard on the campus, Dogwood Avenue, runs east to west.  The Administration Building (Building 52) anchors the west end of Dogwood Avenue.  Facing east down Dogwood Avenue, the two-story red brick building’s central projecting bay highlights the main entryway with two single and two double brick columns.  The building is currently leased by the ETSU Medical School to house the Department of Psychiatry.  The original, historic hospital (Building 69), which dates from 1905, stands at the eastern end of Dogwood Avenue.  Also in the Beaux Arts style, this building no longer serves as a hospital but now houses administrative and clinical offices for the VA.  Behind the historic hospital building is a complex of new buildings that are now the hospital and outpatient clinic. 

At the center of Dogwood Avenue stands the most notable building on campus, the Mess Hall (Building 34), with its prominent clock tower and elaborate Beaux Arts detailing.  The clock tower projects out from the T-plan building.  It is currently used by the VA for engineering shops and research facilities and houses the Mountain Home Medical Center museum. 

On each side of the Mess Hall are nearly identical barracks (Buildings 1 and 2) arranged in an east-west manner, facing south toward the Smoky Mountains.  The barracks have central entrances with semi-octagonal wings at either end.  The barracks currently house various departments of the ETSU Medical School.  Behind these two barracks are five more barracks (Buildings 3-7) in a less ornate, simplified Colonial Revival design. They still have the defining brick veneer.  The main entrances have projecting bays supported at the corners with large brick pillars and thinner pillars inside. Two of these barracks are vacant. The other barracks are used by the ETSU Medical School.

Behind the barracks are the recreational facilities of the campus. The Beaux Arts Chapel (Building 13) with its Catholic and Protestant sanctuaries was inspired by the Mission style.  The chapel's tower houses a shared vestibule at the southeast corner that conceals two entrances: one leading to the Catholic sanctuary, the other to the Protestant sanctuary.  The chapel is currently not open to the public because of structural issues. Memorial Hall (Building 35) is just to the east of the chapel. It functioned as a theater and still has much of its interior grandeur and orchestra pit intact.  The ETSU Theater Department leases the building.  South of the Memorial Hall is the Carnegie Library (Building 17)-- one of two known to exist at National Home branches. The VA and ETSU Medical School use the library as a lecture hall. To the northwest of the hospital complex are medical staff duplexes (Buildings 39-43) built in the 1920s in response to the increase in membership after the facility’s transition to a tuberculosis sanitarium.  These Colonial Revival duplexes are vacant, except for one that the VA uses for engineering offices.

The western portion of campus also has a 1920s duplex.  This section is the location of most of the single quarters (Buildings 44-47).  They are also Colonial Revivals built in the 1920s to house additional staff.  The majority of these are vacant. 

South of Dogwood Avenue is the large parade ground with a Bandstand (Building 10), surrounded by woods and open space.  The southern edge of the campus still has one of the two original lakes used for recreation during the early years of the branch.

At the northern end of the campus is the National Cemetery, which has a visitor’s center.  The Brownlow Monument is an obelisk that marks the graves of Congressman Walter Preston Brownlow and his wife. The monument is a reminder that Congressman Brownlow was responsible for the creation of the Mountain Branch. Most of the pre-1930 burials are located near the monument. 

Mountain Branch is located at the corner of Lamont & Veterans Way in Mountain Home, TN.  Mountain Branch has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey. The facility is open to the public, and visitors can drive through and walk on the grounds, visit the cemetery, and view the historic buildings.  When visitors arrive, they must check-in with either the police (Building 204) or directors office.  The Catholic Chapel (Building 13) and Clock Tower (Building 34) can be entered if requested prior to arrival at the facility.  The Mountain Home Museum does not maintain regular hours; call ahead to ensure the museum is open for your visit. The National Cemetery is open from dawn to dusk. For more information, please see the VA Medical Center Mountain Home website.Please respect the privacy of veterans utilizing the facility.

Mountain Home has more than 750 volunteers who help with the routine hospital and domiciliary functions.  Volunteer groups also ensure that every veteran has someone present at his or her funeral should family and friends be unable to attend.  To see a list of volunteer activities and contact information, visit the VA Medical Center Mountain Home website.


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Northwestern Branch

Established in 1867, the Northwestern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (now the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center) was the second of the original three branches established by the newly formed Board of Managers. Located on the west side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the 400 acre campus sits just south of the Milwaukee Brewer’s Miller Park baseball stadium and the Silurian Fossil Reef, a geological site designated as the Soldiers’ Home Reef National Historic Landmark. While the Eastern Branch was the first National Home branch to open, the Northwestern Branch was the first National Home branch that the Board of Managers had designed and built. The grand Victorian Gothic Main Building (Building 2), referred to as Old Main, continues to be the focal point of the campus. The National Cemetery is found on the southern border of the VA facility. 

Milwaukee became the site of the Northwestern Branch due to the combined efforts of the West Side Soldiers Aid Society and George Walker, a member of the Board of Managers. Dedicated to assisting Civil War soldiers, the West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society provided meals, supplies and medical care in several rented storefronts during the war. Determined to build a permanent State soldiers home, they incorporated as the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home and held a month long Sanitary Fair that raised $100,000. Before construction began, George Walker, a Milwaukee native, convinced the society to contribute their resources to the new National Home, rather than build a State home.

Thomas Budd Van Horne, Civil War chaplain and well-known landscape architect, designed the grounds and cemetery in a Picturesque style. He used the varied topography of the campus to create curving paths and roads lined with trees and a relaxing, scenic setting. Van Horne left portions of the campus as naturally wooded areas, but created manicured lawns and formal flowerbeds immediately surrounding the buildings. The northern and eastern portions of the campus were left for farming use. Milwaukee did not have an urban park system at the time the Northwestern Branch opened. The grounds became a place for the community to visit -- for picnics, strolls, band concerts, dancing at the dance hall, Fourth of July celebrations, and rowing boats on the lake. 

Milwaukee architect Edward Townsend Mix designed the first buildings for the new National Home branch. Built in 1867-1868, the Governor’s Quarters (Building 39) is a melding of the Italianate and Queen Anne styles. It is still used as the Medical Center Director’s Quarters.  The five-story, multicolored Gothic Revival style Main Building (built 1867-1869) was designed to house all the functions of the Northwestern Branch. Mix felt that having everything in one building would be more efficient. The Main Building (Building 2) contained the dormitories, administrative offices, kitchen, dining hall, chapel, and meeting hall. However, as the Northwestern Branch grew, the Board of Managers adopted the decentralized plan used at other branches. Barracks, a hospital, headquarters, theater, library and recreation hall were built to the south and west of the Main Building.

During the first year the Northwestern Branch was open, 212 veterans lived there. By 1877, 1307 veterans resided at the Branch. Eventually, the population outgrew the capacity of the original buildings. 

In 1879, the Home began a building campaign that lasted nearly 20 years. Henry C. Koch was the primary architect for the buildings constructed in the last quarter of the 19th century. His design and placement of the new buildings complemented the Picturesque style landscape. The styles and detailing he chose generally were more utilitarian than what Mix had used. Koch designed a new hospital (Building 6) in the Italianate style. Located west of the Main Building, his hospital now contains administrative offices. Completed in 1896, the Headquarters Building (Building 1) is in the Renaissance Revival style and is used as office space for service organizations.

Koch designed the two-story Ward Memorial Hall (Building 41) in the Victorian Gothic style. Initially, it contained a store and railroad ticket office on the first floor and a flat floored assembly hall on the second floor. In 1887, the Grand Army of the Republic donated a stained glass window of General Grant, which was installed on the second story of the east side of the Hall. In 1897, the second floor was removed and balconies, an enlarged stage, and dressing rooms were added. Koch also designed new barracks (Buildings 5 and 7) constructed in 1884 and 1888, the Shingle style Chapel (Building 12) built in 1889, and the Colonial Revival style Social Hall (Building 4) built in 1894.

Originally, nursing duties were performed by male residents. In 1890, the Northwestern Branch contracted with the Wisconsin Training School for Female Nurses to employ professional female nurses. This experiment was so successful that the rest of the National Home branches soon followed suit.

By 1916, the veteran population had declined so much that the Board of Managers considered closing the Northwestern Branch. However, the onset of World War I and the need for more medical facilities changed their minds. In 1923, a tuberculosis hospital was built on the southern edge of the property. A ward was created for female veterans who served as nurses during World War I. About a dozen female veterans lived at the Northwestern Branch in 1924.


Until 1871, veterans from the Northwestern Branch were buried in private cemeteries in Milwaukee. In 1871, Thomas Van Horne designed a cemetery in the northwest corner of the grounds. He created straight rows of graves with a central monument, continuing in a Picturesque style with tree lined curvilinear roads. In 1900, a reception building was constructed for visitors to the cemetery. A Soldiers and Sailors Monument was erected in 1903. In 1937, the government formally named the cemetery Wood Cemetery.

A modern hospital and buildings constructed after 1930 are located on the southernmost end of the grounds, separated from the historic district by distance and topography. Many of the original buildings are intact, including the Main Building and the Governor’s House, the oldest remaining buildings constructed under the oversight of the National Home Board of Managers.

The Northwestern Branch is located at 5000 West National Ave. in Milwaukee, WI.  The medical facility has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The facility is open to the public, and visitors can drive through and walk on the grounds, visit the cemetery, and view the historic buildings, but most of the buildings are closed to the public. The library (Building 3) is open as is a small exhibit about Clement J. Zablocki, for whom the medical center is now named, which is in the main facility building (Building 111).  No visitor parking is available.  During the Reclaiming Our Heritage event (held each year the weekend after Memorial Day), many of the historic buildings are open for guided tours. For more information, visit www.rohmilwaukee.org. The National Cemetery is open from dawn to dusk.  For additional information, please visit the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center website. Please respect the privacy of veterans utilizing the facility. For additional information, please visit the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center website.

The volunteer coordinator depends on the volunteers for their wealth of knowledge in a variety of areas.  In 2008, 975 people volunteered at the medical center.  To volunteer, visit the center’s website for information on how to sign up to volunteer and possible volunteer assignments. 


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Pacific Branch

The Pacific Branch (now the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System-West Los Angeles Healthcare Center) opened in 1888 in response to the growing number of veterans entering the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The 1884 changes in eligibility requirements allowed veterans with non-service related disabilities to enter a National Home branch.  Located about five miles from the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles, California, the Pacific Branch reflects changes that took place at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers as well as Federal veterans benefits and programs during the 1920s.  Buildings from both the post-Civil War and World War I eras are prominent at this site.  The National Cemetery, dating from 1889, is located on the eastern edge of the campus. 

In 1887, Congress authorized $150,000 to establish the Pacific Branch located west of the Rockies. Senator Jones and his partner, Colonel Baker, deeded 640 acres to the government to use for the branch.  Jones also pledged $10,000 a year for five years for the construction of buildings; his heirs donated an additional 113 acres instead of fulfilling the pledge monetarily. Construction of the campus began in 1888 with the Surgeon’s Quarters. One thousand veterans arrived in 1888 and stayed in temporary barracks until the permanent quarters were completed in 1891 and 1893. 

Several buildings from the early National Home period survive. The 1900 Shingle style dual Chapel (Building 20) houses two separate sanctuaries for Catholic and Protestant congregations: they have separate entrances and interiors that are decorated and furnished according to denominational customs. Two staff quarters for staff remain (Buildings 23 and 33).  The fanciful 1900 Streetcar Depot (Building 66) greeted veterans and visitors arriving at the Pacific Branch via streetcar. After the streetcar stopped running in the mid-20th century, the building became a newsstand for two decades. The airy, wood frame building is one of the last remaining examples of the early architectural style. 

The Pacific Branch experienced tremendous growth from the 1920s to the 1940s, supplanting Dayton's long reign as the most populated National Home branch.  Many buildings dating from this period continue to be used today.  World War I veterans were promised health care for service related injuries, but the National Home system could not accommodate this new influx of veterans.  In 1919, Congress authorized the secretary of the treasury to spend more than $9 million on new health care facilities across the country to be managed by the Public Health Service.  The Office of Supervising Architects, U.S. Department of the Treasury designed these new hospitals. Following recommendations from the Federal Board of Hospitalization, they created a standardized designs for the three basic hospital types: tuberculosis, neuro-psychiatric, and general medical and surgical hospitals. In 1921, Congress authorized additional money for new replacement hospitals and domiciliary additions at the National Home branches. 

The Pacific Branch’s tuberculosis hospital dates from the early 1920s and used the standard design created by the Treasury Department for Veterans Bureau hospitals.  While the basic floor plan was the same as others, the Treasury Department altered the façade to reflect the local architecture.  For the Pacific Branch, the new buildings were constructed in the Spanish Colonial/Mission Revival style.  The new hospital consisted of three buildings, only one of which still stands (Building 156).  The Pacific Branch also added barracks to temporarily house unemployed veterans during the Great Depression.  Built in 1932 and named for the president at that time, Hoover Barracks (Building 199) is the only one of the eight wooden barracks that still stands. Construction and development at the Pacific Branch continued through the 1940s, including the Wadsworth Hospital (Buildings 208 and 209). A replacement hospital (Building 500) in the 1970s shifted the focal point of the campus south of Wilshire Boulevard. 

The Los Angeles National Cemetery was dedicated on May 22, 1889, a few days after the first interment. The Works Progress Administration constructed the Spanish Revival style administration building-chapel and the indoor columbarium at the National Cemetery in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Unusually for National Cemeteries, the Los Angeles National Cemetery has two canine burials, though the practice is no longer allowed. Old Bonus, a dog the Pacific Branch veterans adopted, and Blackout, a war dog wounded in the Pacific Theater during World War II, are buried in the cemetery.

The Pacific Branch is located at 11301 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, CA.  The Pacific Branch has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey. The campus is open to the public.  Visitors can walk, bike, or drive through the campus.  Visitors can check-in with the police (Building 236) to see if a temporary parking pass is available that day.  No buildings are open to the public.  The National Cemetery is open from dawn to dusk. For more information, see the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System-West Los Angeles Healthcare Center’s website. Please respect the privacy of veterans utilizing the facility.

Volunteers help the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System-West Los Angeles Healthcare Center serve the large number of veterans in the Los Angeles area.  People interested in volunteering should call the Volunteer Services coordinator at (310) 268-4350 or visit this website.


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Southern Branch

The Southern Branch (now the Hampton VA Medical Center), located in Hampton, Virginia, opened in 1870 as the fourth branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.  The site of the Southern Branch is enhanced by Hampton Roads Bay, Jones Creek, and St. Johns Creek, the natural features that surround it. The Board of Managers established a branch in the South for two reasons: to provide a branch close to home for the U.S. Colored Troops and to add a branch in a temperate climate for all veterans. The Southern Branch may be the first Federal facility specifically planned and established as an integrated facility. Very few African American veterans took advantage of the facility; however, the Southern Branch became very popular among many other veterans.

The land on which the Southern Branch sits was from the 1850s Chesapeake Female College for the daughters of the Virginia elite, but the college closed at the start of the Civil War.  Union troops quickly took over the site, because they feared Confederate troops would use the tower on campus to spy on Union forces at nearby Fort Monroe. The Federal Government turned the campus into the Chesapeake Military Hospital because of its proximity to the fort and battles occurring in the area. Fort Monroe became known as the “Freedom Fort” because Union officers, in particular General Benjamin Butler, did not return escaped slaves to their masters. The slaves were able to work at Fort Monroe, and many settled in the area as a result of Butler’s policy. At some point during the War, General Butler purchased the land on which the Chesapeake Female College/Chesapeake Military Hospital sat. 

After the Civil War, General Butler became the president and treasurer of the Board of Managers for the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.  In 1870, he suggested a new branch be opened in the South to accommodate the U.S. Colored Troops and proposed that the location be near Fort Monroe. The Board of Managers’ search committee selected Butler’s land for the new branch.  Butler’s son-in-law completed the transaction for him, and Butler’s ownership of the land did not come to light until after the purchase.  After this disclosure, Congress investigated Butler and the transaction but found no wrongdoing. The Southern Branch officially opened in December 1870, using the old college facilities to house the veterans.  The only remaining building from the Chesapeake Female College era is the Engineering Services/Security Services building (Building 36).  Constructed in the 1850s in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, the building served as a library. 

The Southern Branch underwent an extensive building campaign during the 1880s.  Charles Taylor Holtzclaw designed the Quartermasters’ Storehouse (Building 27).  There is speculation but no proof that he designed many of the other buildings during this period. Other buildings that date from the same time include the National Chaplain Headquarters (Building 33), Quarters (Building 6), the Canteen (Building 17), and offices (Building 61). 

The Southern Branch experienced another building campaign at the start of the 20th century. Most of this work is attributed to John Calvin Stevens, an architect from Maine who also worked at the Eastern Branch.  During Stevens’ tenure at the Southern Branch, he shifted the design and layout from a late Victorian Picturesque style to a reflection of the City Beautiful Movement, which emphasized uniform buildings with well ordered streets. Stevens' buildings are of red brick with limestone trim in the Colonial Revival style. The 1907 Jamestown Tercentennial, which popularized the Colonial Revival style, likely influenced Stevens. Stevens built the Chapel (Building 48) with a V-shaped floor plan to accommodate both the Protestant and Catholic congregations at the branch. Stevens designed at least six domiciliary residential sections (Buildings 43, 50, 52, 66, and 69), most of which are in the northeastern section of campus.  Today, the facility uses these buildings for a variety of services, none residential. 

More changes came to the Southern Branch during and after World War I.  Because the facility was close to military bases, the Board of Managers temporarily transferred control of the Southern Branch to the Secretary of War for use as a hospital by the Medical Department of the Army. Transferred to other branches during this time, members of the Southern Branch were allowed to return at the end of the war.  After the war, the Board of Managers constructed a new hospital using the standard design of the Office of Supervising Architects, U.S. Department of the Treasury.  The main hospital (Building 110) dates from 1938 and has a design consistent with the plans for General Surgical and Medical Hospitals. Treasury Department architects also designed Buildings 114 and 115 in 1941 and 1940, respectively.  These have Colonial Revival façades to match the rest of the buildings at the Southern Branch. 

The Southern Branch continues to grow and expand to accommodate more veterans and serve their needs. The 1938 hospital building is still the main hospital at the facility, but recent additions (110A, 110B, and 110C) have altered its appearance and scale. 

Unlike other National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers branches, the Southern Branch did not initially have a cemetery, because Hampton National Cemetery was close by.  Burials of Civil War soldiers began at Hampton National Cemetery in 1862, but the cemetery was not officially a National Cemetery until 1866. The cemetery contains the remains of 638 unknown Union soldiers previously buried on Civil War battlefields and reinterred at Hampton and 272 unknown Confederate soldiers that are laid to rest in a separate section.  German and Italian World War II prisoners of war also are buried at Hampton National Cemetery. Since 1862, the National Cemetery has grown to 27.1 acres. 

In 1898, a Yellow Fever epidemic broke out at the Southern Branch, and the entire facility was put under quarantine. The Southern Branch established a new cemetery on the grounds of the facility to bury those who died during the quarantine. Twenty-two men are buried in this cemetery, now known as Hampton National Cemetery, VAMC. 

The Southern Branch is located at 100 Emancipation Dr. in Hampton, VA.  The Southern Branch has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey. While the facility is open to the public, visitors must check in with security (Building 36) before entering the facility. Visitors can walk or drive through the campus, but none of the buildings are open to the public. The National Cemetery is open to the public from dawn until dusk.  For more information on visiting the medical facility and Hampton, Virginia, see the Hampton, Virginia VA Medical Center website. Please respect the privacy of veterans utilizing the facility.

Over 500 volunteers help the Hampton VA Medical Center offer extra opportunities to veterans. Volunteers help with recreational activities and plan social events for the veterans. Volunteers can visit with patients staying in the community living portion of the medical center. Each year during the National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans, volunteers host activities all week for these veterans. For more information, please call the volunteer coordinator at (737) 728-3124 or visit Building 71 room 106 E.

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Western Branch

In 1884, the Western Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (now the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center) in Leavenworth, Kansas, became the first National Home branch west of the Mississippi River.  In the same year, Congress increased eligibility for the National Home branches to include those veterans with non-service related disabilities. As a result, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers had an immediate 12% increase in membership prompting construction of the Western and Pacific Branches to accommodate more veterans. The historic core of the Western Branch is situated along a ridge line overlooking the Missouri River.  The Picturesque style park-like campus has 58 historic buildings spread out on the 214 acre campus.  The National Cemetery is located atop a hill on the eastern edge of the campus. 

In 1883, the Grand Army of the Republic began lobbying for a branch in the West, and in 1884, Congress appropriated money for the Western Branch to serve veterans in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nebraska.  Competition emerged among States and localities to be the site for the new branch.  The City of Leavenworth agreed to donate $50,000 and use park bonds to purchase and donate land for the branch.  The Board of Managers liked the city’s offer and the proximity of the site to the U.S. Army's Fort Leavenworth.  Even though the city promised $50,000, it did not have the money and the State legislature would not help fund the facility.  The Board of Managers allowed the city to pay over a period of 10 years.  Construction began at the branch in 1885 using bricks made from clay found on the site for many of the original buildings.

Admitted in the summer of 1885, the first member of the branch was Alexander Maines, formerly Private, Company A, First Rhode Island Light Artillery. He was a transfer from the Eastern Branch with disabilities recorded as rheumatism, fever, and ague. The Western Branch provided shelter, education, training, employment and medical care to veterans. Members could work and learn new skills while they were being rehabilitated. By 1893, the Western Branch had carpenter, blacksmith, engineer, tin, paint, print, shoe, soap, and tailor shops, and a truck farming producing fruit and vegetables. Shops for baking, upholstering, and horseshoeing were added by 1900. Members were employed as laborers, waiters, clerks, cooks, carpenters, and guards.

Prominent landscape architect Horace William Shaler Cleveland designed the campus in the Picturesque style with curving tree-lined roads, an informal arrangement of buildings, and large open areas with groups of trees and shrubs.  Cleveland believed in working in harmony with the natural landscape, laying out the campus to complement the rolling topography of the site.

During this first building phase from 1884 to 1890, contractor James A. McGonigle constructed 17 buildings. The central point of the Western Branch was the general mess hall, Franklin Hall (Building 19).  The Romanesque Revival two story building has a two story porch supported by iron pipes, which is now enclosed by fiberglass panels.  To the northeast and directly south of Franklin Hall is a series of barracks (Buildings 1 through 12 and 14) in the Georgian Colonial Revival style placed on the ridge so veterans could see Missouri River to east and the rising hills to the west.  The barracks at the top of ridge also take advantage of cooling summer breezes.  Twelve of the original 13 barracks still stand.  One was lost in a fire in the 1950s.

Scattered throughout the campus are staff quarters, mainly in the Queen Anne style.  Many of the staff homes line the banks of Lake Jeannette at the southern end of campus.  The Governor’s Quarter (Building 42) was moved in 1930 to make room for the new hospital.

North of the barracks is the Queen Anne style Ward Memorial Hall (Building 29) of 1888 that once held the branches' administration offices and the Hancock Library. The lower level has a barber shop and billiard room.  Prominent Kansas City architects, Louis Singleton Curtis and Frederick C. Gunn, designed the ornate Late Gothic Revival Chapel (Building 66), also referred to as the Immanuel Church, which dates from 1893.  The two-story brick and sandstone building has two-story stained glass windows and gargoyles on the bell tower.  Located south of the barracks near the staff quarters, the chapel has two separate sanctuaries for the Protestant and Catholic congregations at the branch. 

The Chateauesque style recreation hall (Building 64) is set into the steeply sloping hill, downhill from the original barracks.  It is referred to as the “Dugout” because its lower story has an open arcaded front used as recreational space. This was once the site of the beer hall. The branch constructed Nurses’ Quarters (Building 34) in 1898 to house the first women who worked at the Western Branch.  In 1902, a new French Eclectic and Italian Renaissance design Administration Building (Building 21) became the home of the facility’s administrative offices. Additional staff quarters (Buildings 41, 44, 45, 47, and 48) date from between 1900 and 1910.  This phase of construction at the Western Branch continued until the 1910s when the population began declining because of the advancing age of the Civil War veterans.  The Western Branch was a popular place to visit for tourists by the turn of the 20th century and once had a two-story Chateauesque brick hotel for visitors with a theater and store.

After World War I, the population of the branch increased again. The old hospital was demolished following construction of a new multi-level hospital complex (Building 89) in 1930.  The majority of the facilities that the VA uses today are in the northwestern corner of the campus and date from between the 1970s and the 1990s.

Established in 1886, the cemetery is to the west of the buildings on campus separated by a sloping grade. Horace William Shaler Cleveland designed the cemetery in the park-like cemetery layout that was popular in late 19th century.  Erected in 1919, an obelisk at the site honors the veterans.  A cemetery rest house dates from 1921. 

An Enhanced Use Lease Program with Pioneer Group, a private development company, provided for building rehabilitation in 2005.  The company has rehabilitated seven staff quarters into one-two bedroom apartments for the veterans in a transitional program at the facility. 

The Western Branch is located at 4101 S. 4th St. Trafficway in Leavenworth, KS.  The Western Branch has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The grounds of the medical facility are open to the public from 8:00am to 4:30pm.  All of the buildings are closed to the public with the exception of the Chapel (Building 66).  The cemetery is open from dawn to dusk.  Staff is available from 8 am to 4:30 pm to assist visitors in finding grave markers.  Visitors are asked to walk through the cemetery and the medical facility in a respectful manner.  For more information about the Western Branch, please see the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center website. Please respect the privacy of veterans utilizing the facility.

In addition to assisting with daily tasks, volunteers offer services to the veterans by hosting social events throughout the year for the residents living at the facility.  These events include fish fries and holiday parties. Visit the medical center’s website for information on how to volunteer at the Western Branch. 


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