DAYTON — Local veteran and volunteer at the Dayton Veterans Hospital Jake Daily presented information to local seniors during the Preble County Senior Center Fun Friday, on Aug. 7 at the Grange in Eaton, giving seniors an extensive look at the history of Dayton’s VA.
Daily spoke after a half-hour video discussed the history of the ground breaking Dayton’s Soldiers Home.
Daily and the video said the Dayton VA is considered the “Mothers Home” for disabled veterans and pioneered the country’s veterans social outreach program. President Abraham Lincoln signed an act of legislation in 1865 establishing the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers to mark the beginning of the program.
The program was started after many Civil War veterans became disabled beggars because of injuries sustained during the war. It became the first national scale social out-reach program for the United States government.
In August of 1867 construction began on the barracks at the central branch known as Dayton’s Soldiers Home. Lewis B. Gunkle of Dayton was appointed Secretary to the Board of Managers in 1866 and was instrumental in choosing Dayton for the Central Branch.
By December, 916 veterans were receiving care at the Dayton Branch compared to 319 receiving care at the eastern branch in Togus, Maine and the 212 receiving care at the northwestern branch at Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In 1868 construction began on the hospital and chapel. The hospital was considered to be one of the finest and best-appointed structures of its kind in the United States while the chapel became the first permanent church ever built by the United States Government.
Also in 1868 rehabilitation programs began which gave veterans educations in trades and business. This was the first racially integrated federal facility for education. By 1871 the Central Branch employed veterans as blacksmiths, bookbinders, broom makers, carpenters, cigar makers, harness makers, knitters, painters, printers, shoemakers, plumbers and telegraph instructors.
During this time the home had four bowling alleys, bagatelle tables and billiard tables. During its history the home once had a zoo, a deer park and other tourist attractions.
By December of 1871 the Central Branch in Dayton was home to 2,329 veterans making it the largest facility in the world of its kind.
The Soldiers Monument construction began in July of 1873. The monument is a 30-foot tall marble column designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Latrobe is most known for his work on the White House and Capitol in Washington D.C.
In 1875 the Dayton Soldiers Home was advertised as the most popular travelers resort west of the Allegheny Mountains. Over 100,000 visitors came to the home.
In December of 1884 the home hosted over 60 percent of all veterans in receiving care at all national homes.
By 1910, the home saw 669,000 annual visitors, over six times the population of Dayton at the time.
Currently the chapel and large portions of the original 40 or more buildings are no longer open to the public due to safety concerns, but Daily says tours are still available.
In 2001 the National Park Service awarded a Save America’s Treasure grant to the VA in hopes to help preserve some of the landmarks at the site.
Information on the Dayton Soldiers Home was provided by Daily as well as information distributed by Jeffery Hull, the former cultural resource management officer at the Dayton VAMC, and Margaret Kruckemeyer American Veterans Heritage Center President.
The Preble County Senior Fun Friday event occurs the first Friday of every month at noon at the Grange in Eaton, and provides lunch as well as entertainment for local seniors.