Written by Erica Stewart, Public Affairs
In recognition of Veterans Day, we’re taking a look at two of our National Treasures that have a special connection to our armed forces.
Old Main Building at Milwaukee Soldiers Home.
The first is the Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home. Located on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, the Milwaukee Soldiers Home first started serving area veterans shortly after the Civil War. It’s one of three original National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and was named a National Historic Landmark District in 2011 because it retains the oldest buildings in the system and is a largely intact “village” and designed landscape.
Unfortunately, some of these structures, such as the Ward Theatre and the 1869 Gothic Revival style Old Main building, are in serious disrepair and in need of help. In winter 2010, for example, Old Main’s roof collapsed, leaving it exposed to the elements for nearly two years. The Ward Theatre faces a similarly grave threat.
The VA has taken strides recently to stabilize Old Main, a significant step in the right direction. But, as Stephanie Meeks stated in a recent op-ed, much more work is needed -- and fast -- to ensure these vacant buildings can once again serve veterans.
Ward Theatre, Milwaukee Soldiers Home.
The National Trust is working closely with several local organizations and elected officials to push for preserving the Soldiers Home and re-using its vacant buildings. The coalition includes a Community Advisory Council made up of veterans, neighbors, preservationists and civic, community and business leaders.
To help engage the public in this effort, the coalition just launched the #MySoldiersHome campaign, which invites individuals to share stories, photos and other remembrances -- reminding us how the Soldiers Home has positively impacted so many people.
Also exciting is that starting in 2013, for the first time in many years, the public will be able to see the grandeur of this place for themselves through self-guided walking tours organized by the National Trust and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance. More information on all of these opportunities to get involved can be found at www.SavetheSoldiersHome.com.
Battle Mountain Sanitarium.
A similar fight is taking place at the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Like the Milwaukee Soldiers Home, Battle Mountain Sanitarium is one of the original branches of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (a precursor to the Department of Veterans Affairs).
The campus was established by Congress in 1902 as the sole medical facility of the National Home network and opened to patients in 1907. Its locally-quarried sandstone buildings helped earn the campus National Historic Landmark status.
Today, the complex provides essential medical services for veterans in the area, yet the VA wants to shutter it and construct a new facility 60 miles away. Not only would this place the future of this remarkable campus at risk, it would also severely impact the town of Hot Springs, where the medical center is the single largest employer. The ramifications would be felt widely, as veterans from Nebraska and Wyoming also currently seek treatment in Hot Springs.
Corridor at Battle Mountain Sanitarium.
Working closely with the Save the VA Campaign, the National Trust is fighting to make the VA recognize its responsibility to safely steward this historic resource, including involving public input and considering the harmful effects of shuttering the complex, as required by federal law.
There are signs that we’re gaining ground. Most recently, our campaign received a shot in the arm from South Dakota’s congressional delegation. First, the tri-state congressional delegation (South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming) requested that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki visit Hot Springs and meet with stakeholders.
But after they received no response, the South Dakota congressional delegation decided it had had enough. South Dakota’s members publicly communicated to the Secretary their flat-out opposition to the VA’s current proposal to reconfigure services in the VA Black Hills Health Care System.
This is a bold move by the South Dakota congressional members and one that we were hoping they would exercise. The support of Congress on this matter is of the utmost importance to help ensure that veterans, locals, preservationists, and other stakeholders are heard.
This Veterans Day, while we reflect upon the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the armed forces, we should do what we can to support the places they rely on in times of need. It is the least we can do.
Stay tuned to SavingPlaces.org for campaign updates and consider making a donation to support this work.