Veterans' Administration Medical Center
President Grover Cleveland first approved the Marion Home on July 23, 1888, twenty-three years after Congress passed legislation to incorporate a National Asylum for disabled soldiers and sailors of the Civil War (“Historical Facts” 1). The Marion Home was the sixth branch then established in the country (“Historical Facts” 1). A bill to establish a branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Grant County, Indiana, was introduced in the fifty-first Congress by Hon. George W. Steele, representing the Eleventh Congressional District of Indiana (Department of Veterans Affairs 7). The passage of the bill began as follows: “An Act to authorize the Location of a Branch Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, in Grant County, Indiana, and for other purposes…" (Department of Veterans Affairs 7). The sum of two hundred thousand dollars was appropriated to purchase the land and construct the original buildings (“Historical Facts” 1). The only requirements given were that 200 acres of land should be the minimum purchased, and a natural gas well be drilled to provide heat and light (Nordstrom, C.L. 1). The two hundred thousand dollar purchase is now valued at sixty million dollars, and consists of approximately ninety-nine buildings, eighteen of which house close to 850 patients (“Historical Facts” 1).
On March 2, 1889, an announcement was made that the L. Geiger and Isaac Elliott land tracts, located two and one-half miles southeast of the city, had been chosen as a site for the new home. The government purchased 235.83 acres at a cost of twenty-six thousand four hundred thirty-five dollars and thirty cents, with an annual appropriation of three hundred dollars for leasing other land in order to perpetuate the gas supply. Eventually, this acreage was increased to 300 acres in order to provide farming operations. Farming interest later diminished among patients, however, and on September 17, 1957, two parcels of farmland were sold at public auction. A brick works was located on an adjacent farm, which was later purchased as land holdings expanded, and reportedly supplied the brick for the original structures (Nordstrom, C.L. 1).
Construction and Opening
Buildings one, two, three, four, five and six were built in 1889 (Nordstrom, C .L. 1). The National Cemetery, located on the east side of the Medical Center grounds, was purchased in 1889 (“Historical Facts” 1). A fifteen-foot monument depicting three Civil War Soldiers, dedicated to the Home by an act of Congress in 1888, stands in the Cemetery to commemorate the men who offered their lives in defense of their country (“Historical Facts” 1).
The Marion Branch is a beautiful, rolling, tract of ground, located about two and a half miles southeast of the City of Marion. It has a frontage on the west, of one half mile on the Jonesboro Road, a much frequented thoroughfare, running from Marion to Jonesboro. A frontage on the north of half a mile on College Avenue: and it is bordered on the east and south by the Mississinewa River, a beautiful, winding stream, edged on either side by trees of magnificent foliage, and noted throughout the State for its splendid scenery. The home grounds contain two hundred and thirty-five acres; forest trees cover fifty-nine. The sewerage system is almost perfect, as the grounds have a natural drainage to the river. Broad and well-kept avenues and roads abound throughout the Home, the most noticeable of which is Black Road, a shady drive extending through the forest. In the woods are, scattered here and there, hundreds of rustic chairs and settees, where no doubt the veterans have fought, over and over again, the battles of ‘61 and ‘65. Cement walks traverse the grounds, from one building to another, and around many buildings. Outside of the wooded portion, hundreds of young maple, linden, elm and cedar trees have been set out. Beds of various kinds of beautiful flowers, which are kept in perfect order during the summer, are to be found about the buildings.(Department of Veterans Affairs).
Through the Years
The institution was originally known as the Marion Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Because of the urgent need for additional facilities for the mentally afflicted due to World War I, it became a neuropsychiatric hospital in 1921 and was known as the Marion National Sanitorium. In July 1930, as the result of the consolidation of various Federal Bureaus handling veterans’ affairs, the Veterans Administration was established. Since this agency was responsible for the administration of veterans’ hospitals, the official designation of the hospital was then changed to Veterans Administration Hospital. The hospital grounds at this time comprised an area of approximately 210 acres, containing 120 buildings. The buildings included 21 for housing patients with a bed capacity of one thousand six hundred fifty (Nordstrom, C.L. 2).
Palm Sunday Tornadoes
On Palm Sunday, 1965, a tornado struck the hospital at approximately eight o’ clock P.M., coming from the south/southwest. Building twenty-three, four small brick buildings, and four temporary buildings were completely destroyed. Buildings three, six, eleven and fifty sustained minor damage, and Buildings fifty-one, fifty-three, fifty-five and seventy-six sustained major damage. The vertical water standpipe (Tower) was damaged and seven hundred large trees throughout the hospital grounds were completely destroyed, along with three employee quarters buildings (Nordstrom, C.L. 3).
The VA Today
Presently, on approximately 151 acres of landscaped grounds, patient units and support operations are provided in a campus setting, consisting of ninety-nine buildings (Department of Veteran’s Affairs 9). Structures include such facilities as the laundry, greenhouse, boiler plant, rehabilitation medicine activities, dining rooms, chapel, theater, library, canteen and residences (Nordstrom, C.L. 3).
The Marion Administration Medical Center delivers health services viewed as a continuum consisting of maintenance of health, prevention and diagnosis of disease, treatment and rehabilitation. The staff at the hospital, volunteers from many state service organizations in Marion and surrounding communities provide assistance in numerous and various ways. The volunteer organization provides more than one thousand three hundred scheduled activities, with twenty-two thousand members participating throughout the year (Nordstrom, C.L. 3).
The Veteran’s Administration Medical Center is a truly historic site, having been a large part of Marion’s cultural and historical background for over a century. Despite many changes in leadership and specific mission statement, the VAMC has prospered greatly, helping numerous veterans every year. The VAMC has grown from first being a home for traumatized Civil War veterans after that tragic era, to a National Sanitarium after the neuropsychosis experienced during the trench warfare of World War I were first realized. After this, the VAMC became a Veteran’s home, which acted as a beneficiary to those who had given their lives in defense of their country. As the VAMC heads into the coming century, it is poised to continue its mission of aiding America’s defenders in their need.
- “A Century of Caring”. Department of Veterans Affairs. Packet. 1989
- “Historical Facts”. Department of Veterans Affairs. Packet. 1989
- “Historical Notes”. Veterans Administration Medical Center. 1982
- Nordstrom, C.L., director. Letter. Veterans Administration Hospital. 1976
This article was written by Sean Bennett and was submitted on January 16, 2001 for Mr. Munn's AP US History class at Marion High School.