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national home for disabled volunteer soldiers leavenworth

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers – Leavenworth

City/Town:
Location Class:
Built: 1884 | Abandoned: ~1980s
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places (April 30, 1999) National Historic Landmark (2011) Abandoned Atlas Foundation Contribution to KPA Most Endangered List (1996) (1999)
Status: AbandonedRestored 2005-2022 Under Renovation
Photojournalist: Emily Cowan

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers - Leavenworth

To Read A Fully Detailed History, Former Patient/Staff Stories, and See 50+ Exclusive High-Quality Pictures Click Here to Order Abandoned Kansas: Healthcare in the Heartland’

History of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers of Leavenworth

In 1884, Senator Preston B. Plumb proposed a bill to create a home for disabled soldiers in Kansas west of the Mississippi River. The bill received support from Kansas’s Senate and House of Representatives, granting authority to establish a new branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Kansas, with $15,000 allocated for location searching. In April of that year, the Senate passed the bill, including an amendment by Senator John Miller of CA to consider California as a potential location due to its proximity to the West Coast. The hunt for a suitable location began in September, with Leavenworth eventually chosen for its 640 acres of pledged land and $50,000 in aid.

Construction contracts were advertised in 1885, and an additional $80,000 was granted for financing. The project was viewed with pride by Kansas residents. Landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland designed the campus and cemetery, emphasizing natural topography integration. A further appropriation of $109,500 was requested during a trustees’ report to Congress in December. From 1884 to 1890, builder James McGonigle, a Civil War veteran, brought architect H.W.S. Cleveland’s design to life at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS). Seventeen buildings were constructed using bricks made from on-site clay, featuring Georgian and Romanesque Revival styles. Notable structures included Franklin Hall, a mess hall, and 13 barracks overlooking the Missouri River.

As the 1900s progressed, residents adjusted to daily life, engaging in various trades and jobs such as carpentry, blacksmithing, and farming. The branch expanded between 1900 and 1910 with new buildings. In 1905, the Western Branch housed its highest number of veterans, including Civil War, Spanish-American War, and Philippines War veterans.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the campus underwent significant changes. The Veterans’ Bureau replaced the Bureau of Risk Insurance, taking control of vocational education under the Vocational Rehabilitation Act. However, controversies arose, although some improvements were made with new leadership. Providing veterans’ benefits remained complex, affecting the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS).

World War I had a major impact on NHDVS admissions. In 1923, 73% of new members were recent war veterans, shifting the population from mainly elderly to younger individuals with medical and psychiatric needs. Some veteran servicewomen were also admitted by the early 1920s. The Western Branch was among the largest campuses of its kind in the U.S.

In 1930, a significant administrative change dissolved the NHDVS. President Herbert Hoover’s Executive Order 5398 merged the Veterans Bureau, Bureau of Pensions, and NHDVS into the Veterans Administration. This restructuring standardized facilities and emphasized efficiency and cost-effectiveness, absorbing the NHDVS’ functions.

In the mid-1930s, the Leavenworth branch’s population increased due to the closure of a Veterans’ Bureau Hospital in Kansas City, resulting in patient and staff transfers. The approach of World War II led to the construction of a new hospital, expansion of existing buildings, and the addition of barracks and nurses’ quarters. Another hospital was completed in 1939. During World War II, German prisoners of war contributed labor to the building program.

In the 1970s, the Western Branch underwent further development and expansion, with additions to the medical staff and building projects aimed at improving healthcare for residents. The annual budget was approximately $17.5 million, with a significant portion allocated to salaries and building updates. The facility continued to serve around 450 short-term and 730 long-term domiciliary patients, primarily offering outpatient care to approximately 23,000 individuals annually.

In the latter part of the 20th century, the Leavenworth facility saw a shift in patient demographics, with fewer World War I patients and increased admissions of Vietnam and World War II veterans. It gained recognition for offering comprehensive care, including acute hospital care, psychological treatment, nursing care, and domiciliary unit stays.

The hospital underwent several name changes reflecting organizational shifts. In 1989, during President Ronald Reagan’s tenure, it became part of the newly established Department of Veteran Affairs and was renamed the Dwight D. Eisenhower Veteran Affairs Medical Center.

During the 1990s, the hospital’s annual budget was around $42 million, relying on volunteers, mostly senior adults, to supplement staff shortages. Community involvement was significant, with field trips, cards, and home-cooked meals for veterans. Financial difficulties in the late 1990s led to layoffs, program closures, and building shutdowns.

Despite challenges, the relocation of the pharmaceutical center to the Leavenworth Area Business Center brought optimism, doubling the workforce and improving efficiency. This expansion offered hope for the hospital’s future.

In 1999, concerns arose about space in the National Cemetery and a proposal to demolish 38 historic buildings for expansion was made. Consultations under the National Historic Preservation Act led to a resolution to expand the cemetery without demolishing historic structures.

In 2005, Pioneer Group Inc. signed a 75-year lease to preserve and repurpose the 38 buildings. They introduced the Eisenhower Ridge plan, a $70 million initiative to transform the campus into a hub for veterans’ health care and housing. The project began with renovating 16 buildings, creating the Eisenhower Ridge Apartments in 2006, and later restoring seven more buildings as the Ridge Top Apartments in 2014. Several buildings still await restoration or repurposing as part of the ongoing campus revitalization.

Leavenworth Soldiers Records

  • For those looking into veterans that were on the Leavenworth campus we have listed some resources to help you research those individuals below:
  1. National Archives – Leavenworth Sample Files
  2.  Ancestry – Western Branch Leavenworth Register & Indexes
  3. FamilySearch – United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers - Leavenworth

To Read A Fully Detailed History, Former Patient/Staff Stories, and See 50+ Exclusive High-Quality Pictures Click Here to Order Abandoned Kansas: Healthcare in the Heartland’




Bibliography

Emily Cowan

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers - Leavenworth

Emily is a three-time published author of "Abandoned Oklahoma: Vanishing History of the Sooner State" - "Abandoned Topeka: Psychiatric Capital of the World" and "Abandoned Kansas: Healthcare in the Heartland. With over two hundred published articles on our websites. Exploring since 2018 every aspect of this has become a passion for her. From educating, fighting to preserve, writing, and learning about history there is nothing she would rather do.

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Emily Cowan

Emily is a three-time published author of "Abandoned Oklahoma: Vanishing History of the Sooner State" - "Abandoned Topeka: Psychiatric Capital of the World" and "Abandoned Kansas: Healthcare in the Heartland. With over two hundred published articles on our websites. Exploring since 2018 every aspect of this has become a passion for her. From educating, fighting to preserve, writing, and learning about history there is nothing she would rather do.

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