Oldest VA Facilities
The three oldest VA hospitals are in Togus, Maine (1866); Dayton, Ohio (1867); and Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1867). They started out as National Homes for Disabled Veteran Soldiers. In the 1920s they became part of the VA system.
Unusual VA Properties
VA owns many facilities with interesting history. For example the oldest VA owned structure is old water driven mill, built about 1735 on the bank of the Susquehanna River in Perry Point, Maryland. Before electricity was invented, falling water was used to turn big stones to grind grain. The mansion at Perry Point was part of a plantation. The mansion was built just a few years after the water mill. It was made from bricks brought over in ships from England. They put bricks or other heavy things in the bottom of ships to keep the ship from tipping over. That is called ballast. During the Civil War, the Union Army used the grounds for training cavalry mules and horses. In World War I, a plant that made explosives was there.
Other distinct treasures include the Chapel at the VA hospital in Bronx, New York, the only portion remaining from a former Catholic girls orphanage that VA converted to hospital use.
Former Congressman and Treasury Under Secretary Charles Dewey built the Dewey House at VA’s North Chicago, Illinois, hospital. Dewey was the one who reduced the size of money to the way it looks today.
At Lebanon, Pennsylvania, VA hospital, a Pennsylvania Dutch stone farmhouse and outbuildings remain from its earlier use as a farm.
The gothic stone Smyth Tower at the Manchester, New Hampshire, VA Medical Center dates back to 1888. It was former New Hampshire Governor Fredrick Smyth’s hideaway retreat. Smyth later served on the Board of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. This was an agency taking care of veterans before VA was created.
Kit Carson Chapel at the VA Medical Center in Fort Lyon, Colorado was built from the rubble of the fort building in which the famed cowboy died.
VA maintains an airplane hangar at the Hines, Illinois VA Medical Center. It used to be a part of the Checkerboard Airfield. Aviator, Charles Lindbergh, used this hangar when he started the airmail postal service from Chicago to St. Louis.
VA’s Headquarters Building across from Lafayette Square near the White House in Washington, D.C. came with a great history. Prior to 1869, the grand town homes of high government officials and Presidents James Buchanan and Benjamin Harrison were located there. In 1918, a new office building was built, and the Treasury Department bought it for their veterans programs. It later became VA’s Central Office.
History of VA Cemeteries
Early in the Civil War, the War Department saw the need to keep records about where soldiers who died were buried. At that time the commanding officer would take care of that. War Department orders also directed that a headboard be placed at the head of each soldier’s grave. The 37th Congress passed legislation that led to the national cemeteries. This act allowed the President to purchase cemetery grounds for the soldiers who die in service for their country. Abraham Lincoln established national cemeteries 1862 to ensure Union soldiers killed during the Civil War were given proper burial.
The following cemeteries were established in the year 1862:
Alexandria National Cemetery, Alexandria, VA
Annapolis National Cemetery, Annapolis, MD
Antietam National Cemetery, Sharpsburg, MD (originally established by the state)
Camp Butler National Cemetery, Springfield, IL
Cypress Hills National Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY
Danville National Cemetery, Danville, KY
Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, Ft. Leavenworth, KS
Fort Scott National Cemetery, Fort Scott, KS
Keokuk National Cemetery, Keokuk, IA
Loudon Park National Cemetery, Baltimore, MD
Mill Springs National Cemetery, Nancy, KY
New Albany National Cemetery, New Albany, IN
Philadelphia National Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA
Soldiers' Home National Cemetery, Washington, DC
Additional sources of VA History:
A Brief History of the VA
Article about the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers
History of VA Healthcare
75 Years of VA History