There are three VA medical centers named for United States presidents.
In our first of three stories on these hospitals, we focus on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt campus of the Hudson Valley Healthcare System in Montrose, New York.
This week marks the 63rd anniversary of the opening of the hospital on May 15, 1950. It was front page news.
By 1944, VA operated eight hospitals with 8,034 beds in the state of New York. With the influx of returning World War II Veterans, more hospital beds were needed and sites near New York City were of particular interest. The government purchased the Boscobel land for $125,000 in April 1945. It was one of the last hospital sites selected by VA’s longest tenured administrator, General Frank T. Hines.
Four months later, in August 1945, General Hines was replaced by General Omar Bradley as VA Administrator. Bradley was charged by President Truman and Congress with modernizing the VA. In his brief two-year tenure, he made groundbreaking changes, including changing the look and location of Veterans hospitals.
Some of the most apparent differences between Bradley-era VA hospitals and those of the past were their locations, architecture, and scale: sites were selected in urban areas in proximity to medical schools, “skyscraper” hospitals were built up instead of sprawling outward to utilize a smaller footprint, and most were large with 1,000 plus beds. Montrose had nearly 2,000 beds.
President Harry S. Truman on September 26, 1945 officially designated the planned hospital at Montrose as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Veterans Administration Hospital. It was the first VA hospital named after a U.S. president. This commemorative act took place less than six months after President Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945.
The new VA hospital at Montrose was unique—a hybrid—that incorporated elements of World War I hospitals along with new components that Bradley wanted in World War II hospitals. Out of 72 hospital projects, Montrose was “the only departure from a ‘main building’ design.” Its rural setting was more typical of World War I-era hospitals, but its planned 2,000 beds made it one of the largest World War II-era hospitals at the time.
Construction of Montrose was slow moving, due initially to post-war inflation. Groundbreaking took place on February 12, 1947. Montrose officially opened on Monday, May 15, 1950, when the first patients were transferred from Halloran Army Hospital in New York City.
One of the interesting stories about the site involves the Boscobel Mansion.
In 1944, the Veterans Administration took an option on the Revolutionary War-era estate, known as Boscobel, situated on the banks of the Hudson River roughly 40 miles north of New York City.
Originally, the historic Boscobel mansion house stood at the current location of Building 29 at the FDR Montrose VA Hospital, overlooking the Hudson. It was completed in 1808 for the Morris States-Dyckman family and is regarded as one of the finest examples of Federal architecture in the country.
The mansion was meticulously taken apart and rebuilt further up the Hudson to make way for the new VA Hospital being built to serve America’s newest Veterans from WWII. The Wallace family of Reader’s Digest fame, long-time residents of the Hudson Valley, paid for the move and restoration efforts.
FDR VA is also home to the unique Veterans Sculpture Garden overlooking the Hudson. Sculptures of busts of Veterans from every war America has fought in are on display in this magnificent historic and well-visited meditation garden.
The molds for the busts have been replicated twice and are on display in the Westchester County Lasdon Park Veterans Walk and Memorial, and in the East Orange VA Hospital Museum.
The busts were all created by Nils Anderson, an artist who was a WWII Veteran and patient at FDR VA in the PTSD program, who completed the project through his art therapy program at Montrose. Nils Andersen was a famous artist prior to his difficulties that led him to VA and praises VA for having saved his life.
The garden also features ornamental trees and plantings and is used by the community, patients, visitors and staff.
Eleanor Roosevelt addressed the 10th Anniversary Voluntary Service Awards Program on Friday, May 20, 1960, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt VA Hospital in Montrose.
Her appearance was part of a four day 10th Anniversary Observance at the FDR-Montrose Hospital, which is today named VA Hudson Valley Health Care System-FDR Montrose Campus.
(Special thanks to Michael Stern, Psychologist and Acting Public Affairs Officer with the VA Hudson Valley Health Care System.)