100 Objects: Number 17 - VA History Office
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VA History Office

 

100 Objects: Number 17

Object 17: The "Meigs Plan"

By Richard Hulver, Ph.D., Historian, National Cemetery Administration

Elevation views and plans for the definitive superintendent lodges with signature of Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, dated August 17, 1871. (NCA History Collection)Elevation views and plans for the definitive superintendent lodges with signature of Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, dated August 17, 1871. (NCA History Collection)

National cemeteries originated out of necessity during the American Civil War. In the summer of 1862, as casualties mounted at an alarming rate, Congress empowered President Abraham Lincoln to purchase and enclose burial plots as national cemeteries to inter the growing number of Union dead. The National Cemetery Act of February 22, 1867, formalized details of the system and appropriated funds for temporary and then permanent features, including walls, grave markers, and “at the principal entrance of each of the national cemeteries…a suitable building to be occupied as a porters lodge.” The statute also funded the hiring of disabled Civil War Veterans as superintendents to live and work in the lodges.

The first lodges—small, inadequate, wood frame structures—were temporary. In the 1870s, the U.S. Army’s Office of the Quartermaster General, which was responsible for the cemeteries, began to replace the original lodges with standardized permanent lodges built in the French Second Empire style, popular from 1852 to 1870. The design represented federal authority in the South where many national cemeteries were located.  Brigadier General Montgomery C. Meigs, the Quartermaster General from 1861 to 1882 and a brilliant engineer, oversaw this program.

Portraits (L-R) Chiffelle, Meigs, and Clark, c. 1875 (Freemason History, Library of Congress). Below: Superintendent’s lodge at Finn’s Point National Cemetery in Pennsville, New Jersey, c. 1933. (NCA History Collection)
Above: Portraits (L-R) Chiffelle, Meigs, and Clark, c. 1875 (Freemason History, Library of Congress). Below: Superintendent’s lodge at Finn’s Point National Cemetery in Pennsville, New Jersey, c. 1933. (NCA History Collection)

 

Edward Clark, who served under Meigs during the Civil War and afterwards became the Architect of the U.S. Capitol, designed them. Suggestions from superintendents led him to draft in 1869 a plan for an L-shaped building, one-and-a-half stories high, with six-rooms and a mansard roof. A prototype was erected in 1870 at the Richmond National Cemetery in Virginia.  The layout was unique among Army construction at the time. The L-shape segregated the superintendent’s living quarters from his workspace, with separate entrances for each.  The mansard roof also subverted strict Army regulations about space allowances for lower ranks by creating unaccounted-for living space above the first floor. Thomas P. Chiffelle, a surveyor, engineer, quartermaster clerk, and West Point classmate of Meigs, drew the definitive version of the lodge in August 1871.  

Government contractors built fifty-five such lodges in brick or stone between 1871 and 1881. Since the Quartermaster General was the final approving authority, they were often described as “Meigs’ lodges” or were said to be constructed according to the “Meigs Plan.” In the early twentieth century, the lodges were deemed antiquated and some were replaced; after 1950, the government stopped building new lodges.  Today, the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) has preserved eighteen French Second Empire lodges. Designated as historic resources, some are used as offices by NCA staff and other tenants. Despite being updated with plumbing, electricity and other modern touches, these iconic structures still serve as historical touchstones, reminding visitors of the post-Civil War origins of the national cemetery system. 

Read more about national cemetery lodges at https://www.cem.va.gov/history/lodges.asp.


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