The Dayton VA Medical Center is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a series of events throughout the year.
The first of those will be a history exhibit at the Northwest Branch of the Dayton Metro Library opening at 4 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 19). The event is free and open to the public.
To help recognize the VA’s anniversary, here are five things to know about its history.
1. The center began as part of a national effort to care for Civil War veterans. The idea for the National Home, now known as the Dayton VA Medical Center, sprang from the United States Sanitary Commission, a group who oversaw the care of wounded Civil War veterans. The commission lobbied Congress to form an agency that would oversee the care of veterans. President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation on March 3, 1865.
2. Dayton had a friend in the legislature that helped land it Ohio’s home. Lewis B. Gunckel of Germantown, considered the “Father of the Dayton VA,” was instrumental in locating the Soldiers Home in Dayton. The 393 acres Gunckel, who served in the Ohio Senate for four years, proposed met all criteria, and the home was located three miles west of downtown Dayton.
3. Veterans created a grotto and landscaped gardens on the site. A crew of 75 veterans molded the topography of the gardens in the limestone quarry area and built the caverns within the grotto shortly after the home opened. Gardener Frank Mundt began growing vines in the rock crevices in 1868. He took care of growing and caring for native plant species in the grotto as well as cultivating exotic plants in greenhouses on the campus.
4. The first U.S. government-built permanent chapel stands at the center. Home Chapel was dedicated in October 1870. The Gothic-style church with a frescoed interior was built by the Civil War veterans living at the Soldiers Home who quarried the limestone from the property. The chapel still stands on the grounds of the Dayton VA Medical Center.
5. The center became a place to visit for people across Ohio. More than 660,000 visited the home at its peak in 1910. Railroads created special soldiers’ home picnic excursions. Visitors could catch a train from Cleveland and other cities and travel to Dayton for the day. They joined the soldiers in the gracefully appointed Memorial Hall for lectures and recitals.