Old Main (Douglas Bode photo, 1979)
Ward Memorial Theater (DHP-PH photo)
Chapel (DHP-PH photo)
Northwestern Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers Historic District
5000 West National Avenue, Milwaukee, Milwaukee County
Dates of Contributing Resources: 1867-1955
The Northwestern Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers is one of three original branches of the National Asylum approved by President Lincoln in 1865 to provide care for volunteer soldiers who had become disabled during service in the Union forces during the Civil War. Milwaukee was designated as the site of the Northwestern Branch in 1866 and construction of the first buildings on the site began in the fall of 1867. Two of the original buildings, the Main Building (the original home) and the Governor┐s House, remain.
The nineteenth century campus was designed to aid in the recuperation of the veteran and to ease the transition back into society. The core contained elements of a village, including a post office, library, recreation hall, theater, chapel, and recreation areas. Several of the early buildings were designed by prominent Milwaukee architects such as Edward Townsend Mix and Henry C. Koch. Later, as demands increased, buildings show the results of more expedient planning and utilitarian uses.
During its first three decades of the Branch┐s operation, federal officials placed increasingly broad demands on the facility, resulting in higher than expected membership numbers. Originally the home was intended to provide recuperation and to house soldiers who could not return to society. However, the aging and the number of infirm veterans increased by the 1880s, resulting in more long-term members rather than temporary convalescent patients and in greater demands for care of elderly soldiers. The Branch┐s response to these demands marks the medical recognition of differing needs of elderly patients and the beginnings of geriatric medicine. Building design reflected the new population, with buildings limited in height to two stories, the addition of an elevator to the Main Building in 1883, and the addition of kitchen and dining facilities to the barracks so that the residents would not have to travel as far for meals.
Beginning with the 1920s the emphasis at the Branch was on hospital construction, including a hospital for tuberculosis patients begun in 1922 and a hospital annex constructed by the Veterans┐ Administration in the 1930s. After each major conflict, additional facilities were added, including more storage and maintenance buildings required for the continued upkeep and functioning of the facility.
Also located on the grounds is the Wood National Cemetery, designed by Thomas Budd Van Home, who also laid out the original design of the Branch grounds. Established in 1871, the cemetery is the resting place of veterans who have served in American wars since 1812.