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Leavenworth Soldiers Home

Soldiers home band in Leavenworth

On a breezy afternoon in the late 19th century, the city of Leavenworth broke out into spontaneous celebration. The ringing of church and school bells called the citizens into the street. Nearly 1,000 of them gathered that evening to parade through the center of town. The citizens were not celebrating a national holiday or the end of a war. Instead, what they celebrated on September 26, 1884, was the announcement that Leavenworth had prevailed over communities in six other states to be chosen as the site for the construction of a new home for disabled veterans. Leavenworth's citizens had good reason to celebrate. Such a home would require the construction of dozens of government buildings, which would not only employ local craftsmen but also would attract newcomers and professionals such as physicians to the community.

For years Kansas had rallied for its own state medical facilities for veterans. Prior to this government decision Kansas soldiers in need of treatment had to be sent out of state for treatment. The costs of moving these soldiers amounted to $75,000, a hefty expense for the state. Many cities requested to be the site of the new hospital, with some, such as Topeka offering free land for the cause. Wichita was first selected as the hospital site. The city would offer 150 beds, a small number considering the estimated 15,000 Kansas veterans in need of medical care. Leavenworth was notified soon after that a much larger home, covering 650 acres, would be built there.

The buildings, which craftsmen constructed in the decades that followed, were built to endure. And endure they have. Today, the majority of the buildings that served as the original structures at the Western Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, survive as a testament to 19th century ingenuity.

Now called the Dwight D. Eisenhower Medical Center, the site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Landscape designer Horace W. S. Cleveland, best known in Kansas for his design of the grounds at the Kansas State Capitol, is credited for the original campus design.

The earliest buildings, constructed by master builder James McGonigle, conformed to Cleveland's design. McGonigle was a local builder and a veteran who had been wounded in the Civil War. By 1885, when the federal government awarded him the contract for the construction of buildings at the home for disabled soldiers, McGonigle had achieved statewide acclaim for projects ranging from the construction of Leavenworth's Cathedral of the Immaculate to the construction of part of the Kansas State Capitol. At the home for disabled soldiers, McGonigle's firm constructed 17 buildings. Included among them were 13 Georgian Revival buildings; Franklin Hall, a Romanesque Revival mess hall and kitchen; the Ward Memorial Building; and two residential buildings for hospital employees. Following the construction of the buildings at the soldiers home in Leavenworth, McGonigle gained national acclaim for his firm's construction of the Palace of Mechanic Arts at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Entry: Leavenworth Soldiers Home

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2009

Date Modified: July 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.