“These grounds and buildings talked of an earlier time, when healing was not just about pills and procedures. It was about nature, fresh air, and majestic trees; where the buildings themselves are art…
We could learn much from these healers of a century ago, to help our newest generation of veterans heal their wounds of war.”
-Bob Curry, Vietnam Veteran and Founder of DryHootch
The Milwaukee Soldiers Home National Historic Landmark District is an invaluable historical asset to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the nation. Established just after the Civil War, this 90-plus acre district rests on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center and represents Milwaukee’s role in furthering veteran care in America. One of only 43 National Historic Landmarks in Wisconsin, it is the most intact Soldiers Home in the country and the only one with the majority of its surrounding recuperative village remaining.
Today, this great historic asset is threatened. In response, The Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, in partnership with key local, regional and national stakeholders, have spearheaded a renewed effort to protect, repair and rehabilitate the Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home District. The Milwaukee Preservation Alliance are at work to identify and capitalize upon opportunities to motivate the greater community and the VA to take steps to put the District, a national treasure, back into the service of veterans. With wise stewardship, the Soldiers Home can be a place of enhanced services to veterans, commemorating the Civil War and honoring the sacrifice of veterans of all wars.
THE NEED FOR REHABILITATION
Though many of the Soldiers Home buildings remain in use, five of the most important and historic – Old Main, Ward Memorial Hall, the Chapel the Headquarters Building and the Power Plant– are currently unoccupied and rapidly deteriorating.
To date, there has been significant progress made toward returning the District’s vacant buildings to the service of veterans, including the:
Formation of a Community Advisory Council (CAC) to advocate for the reuse of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home’s vacant buildings for enhanced veteran services. The CAC includes members from veteran groups, preservation organizations, and representatives of neighborhoods, associations, and civic and government leaders.
Completion of work on Old Main to repair the hole that occurred after the rear wing roof collapsed in 2010;
Repair of the roof trusses on Old Main’s rear wing second story, lifting them back into place to prevent another collapse;
Completion of work on Ward Memorial Theater to repair roof trusses and to stop water infiltration;
Reroofing projects for all of the Old Hospital Building and Ward Memorial Theater;
Repairs to the Barracks Buildings, including re-pointing, scraping and painting;
Identification of potential reuse of the Ward Theater by the Milwaukee VA Medical Center; and
In 2016, As part of an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), The Alexander Company and the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee were chosen to lead a team that will restore and rehabilitate six of the District’s buildings. Under the proposal, the buildings will be renovated to include a total of 101 supportive housing units for veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
In 2018, the VA issued a request for proposals from developers interested in rehabilitating three additional historic buildings: Ward Memorial Theater, the Chapel and the Governor's Mansion.
Through the work of the CAC, there have been many successful outreach efforts to “spread the word” about this important historic resource right in the middle of Milwaukee. Recent efforts include the collection of personal remembrances through the #MySoldiersHome Campaign, which has resulted in great media and public attention for the site; information tables staffed by Soldiers Home advocates at multiple events to increase public awareness; presentations to organizations, including the VA and consulting parties to discuss our ongoing efforts to save the Soldiers Home; and a downloadable self-guided walking tour of the Soldiers Home grounds.
Additionally, a successful campaign led by MPA raised funds to purchase and install landmark signage along Interstate Highway 94 and interpretive signage along the Hank Aaron State Trail to direct visitors to the Milwaukee Soldiers Home.