Marion Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers
On July 23, 1888, with increasing membership amongst the six National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS), Congress established the seventh of ten National Homes in Grant County, Indiana to be known as the Marion Branch. Congress allotted an appropriation of $200,000, while the Grant County residents provided a natural gas supply for the heating and lighting of this new facility. Marion, Indiana was selected as a site for the new branch due to the availability of natural gas and the political activities of Colonel George W. Steele, Sr, the 11th Congressional representative from 1880 to 1890.
On March 2, 1889, an announcement was made that the selection of a site along Jonesboro Pike, 2 ½ miles southeast of town, was announced. The site was assembled from 76.41 acres of Geiger owned farmland which was purchased on March 28, 1889, and 140.43 acres of land purchased from Isaac Elliott on April 10, 1889. These two tracts were purchased for approximately $110 per acre. The Federal Government only authorized up to $90 per acre, and therefore, local Grant County citizens donated the additional monies to ensure the construction of the Marion Branch. The site was later enlarged with the purchase of three additional tracts in 1894, 1896, and 1897, for a total of 298.84 acres.
Work on the barracks was rushed by the contractor, William Saint, and the first building, a temporary one, was completed so that 35 disabled veterans were brought here to occupy it on November 23, 1889. The Marion Branch officially opened in 1890. The first buildings constructed in 1889 – 1890 were six barracks and the original hospital. The hospital was later enlarged with an annex and a southern wing. By 1898, six additional barracks, a headquarters building, dining hall and kitchen, Stinson Memorial Hall, and the Chapel were constructed.
A burial ground of 61.5 acres was set aside from the buildings in memory of the men who offered their lives in defense of their country. “The Silent Circle” is designated as Section 1, which consists of seven concentric rows of graves. Each grave has a plain marble marker with the name of the deceased, along with the rank and regiment. Each marker is numbered in succession but does not indicate any order of death. There is a section that was reserved for the burial of employees and their families to include the first governor of The Home and the first surgeon of the hospital.
To meet the urgent demand of a neuropsychiatric hospital to take care of the neurotic and psychotic ex-service men of World War I who resided in the seventh district, the Marion Branch was completely overhauled, revamped and converted into a modern neuropsychiatric hospital. The old soldiers were transferred to other branches of the National Soldiers’ Home and the Marion Branch officially became the Marion National Sanatorium on January 1, 1921. Admission was for nervous and mental patients exclusively.
In 1923 a physical rehabilitation building, or gymnasium, was added to the facility. There was also a new neuropsychiatric-tuberculosis hospital, with a capacity of 80 beds opened that year. The Sanatorium continued farming operations. During this era the facility maintained 51 milk cows and 17 other cattle.
Other facilities available at the Sanatorium were a laundry and dry cleaning plant. There were also the two chapels, one Protestant and one Catholic, with a Protestant and Catholic Chaplin and a paid choir and organist.
The Sanatorium also operated a store and restaurant, or “canteen.” The store maintained a stock of candies, cigars, tobaccos, stationery, toilet articles, novelties, etc. The restaurant served short orders from 7:15 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. In the restaurant, there was a lounging club room for patients, where they could meet and entertain visitors. This room was equipped with comfortable furniture, including a piano and also had a loud speaker connected with the master radio outfit. The master radio outfit was located in the basement of the theater. It was a 240 volt amplifier, capable of receiving programs, amplifying them and sending them out to all hospitals and cottages. There were loud speakers in each day room and headsets for bed patients.
On July 21, 1930, the Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions, and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers were consolidated into the Veterans Administration, with the National Home being designated the “Home Service.” On March 31, 1932, the Marion Branch, NHDVS was the first hospital converted to a VA hospital.
On October 6, 2011 an Indiana State Historical Marker was placed commemorating the Marion Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.