11 Most Endangered Historic Places

National Soldiers Home Historic District

Year Listed: 2011
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Threat: Deterioration

Significance

The establishment of a National Soldiers Homes system was one of the last pieces of legislation signed by President Lincoln prior to his assassination. The Milwaukee Soldiers Home campus, on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, is one of the most intact examples of these early soldiers homes. Completed in 1869, the “Old Main” building, nicknamed by veterans, was used as a veterans’ residence until the 1970s, while the Ward Memorial Hall, opened in 1881, was once a popular stop for vaudeville and minstrel shows. Although only seven miles from downtown Milwaukee, the campus, with gently rolling lawns, mature trees, winding drives and eclectic Victorian buildings, retains a peaceful, park-like atmosphere. Used frequently as an education center, the campus hosts school groups and re-enactors from the Civil War to the Vietnam War era.

With its mix of Colonial Revival, Queen Anne and Victorian Gothic architecture, the 90-acre site boasts 25 post-Civil War and early 20th-century buildings, as well as a soldiers’ cemetery and dozens of park-like acres. The place that has served as home to countless veterans now faces multiple threats. The Department of Veterans Affairs owns the property, but has deferred maintenance on many of the historic buildings. One portion of the roof of the visually striking “Old Main” collapsed completely when a roof truss gave way under the weight of snow; a gaping hole remains open to the elements. Ward Memorial Hall is in imminent danger of collapse, also suffering from extensive roof damage, water infiltration and demolition by neglect. In addition, one development project under consideration at the Soldiers Home would demolish two historic structures and alter the landscape.