Battle Mountain Sanitarium (now part of the Veterans Affairs Black Hills Health Care System) was part of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, which provided care for Union veterans after the Civil War. It was the first and only National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers built solely as a short-term sanitarium for veterans with lung or respiratory problems, not as a long-term home.
Unlike the other National Home branches, veterans went to Battle Mountain Sanitarium for brief intensive treatment. Upon completion of their treatment, they were transferred to another National Home branch. Battle Mountain Sanitarium opened in 1907, offering veterans a complete array of services including plunge baths and an amusement hall. Located in the town of Hot Springs, South Dakota, the Sanitarium, made from local pink sandstone, rises above the town on a bluff to the northeast of the resort section of the town at an elevation of 3400 feet. A majority of the buildings predate 1930, and many of them are still used for their original purposes. The curving road system that winds through the facility is also original. The National Cemetery is located in the eastern section of the campus.
Founded in the 1880s as a warm water mineral springs health resort, the town of Hot Springs became a popular destination for regional health seekers by 1900. Tourists enjoyed the benefits of the waters and the mountain scenery. The local effort to build a National Home branch began in the 1890s. The possibility became likely after an inspector for the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers inspected a State Soldier’s Home in the area and stated that he was impressed with the therapeutic qualities of the water. After this, 30 veterans from the Western Branch went to the State facility, and the treatments improved their health. In 1898, the Grand Army of the Republic formed a committee to convince Congress to locate a National Home branch in Hot Springs. In 1902, Congress passed legislation authorizing the new facility; the bill allocated $150,000 for the construction of buildings and $20,000 for equipment. Battle Mountain Sanitarium opened in 1907 for its first patient, Charles Wilbert, from the Marion Branch.
Since the Sanitarium was not a long term residential facility, veterans only stayed as long as they benefited from the treatment. The Sanitarium treatment options included bathing in or drinking the mineral waters. This treatment particularly helped veterans with musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and respiratory conditions and skin diseases. Once cured, or no longer improving, the patients went back to their residential branch. Between 1908 and 1909, 865 Civil War and Spanish American War veterans received treatment at the facility. While the treatments were beneficial, inspectors complained that the facility was too isolated and difficult for veterans to reach; the trip was especially strenuous for very ill men. By World War I, tuberculosis treatment became the primary focus of the Sanitarium.
Thomas Rogers Kimball of Omaha designed the original buildings at Battle Mountain Sanitarium in a Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style using local sandstone. The facility was also inspired by the Romanesque Revival style that was prominent in the town of Hot Springs. George E. Kessler designed the landscape of the campus. In 1915, the construction of 204 pink sandstone stairs, referred to as the Grand Staircase, connected the resort district of Hot Springs to the Battle Mountain Sanitarium. The campus remains largely intact and unaltered from when it was a National Home branch with the addition of only a few new buildings.
The original building complex from 1907 is in the radial or panoptical hospital design. Kimball designed the buildings in a circular arrangement with the wards projecting out like spokes on a wheel. An inner circular arcade connects the wards and service buildings. The center of the circle is an open courtyard with a fountain. This design allowed for the separation of patients based on the type of disease they had, to avoid contagion. Kimball placed a service tunnel under an arcade for utilities and a tram for food distribution. To make cleaning easier, all of the angles in the building were rounded off. This radial complex connects 11 buildings: the Administration Building (Building 1), Mess Hall (Building 2), Hospital Wards (Buildings 3-8), Plunge Bath (Building 9), Maintenance/Engineering Building (Building 10), and the Library/Auditorium (Building 11), a 1911 addition. Most of these buildings still serve their original functions.
Just south of the main hospital complex is the residential section. Kimball designed residential quarters for the staff living on the campus in a Colonial Revival style with some Tudor details. These include the Governor (Building 23), Chief Engineer (Building 24), Treasurer (Building 25), and Quartermaster’s Quarters (Building 26). The Chaplains Quarters (Building 27), in a Neoclassical style, dates from 1910. These buildings are still used as residences today. Also from 1910 is the Neoclassical Nurses Quarters (Building 20), now used as a day care center. Post World War I growth led to a building campaign in the 1920s to construct more staff residences.
Neoclassical Duplex Quarters (Buildings 28 and 29) date from 1920 and 1927; one is still used as staff residences and the other as transitional rehabilitation housing. The 1926 Neoclassical nurses’ quarters (Building 21) have been used as apartments for employees since the 1950's.
Because of the influx of veterans with tuberculosis, the increasing need for space led to construction of the Main Hospital (Building 12) in 1926 to the east of the original building complex. The number of veterans at the Sanitarium grew as veterans who were not members of another National Home branch became eligible for tuberculosis treatment at the Sanitarium. Other historic buildings on the campus include a Conservatory (Building 16), Stable/Carriage House (Building 17), Bandstand (Building 19), and Root Cellar (Building 35). The Conservatory (Building 16) is the sole survivor of its kind from the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers era.
The cemetery at Battle Mountain Sanitarium dates from 1907 and became a national cemetery in 1973. The cemetery has several monuments in it. Dedicated in 1914, the Battle Mountain Monument is a 32-foot tall obelisk tower situated on the cemetery’s highest point. The inscription on the monument reads “National Home, Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Battle Mountain Sanitarium, 1914” “In Memory of the Men Who Offered Their Lives in the Defense of Their Country.” The Squire Monument is a granite block memorial erected in 1940 to honor Army Chaplain Guy P. Squire. He served in the Spanish American War and World War I, and later served as chaplain at the Hot Springs VA Medical Facility. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, District 10, erected the monument. The cemetery is currently closed to additional internments.