Danville Branch: Danville, Illinois

Danville Branch Domiciliary James Rosenthal, Historic American Buildings Survey Photographer

Quick Facts
The Danville Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (now the VA Illiana Health Care System, Danville Illinois) opened in 1898. The Danville Branch is important both for what it illustrates about the evolution of medical facilities for veterans in the United States and for the architectural significance of the buildings at the facility. The hospital, chapels, library, specialized clinics, residential buildings, and other amenities together convey a comprehensive approach to health care for veterans. From the beginning, the branch offered shelter, education, training, employment, and recreation in a planned community which was a showplace with beautiful gardens and recreational facilities open to the public. The historic district also includes a National Cemetery with the graves of thousands of veterans. The restful campus is set in a tree strewn landscape with low scale buildings and curving roadways that wind past the golf course, pond, quarters, hospital ward buildings, Greenhouse Clinic, and agricultural fields that once provided work and therapy for patients. The National Council of State Garden Clubs placed a plaque on the curving entrance road designating it a Blue Star Memorial Highway as a “A tribute to the Armed Forces that have defended the United States of America.”

Joseph Cannon, a congressman from the Danville area, used political influence to get the branch located in Danville, because he knew the facility would bring Federal money and jobs to the area. He also thought the branch would increase the number of Republican voters in the area, thus gaining him more supporters. His influential role in establishing a National Home branch in Danville earned him the title “Father of the Home.” By 1910, 4,257 veterans were at the branch. The Danville Branch became a neuropsychiatric hospital in 1935, after the National Home branch became a part of the Veterans Administration, and today provides a variety of services to veterans.

Two circular areas are focal points of the branch that is now divided between the VA medical center and the Danville Area Community College. The perimeter of the northern circle had 15 Continued Treatment Wards where veterans slept. Ten of these handsome, brick Georgian style buildings remain (Buildings 5-14). In the center of the circle, the Georgian Revival General Mess Hall (Building 17) provided veterans with services including the dining hall. The Danville Area Community College bought most of the buildings in this circle in the mid-1960s. The Continued Treatment Wards are currently used for classrooms and other activities related to the community college. The VA still owns four Wards and uses them as resource and administration buildings. The staff quarters are scattered about to the south and west of the circle.

A Carnegie Library (Building 48) is at the bottom of the northern circle. Built in 1905-1907 in the Classical Revival architectural style, the finely detailed library is of brick with a stone foundation. Located nearby, the octagonal Band Stand (Building 56) is also in the Classical Revival style, standing prominently with Ionic columns supporting an open cornice. To the south of the circle of Continued Treatment Wards is another circle. The two remaining historic buildings in this area include the General Medical and Surgical Building (Building 58) and the chapel (Building 49). The Georgian Revival style General Medical and Surgical Building dates from 1934 and has a three story central projecting entry pavilion with Doric columns. At the top of the circle, the Late Gothic Revival style Chapel Building from 1901 includes an east wing for Catholic services and south wing for Protestant services. The two wings are joined by a flat-roofed bell tower.  The remainder of the southern circle is new construction. 

The western edge of the campus is rolling terrain with winding roads that lead to the golf course and gardens with a pond and ornamental footbridge. This area was once the site of Lake Clements, a boating pond that provided recreation for veterans. The lake was drained in 1940 and replaced with a golf course in 1949. 

The National Cemetery dates from 1898 when the Danville Branch opened. The cemetery was originally a small plot to the east of the two circles on campus. In 1901, a new cemetery was laid out in concentric circles on 30 acres to the southeast of the original cemetery.  Ninety-nine graves from the first cemetery were moved and reinterred in the new cemetery. The cemetery now contains thousands of veterans' graves. A Civil War Soldiers Monument, designed by sculptor Clark Nobel, was dedicated at the cemetery on Memorial Day in 1917. Clark Nobel sculpted the bronze life-sized figure of a Civil War soldier holding a musket. 

Last updated: November 21, 2017