Veterans Affairs National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers: Eastern Branch, Togus, Maine

View across water to buildings.

Quick Facts

Location:
Togus, Maine
Designation:
Determined Eligible National Register of Historic Places
OPEN TO PUBLIC:
No
Togus, which opened in 1866, was the first branch established as a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Known as the Eastern Branch, (now the Togus VA Medical Center), the Home offered a place for disabled veterans to live if they could not care for themselves or their pensions did not provide enough financial support. The facility retains its peaceful, rural landscape that the Board of Managers felt was integral to the well-being of the veterans. Only a few buildings from this early period remain including the Governor’s House (Building 1), completed in 1869. It is the only original building surviving at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Togus, and is designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior. The campus underwent a period of modernization and updates during the 1930s in order to transform it into a modern medical facility. Buildings from this period provide examples of Great Depression-era architecture. 

In 1866, soon after Congress authorized the establishment of a National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, the Eastern Branch opened on the site of a former heath resort for the wealthy.  Horace Beals purchased a 1,900 acre tract of land in 1859 and built a 134 room hotel, a race course, bowling alleys, bath house, and other recreational facilities. He wanted to create a resort spa to rival Saratoga Springs. Unfortunately, the Civil War broke out shortly after he completed his project. The resort failed, and he went bankrupt. The project became known as “Beal’s Folly.” After his death during the Civil War, his widow sold the property and buildings at a loss to the Board of Managers for the new National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The Board of Managers thought the property was an excellent site because buildings were already there, and veterans could move in immediately. In addition, the isolated setting provided “moral benefits” for the veterans and kept them away from the temptations of the city. Within a year, more than 200 men lived at the National Home branch, the majority of them from Maine, Massachusetts, and New York, though veterans came from all over. More than half the veterans were foreign born, including a large Irish community. 

In January 1868, a fire broke out that damaged or destroyed all of the major buildings on the campus. Following the devastating fire, a building campaign commenced to replace the resort facilities with buildings constructed especially for the branch, including three large dormitories, an amusement hall, barn, workshop, and the Governor’s House. All of these were made of brick in an attempt to fireproof them. Over time, most were destroyed by fire or demolished, with the exception of the Governor’s House. 

The Governor’s House (Building 1) has changed little since its construction in 1869. The two story brick mansard roof house originally had a full-width open veranda looking out over the campus. The only major change to the exterior of the house has been the replacement of the verandah with a narrower enclosed porch. To the northeast of the house is a lake, and to the northwest and west is a large park-like area with trees. Several other staff quarters from the late 19th century remain as well, including two near the Governor's House (Buildings 2 and 4). The southern end of campus has a small residential area with staff quarters from 1896-1900 (Buildings 15-21 and 215-216).

In response to an influx of returning veterans after World War I, Congress created the Veterans Bureau in 1921, followed by the Veterans Administration in 1930. The Eastern Branch and the other National Home branches were expanded to accommodate a new generation of veterans; the campus experienced a major building campaign. In the early 1930's, the new medical center director, Malcolm Stoddard, sought to transform the campus into a modern medical facility. Stoddard received Public Works Administration money to modernize the facility, which, over the course of the decade, added 20 new buildings. Located in the northern section of the campus, the General Medical & Surgical Hospital (Building 200) provided veterans with the newest technology. To the right of the hospital is the Nurses Quarters (Building 209), now used as a Medical Administration Building. To the left of the hospital is a 1937 Theater (Building 210). Originally designed for live performances, it is now a movie theater that continues to provide entertainment to the veterans.

The National Cemetery at Togus VA Medical Center has two sections: East Cemetery and West Cemetery. West Cemetery was established at Togus in 1867, shortly after the Eastern Branch opened. The cemetery is located on top of a hill at the western end of campus. In 1947, a new cemetery opened on the eastern side of campus, referred to as East Cemetery. Both cemeteries are closed to new interments.