Marion Branch: Marion, Indiana

View of domiciliary and old hospital

James Rosenthal, Historic American Buildings Survey Photographer

Quick Facts

1700 E 38th St. in Marion IN
The Federal Government built the Marion Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (now the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System) because Civil War veterans were growing older and more often sought assistance at the National Home branches. Even after construction of the Western Branch in 1885 and the Pacific Branch in 1888, the National Home still needed more space. The Board of Managers selected Marion, Indiana, as the location for a new branch in 1888 because of its natural gas supply. The Marion Branch was the last to be designed in the 19th century Picturesque landscape style with curved roads, naturalistic plantings, and irregular green spaces. Many of the historic buildings from the first phase of development and much of the park-like landscape remain at the Marion Branch. Early buildings include the brick barracks (Buildings 1-6), original hospital complex (Buildings 19-22), the Stinson Memorial Theater (Building 47), the chapel (Building 65), and staff quarters (Buildings 34-37). The National Cemetery is in the eastern section of the campus. 

First settled in 1826, Marion, Indiana, was a small, slow-growing Midwest town until the discovery of natural gas in the 1880s led to a big boom. At that time, the uses of natural gas had just been discovered. Given the nature of natural gas, the gas could not be transported far from its source, so towns with natural gas became boom towns. This was one of the primary reasons Congressman George W. Steele Sr. was able to convince the Board of Managers to locate a new National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Marion. Congress approved the new branch in 1888 and appropriated $200,000 to build it. The residents of Grant County, Indiana, were responsible for supplying the natural gas to the branch and covering the cost of building the wells for the gas. Construction began in 1889, and the first barracks in Marion were completed by the end of the year. The branch officially opened March 18, 1890.

Membership at the Marion Branch rose to 1,782 by 1901, but later declined due to the advancing age and increased deaths of Civil War veterans. In 1920, the Board of Managers approved a proposal to convert the Marion Branch into a neuropsychiatric institution, the primary function of which was to care for “nervous and mental patients,” who were mostly World War I veterans. Other members at the time were transferred to different branches, mainly the branches in Milwaukee and Danville. 

The Dayton architectural firm, Peter and Burns, designed the original buildings and the 212 acre site in a Picturesque manner using curving roadways and irregularly-configured green spaces. The firm placed Steele Circle in the center of the campus with buildings arranged around it. In the center of the circle is the Mess Hall and Kitchen (Building 122) that dates from 1937 and replaces the original one destroyed by fire.Built in 1889-1890, the original six barracks (Buildings 1-6) sit to the west of Steele Circle. These nearly identical buildings in the Georgian Revival style are placed in two rows of three. 

The main difference between the buildings is the two different roof types. Buildings 1, 3, and 5 have a hipped roof with a hip dormer while buildings 2, 4, and 6 have a gable roof on the center pavilion. The first hospital at the branch is east of Steele Circle. The hospital complex of four buildings (Buildings 19-22) started with only Building 19 in 1889. The original Queen Anne-style hospital (Building 19) is currently used as a credit union and barber shop. The hospital complex expanded in 1890 with the addition of three buildings (Buildings 20-22) to the sides and rear of the main hospital. These are similar to the barracks in style and design. Recreational facilities are to the south of Steele Circle. These buildings include the Stinson Memorial Theater (Building 47) and the headquarters (now the Canteen, Building 50). The Stinson Theater from 1891 houses a 140 seat auditorium with a stage and orchestra pit. North of Steele Circle is the Gothic Revival Chapel (Building 65). The Chapel has two sanctuaries: one for Protestants on the south side and the other for Catholics on the north side of the building. Both sanctuaries have several stained glass windows. To the west of the Chapel is a series of six Colonial Revival duplex quarters (Buildings 26-31) from 1921 that are known as Doctors’ Row. 

The 1920s saw an increase in construction as a result of the additional benefits offered by the War Risk Insurance Act and the change from a facility where veterans could live out their lives to a neuropsychiatric hospital. In the 1920s, three new buildings (Buildings 15-17), on the western end of campus behind the original barracks, were constructed to house new patients.   The Office of Supervising Architects of the U.S. Treasury Department designed these buildings as part of a growing trend to standardize and increase the efficiency of design and construction. Adjacent to Buildings 15-17 is the new medical facility, the focal point of the campus today. A new geropsychiatric building dates from 1996 (Building 172) and another new building from 1999.   

The National Cemetery from 1890 is in the eastern section of campus. The original part of the cemetery is laid out in a circular pattern. When the cemetery expanded north in the 1920s, the new section was designed in a grid pattern. A Civil War memorial monument from 1900 divides the two sections of the cemetery.

Last updated: November 21, 2017