Established in 1901 and commonly referred to as Mountain Home, the Mountain Branch (now the Mountain Home VA Medical Center) is in Johnson City, Tennessee, close to the border between Virginia and North Carolina. Set in the Smoky Mountains, the campus, by design, commands views of the beautiful mountain peaks and valleys. The formal Beaux Arts campus contrasts with the wildness of the surrounding natural setting. The landscape, most of the historic buildings, and the National Cemetery remain intact, with modern hospital facilities concentrated predominately in the eastern portion of the campus. The medical center is associated with the James H. Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), and the medical school has rehabilitated a number of the historic buildings to use as classrooms.
Congressman Walter Preston Brownlow was instrumental in establishing another National Home branch in the South. To convince the Board of Managers, he cited the high number of Southerners who fought for the Union in the Civil War and the fact that the Board had recently built a National Home in Virginia. He felt the mountains of Tennessee provided a good climate for veterans, especially those suffering from respiratory conditions. The new branch opened for its first patient in 1903. Brownlow became the local manager of the branch and worked hard to provide the best amenities he could for the veterans there. He obtained funds from Andrew Carnegie and others to establish a library and started a streetcar line to transport veterans and visitors from the branch to Johnson City.
Mountain Branch became a tuberculosis facility, because the Board of Managers determined that mountain air was good for the patients. Mountain Branch and Battle Mountain Sanitarium (in South Dakota) treated tuberculosis. Patients from other branches who could travel came to one of these two branches. In 1911, the campus was modified to serve new veterans’ needs by building a tuberculosis cottage and reserving a ward in the hospital for very ill tuberculosis patients. This was done to keep the highly contagious patients separate from the non-tubercular patients on the campus. These tubercular patients were even prohibited from going to any social activities for fear of contagion. In 1921, Mountain Home officially became a tuberculosis sanitarium in response to great concern about the spread of the disease, especially after the outbreaks during World War I. The facility added a tuberculosis ward for African Americans at this time and medical staff was increased to handle the increased number of patients.
Mountain Branch is characterized by its hilly terrain and intermittently wooded slopes. Joseph H. Freedlander designed the original plan and buildings for the branch. Freedlander laid out the Beaux Arts brick veneer buildings in formal symmetry facing southeast so patients could view the Great Smoky Mountains in the distance. The branch is typical of the Beaux Arts style with its wide streets and open landscape spaces. This uniformity is different from other National Home branches, which generally used a variety of architectural styles and had grounds designed in a picturesque or romantic manner. The few new buildings on campus are in a style sympathetic to the Beaux Arts buildings that Freedlander designed, which gives the campus a cohesive appearance. Carl Andersen may have been responsible for the landscape design; after his death a local newspaper noted that he was the chief landscape architect for the branch.
The main boulevard on the campus, Dogwood Avenue, runs east to west. The Administration Building (Building 52) anchors the west end of Dogwood Avenue. Facing east down Dogwood Avenue, the two-story red brick building’s central projecting bay highlights the main entryway with two single and two double brick columns. The building is currently leased by the ETSU Medical School to house the Department of Psychiatry. The original, historic hospital (Building 69), which dates from 1905, stands at the eastern end of Dogwood Avenue. Also in the Beaux Arts style, this building no longer serves as a hospital but now houses administrative and clinical offices for the VA. Behind the historic hospital building is a complex of new buildings that are now the hospital and outpatient clinic.
At the center of Dogwood Avenue stands the most notable building on campus, the Mess Hall (Building 34), with its prominent clock tower and elaborate Beaux Arts detailing. The clock tower projects out from the T-plan building. It is currently used by the VA for engineering shops and research facilities and houses the Mountain Home Medical Center museum.
On each side of the Mess Hall are nearly identical barracks (Buildings 1 and 2) arranged in an east-west manner, facing south toward the Smoky Mountains. The barracks have central entrances with semi-octagonal wings at either end. The barracks currently house various departments of the ETSU Medical School. Behind these two barracks are five more barracks (Buildings 3-7) in a less ornate, simplified Colonial Revival design. They still have the defining brick veneer. The main entrances have projecting bays supported at the corners with large brick pillars and thinner pillars inside. Two of these barracks are vacant. The other barracks are used by the ETSU Medical School.
Behind the barracks are the recreational facilities of the campus. The Beaux Arts Chapel (Building 13) with its Catholic and Protestant sanctuaries was inspired by the Mission style. The chapel's tower houses a shared vestibule at the southeast corner that conceals two entrances: one leading to the Catholic sanctuary, the other to the Protestant sanctuary. The chapel is currently not open to the public because of structural issues. Memorial Hall (Building 35) is just to the east of the chapel. It functioned as a theater and still has much of its interior grandeur and orchestra pit intact. The ETSU Theater Department leases the building. South of the Memorial Hall is the Carnegie Library (Building 17)-- one of two known to exist at National Home branches. The VA and ETSU Medical School use the library as a lecture hall. To the northwest of the hospital complex are medical staff duplexes (Buildings 39-43) built in the 1920s in response to the increase in membership after the facility’s transition to a tuberculosis sanitarium. These Colonial Revival duplexes are vacant, except for one that the VA uses for engineering offices.
The western portion of campus also has a 1920s duplex. This section is the location of most of the single quarters (Buildings 44-47). They are also Colonial Revivals built in the 1920s to house additional staff. The majority of these are vacant.
South of Dogwood Avenue is the large parade ground with a Bandstand (Building 10), surrounded by woods and open space. The southern edge of the campus still has one of the two original lakes used for recreation during the early years of the branch.
At the northern end of the campus is the National Cemetery, which has a visitor’s center. The Brownlow Monument is an obelisk that marks the graves of Congressman Walter Preston Brownlow and his wife. The monument is a reminder that Congressman Brownlow was responsible for the creation of the Mountain Branch. Most of the pre-1930 burials are located near the monument.
Last updated: November 21, 2017