Western Branch: Leavenworth, Kansas

Chapel at the Western Branch Photo by Doug Pulak

Quick Facts
4101 S. 4th St. Trafficway in Leavenworth, KS
In 1884, the Western Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (now the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center) in Leavenworth, Kansas, became the first National Home branch west of the Mississippi River. In the same year, Congress increased eligibility for the National Home branches to include those veterans with non-service related disabilities. As a result, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers had an immediate 12% increase in membership prompting construction of the Western and Pacific Branches to accommodate more veterans. The historic core of the Western Branch is situated along a ridge line overlooking the Missouri River. The Picturesque style park-like campus has 58 historic buildings spread out on the 214 acre campus. The National Cemetery is located atop a hill on the eastern edge of the campus.  

In 1883, the Grand Army of the Republic began lobbying for a branch in the West, and in 1884, Congress appropriated money for the Western Branch to serve veterans in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nebraska. Competition emerged among States and localities to be the site for the new branch. The City of Leavenworth agreed to donate $50,000 and use park bonds to purchase and donate land for the branch. The Board of Managers liked the city’s offer and the proximity of the site to the U.S. Army's Fort Leavenworth. Even though the city promised $50,000, it did not have the money and the State legislature would not help fund the facility. The Board of Managers allowed the city to pay over a period of 10 years. Construction began at the branch in 1885 using bricks made from clay found on the site for many of the original buildings. 

Admitted in the summer of 1885, the first member of the branch was Alexander Maines, formerly Private, Company A, First Rhode Island Light Artillery. He was a transfer from the Eastern Branch with disabilities recorded as rheumatism, fever, and ague. The Western Branch provided shelter, education, training, employment and medical care to veterans. Members could work and learn new skills while they were being rehabilitated. By 1893, the Western Branch had carpenter, blacksmith, engineer, tin, paint, print, shoe, soap, and tailor shops, and a truck farming producing fruit and vegetables. Shops for baking, upholstering, and horseshoeing were added by 1900. Members were employed as laborers, waiters, clerks, cooks, carpenters, and guards.

Prominent landscape architect Horace William Shaler Cleveland designed the campus in the Picturesque style with curving tree-lined roads, an informal arrangement of buildings, and large open areas with groups of trees and shrubs. Cleveland believed in working in harmony with the natural landscape, laying out the campus to complement the rolling topography of the site.

During this first building phase from 1884 to 1890, contractor James A. McGonigle constructed 17 buildings. The central point of the Western Branch was the general mess hall, Franklin Hall (Building 19). The Romanesque Revival two story building has a two story porch supported by iron pipes, which is now enclosed by fiberglass panels. To the northeast and directly south of Franklin Hall is a series of barracks (Buildings 1 through 12 and 14) in the Georgian Colonial Revival style placed on the ridge so veterans could see Missouri River to east and the rising hills to the west. The barracks at the top of ridge also take advantage of cooling summer breezes. Twelve of the original 13 barracks still stand. One was lost in a fire in the 1950s.

Scattered throughout the campus are staff quarters, mainly in the Queen Anne style. Many of the staff homes line the banks of Lake Jeannette at the southern end of campus. The Governor’s Quarter (Building 42) was moved in 1930 to make room for the new hospital.

North of the barracks is the Queen Anne style Ward Memorial Hall (Building 29) of 1888 that once held the branches' administration offices and the Hancock Library. The lower level has a barber shop and billiard room. Prominent Kansas City architects, Louis Singleton Curtis and Frederick C. Gunn, designed the ornate Late Gothic Revival Chapel (Building 66), also referred to as the Immanuel Church, which dates from 1893. The two-story brick and sandstone building has two-story stained glass windows and gargoyles on the bell tower. Located south of the barracks near the staff quarters, the chapel has two separate sanctuaries for the Protestant and Catholic congregations at the branch. 

The Chateauesque style recreation hall (Building 64) is set into the steeply sloping hill, downhill from the original barracks. It is referred to as the “Dugout” because its lower story has an open arcaded front used as recreational space. This was once the site of the beer hall. The branch constructed Nurses’ Quarters (Building 34) in 1898 to house the first women who worked at the Western Branch. In 1902, a new French Eclectic and Italian Renaissance design Administration Building (Building 21) became the home of the facility’s administrative offices. Additional staff quarters (Buildings 41, 44, 45, 47, and 48) date from between 1900 and 1910. This phase of construction at the Western Branch continued until the 1910s when the population began declining because of the advancing age of the Civil War veterans. The Western Branch was a popular place to visit for tourists by the turn of the 20th century and once had a two-story Chateauesque brick hotel for visitors with a theater and store.

After World War I, the population of the branch increased again. The old hospital was demolished following construction of a new multi-level hospital complex (Building 89) in 1930. The majority of the facilities that the VA uses today are in the northwestern corner of the campus and date from between the 1970s and the 1990s. 

Established in 1886, the cemetery is to the west of the buildings on campus separated by a sloping grade. Horace William Shaler Cleveland designed the cemetery in the park-like cemetery layout that was popular in late 19thcentury. Erected in 1919, an obelisk at the site honors the veterans. A cemetery rest house dates from 1921. 

An Enhanced Use Lease Program with Pioneer Group, a private development company, provided for building rehabilitation in 2005. The company has rehabilitated seven staff quarters into one-two bedroom apartments for the veterans in a transitional program at the facility. 

Last updated: November 21, 2017