(Originally published in the Dayton Daily News on Wednesday, October 17th, 2012)
DAYTON — The Dayton VA Medical Center was awarded National Historic Landmark status, one of 27 sites nationally the Department of the Interior announced Wednesday.
“It’s the highest level of national significance the National Park Service places,” said Michael Gessel, a vice president of the Washington, D.C., office of the Dayton Development Coalition, and one of the advocates for the designation. “It gives higher visibility to these buildings which can be used for heritage tourism and the economic benefits that tourism can provide.”
The designation spans 51 buildings or structures and 266 acres on the sprawling campus, he said, which includes historic spots such as the Dayton National Cemetery, a soldiers monument, a grotto arch, and a $1.5 million renovated chapel originally built by Civil War veterans with limestone quarried on the grounds. Newer buildings, such as a nine-story patient tower, aren’t recognized for the honor. “We were providing care at the same time (Dayton author) Paul Laurence Dunbar was writing poetry and the Wright brothers were building the Wright B Flyer,” said Mark Murdock, Dayton VA assistant director. The new found status will help the Dayton VA pursue grants and its attempt to land the National VA archives, he said.
Officially, the Department of the Interior noted the importance of the Dayton VA in the evolution in federal care for veterans beginning in World War I and through the consolidation of the VA to 1930.
Local leaders have spent more than a decade trying to win the historic status. Former U.S. Rep. Tony Hall, D-Dayton, and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, separately authored legislation to land the national landmark designation. Judge Walter Rice and the American Veterans Heritage Center played key roles, also, Murdock said.
President Abraham Lincoln authorized the Dayton campus as one of three National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in 1865. The Central Branch, which was what the campus was known as, opened in 1867. The other homes opened in Milwaukee, Wis., and Togus, Maine. Thousands of Civil War veterans learned a trade, received health care or practiced rehabilitative activities to re-enter society after battle. Today, the VA campus treats veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
In 2004, the Dayton VA was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.