By Robert Kincses

May 2013, the Dayton VA Medical Campus will be completing the final work on the Grotto and Gardens located near the Anderson Gate at the Gettysburg Avenue entrance.

The Grotto and Gardens were an early part of the development for the Soldiers Home here in Dayton, Ohio. Beginning in 1868, Mr. Davis, the architect at the Soldiers Home, Mr. Frank Mundt – florist, and Mrs. Elizabeth Rohrer – gardener, of Germantown, Ohio, who provided plants from her own gardens and the surrounding area, began the landscaping project. The area chosen was near the limestone quarry that served as the source for the stone for some of the building at the Home. Upon its completion, the landscaping was described in the 1882, W. H. Beers & Co. edition of The History of Montgomery County, Ohio. “Entering a lovely dell where art of the florist and botanist has brought into requisition, a landscape garden, with nature’s choicest flowers of beauty and fragrance delights the eyes and charms the senses…Creeping vines adorn the rock work, and rustic seats are conveniently placed for rest and pleasure.”

The veterans of the Home, with the personal supervision of Colonel E. F. Brown, maintained these gardens. Within the garden area were three mineral springs that were converted into drinking fountains for the veterans and the visitors for their use, as they would walk this “garden of Eden.” Three large ponds that were heated to 80 degrees Fahrenheit were filled with rare water lilies of many varieties in this the “aquatic garden.” It was noted in
The History of Montgomery County, Ohio that the gardens were “the wonder and admiration of the 100,000 persons who annually come from all over the world to feast their eyes and record their tributes of praise.”

With time, urban area growth, US 35 development, and funding for the Dayton VA medical Campus the Grotto and Gardens faced decline. In the 1980s, the Dayton VA began efforts to restoring segments of the historical landscape. Again faced with funding and health care needs for the nation’s veterans, landscape attention moved to a lower priority.

The American Veterans Heritage Center in partnership with the Dayton VA Medical Campus began discussing the restoration of the historical Grotto and Gardens. While this current restoration will not be on the scale of the original landscape, it does include several of the historical structures that still stand today.

We are excited with the progress that has been made. We now are reaching out to the Dayton area community for help in developing a resource pool of volunteers from businesses, churches, schools, colleges and nonprofits to help in the maintaining of the historical landscape. Funding will also be needed for plants, memorial plaques, bricks and trees for this area.

We have targeted a re-dedication of the Grotto and Gardens for this year 2013! YOU can Help US, Please become a Volunteer or Donate money. Keep your calendar dates open so you can JOIN US for the re-dedication in 2013! To volunteer or donate, please visit our web site or call 937-267-7628

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