Skip to main content


Grotto Gardens


During the late 1880s and early 1900s, the Grotto Gardens were a major attraction at the Central Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Often referred to as the “Dayton Soldiers’ Home”, the facility was built as a refuge and home for disabled soldiers of the American Civil War, and at its peak, sheltered over 7,000 Veterans. The Grotto area and lakes were formed from the quarrying of limestone as building material for some of the Home’s initial structures (such as the Protestant Chapel), walkways and roads. 

The Grotto’s water flows from natural underground springs, but the surrounding landscaping, rock walls and nearby lakes are all man-made. Seventy-five full-time Veteran gardeners planted and cared for magnificent gardens in the Grotto and adjacent areas, and it became a destination point for hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. Some came by train and often stayed at a hotel located on the grounds just north of the Grotto.

As the Veteran population at the Home declined during the mid-1900s, the Grotto Gardens fell into disrepair as the site became overgrown and mostly lost from view. Restoration began in 2012, and the next year, the OSU Extension Montgomery County Master Gardeners joined in a combined effort with Dayton VA Medical Center and AVHC to begin the restoration and maintenance of the historic VA Grotto Gardens.

Local garden centers, garden clubs, and donors have been generous in their support of this endeavor. Gardens have been planted and a tree dedication program has been initiated to honor various individuals for their service to our country.

As you tour the Grotto Gardens, you will want to download the Grotto Gardens Walking Tour Brochure. In addition, you will find that many of them have been named after historic figures from the early years of the Central Branch and Gardens.  To learn more about some of these pioneers of the Grotto Gardens, download the Pioneers of the Soldiers Home Grotto and Gardens..   Both of these are available to download at the Grotto Gardens Resources tab: 

Other Features at the Grotto Gardens

Additional Garden Spaces
The Grotto Gardens include a number of additional garden spaces including the hillside garden, the lakeside pollinator garden and the spillway rain gardens.

Additional Monuments

WWI monument and Garden.
This monument is dedicated to World War l vets.  It was re-dedicated on Veteran’s Day 2018, the centennial year of the end of WWl, with a ceremony.  A new plaque was placed by the Miami Valley Military History Museum owners and curators. Red flowers are planted  to symbolize the red poppies of Flander’s Field.

The Ponds and Fountain

Originally, the “lakes” kept a miniature version of the man-of -war ship the Garfield anchored there, and a central fountain was at the center of the large pond. There was also an aviary, a deer park, and alligators in one of the adjacent ponds!

Fountains similar to those from the past have been installed in both the upper and lower ponds.  Landscape lighting has been used to enhance key features of the Grotto.  Check it out after the sun sets – it is a sight to behold. (Night photos by Kevin L. Myers)