The Alexander Company, Milwaukee Veterans Administration, Center for Veterans Issues, and Milwaukee Preservation Alliance provided exclusive media access on May 22 to historic sites at the Milwaukee Soldiers Home campus, including the Ward Memorial Theater, Chapel, and Governor’s Mansion.

The hard hat walking tour, attended by Milwaukee Independent, offered a first look at the buildings before rehabilitation work begins. It was an opportunity to explore the structures, which have not been accessible for years due to their deteriorating condition.

A month before his assassination, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation to create a national system of homes for disabled veterans. Established in 1867, the Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home is one of the three original Soldiers Homes in the country.

The 90-plus acre district rests on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki Medical Center and was designed to be a place of refuge for Civil War Soldiers and help ease their transition back to civilian life. One of only 43 National Historic Landmarks in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Soldiers Home contains some of the oldest and most historic buildings in the VA system.

In 2021, as part of an Enhanced Use Lease with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, The Alexander Company and a team of local organizations celebrated a major victory as veterans were welcomed home to Old Main and five other historic buildings on campus.

Building on this success, the focus now shifts to the Ward Memorial Theater, Soldiers Home Chapel, and the Governor’s Mansion, and rehabilitating these three additional historic buildings into community space and supportive service offices.

“I am immensely proud of The Alexander Company’s continued involvement in rehabilitating the Milwaukee Soldiers Home campus, and our opportunity to play a part in expanding supportive services tailored to those who have served our country. This project is close to our hearts and our commitment runs deep. When these three additional landmarks are complete, they’ll stand as beacons of respect, support, and gratitude.” – Joe Alexander, President of The Alexander Company

Ward Memorial Hall, the two-and-a-half-story High Victorian Gothic Revival structure, stands as a testament to the historical significance and architectural grandeur of the late 19th century. Built from 1881 to 1882, during a period of significant expansion for the Northwestern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS), Ward Memorial Hall has played a pivotal role in the lives of many veterans.

It was designed by prominent Milwaukee architect Henry C. Koch. The building features polychromatic brickwork, a steeply pitched hipped roof with cross gables, and a veranda wrapping around three sides with ornamental wood posts and railings. The architectural elements were meticulously chosen to create a structure that was not only functional but also visually appealing, offering a dignified space for the recreation and comfort of its residents.

The establishment of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was a direct response to the increasing number of Union soldiers returning from the Civil War with wounds and injuries that rendered them unable to support themselves.

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This article was originally published by Milwaukee Independent.