National Military Home of Indiana
Main Entrance Soldiers Home
It was once that Congressman G.W. Steele, who spent sixteen years in Washington really "stole a march" on his constituency, when by an act of congress approved July 23, 1888, entitled: "An Act to Authorize the location of a Branch Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Grant County, Indiana, and For Other Purposes," became a reality, and when the news reached Marion "There was a sound of revelry by night." Major Steele introduced the bill providing for it in the fiftieth session of congress, the measure coming up in December, and for seven months he watched the proceedings. While some Grant County citizens had watched developments, others had to have an explanation about the hilarity down town one summer night.
One of the conditions under which the institution was secured for the county and state was free fuel - natural gas was then abundant, and several advantageous sites in the vicinity of Marion were considered. To this attempt the city of Marion owes its beautiful Matter Park., the flowing well being developed at that time, although the natural gas was not found in sufficient quantity to warrant the United States government in locating the proposed institution there. The Elliott farm and some adjacent property amounting to 235.83 acres in a tract along the Mississinewa, was bought immediately at a cost of $26,435.30, it being a conditional purchase with an annual appropriation of $300 for leasing other land in order to perpetuate the gas supply, and since that time sufficient land has been added till there are 300 acres in the tract. Ground was soon broken, and March 18, 1890, the Home was open to members. Since that time it has been the mecca of many visitors. The first governor was General Arthur F. Devereaux, who was succeeded by General Justin H. Chapman, and at his death Major G.W. Steele, who had sustained direct official connection with the Marion Branch from its earliest inception, became governor December 11, 1904. Members and visitors alike agree that it is a well managed institution.
General Devereaux soon returned to Cincinnati, and after Governor Chapman was laid in the Silent Circle, Major J.Q. Adams, then treasurer, was acting governor until Major Steele was appointed and officially installed. There were 586 members when the Home opened, and since then the average has been around 2,000, the enrollment always increasing in winter, when the veterans are less able to care for themselves. As the graves in the Silent Circle increase in number the membership is depleted, and in time some other use will be made of the domain now owned by Uncle Sam. There are fourteen barracks, not including the department buildings and official residences, and military life in the strictest sense obtains there. All points of the compass are represented in the membership, and many interesting life histories are wrapped up in the men now spending their days in the quiet retirement provided them by the United States government. While the general health in camp is good, there are many frailties incident to age, and year by year the membership in all the Homes grows smaller - the boys of '61 to '65 answering the final reveille and crossing over to the Plains of Peace.
Since the age of the soldiers averaged but twenty-five years when the war closed, and it was an army of boys that rushed to the defense of the American flag again in the '90's, there will be recruits to the army of disabled volunteer soldiers for a long while in the future, and the Marion Branch is destined to many years of usefulness. It is a beauty spot whether seen in summer or winter, although more people see it in fair weather. "A little glimpse of camp life when all is wrapped in a covering of snow presents some different features from what the average summer time visitor carries away in his mind. The winter days seem long to the veterans who enjoy outdoor life and associations, and whose physical strength will not admit of rigorous winter time enjoyments. Instead of roses in bloom there were icicles on all the bushes, and instead of groups of men on the lawn and in the shade, it was a rare thing to see a uniform, and when a soldier did cross the grounds he did not stop until he reached his destination. While people flock there in summer, and the public is quite familiar with the life of the veterans who are spending the long afternoon of their lives there, very few tourists go there when the camp is wrapped in the embrace of winter, ad yet there is somber beauty in storm fronts and other winter time reminders."
The Soldiers Home is a city within itself, and is one of the best single assets of Grant County. More than half a million dollars are distributed annually in the maintenance of the institution and the pensions paid the members. It is estimated that more than $6,000,000 have been distributed in pensions and a like amount in the improvements and maintenance of the property. The salaries paid amount to more than $9,000 a month, to the employees, including thirteen commissioned officers, fifty non-commissioned officers, seventy-three men whoa re civilians, sixty-five women; and an average of 264 members who are on paid duty. The total property valuation is almost $1,000,000, and while all the revenue from the Marion Branch is not spent in grant County, a considerable portion of it finds its way into local business channels. While bids are required in awarding contracts, local dealers are favored and Grant County labor has always been employed in construction. Many Marion wholesale dealers now hold important business contracts. Marion has always received advertising from visitors to the institution, and it is the summer evening pleasure resort of the whole countryside.
There are several National Homes aside from the different State Homes, as the Central Branch, Dayton, Ohio; Northwestern branch, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Eastern Branch, Togus, Maine; Southern Branch, Hampton, Virginia; Western Branch, Leavenworth, Kansas; Pacific Branch, Santa Monica, California; Danville Branch, Danville, Illinois; Mountain Branch, Johnson City, Tennessee; Battle Mountain Sanitarium, Hot Springs, South Dakota, and the Marion Branch, and the president of the United States and the Secretary of War are always members of the board of directors. The presence of a Nation Home is an object lesson in American patriotism -a standing denial of the theory that republics are ungrateful to those who in the hour of need defend them by laying all upon their country's altar. While Uncle Sam looks after all the physical needs of the boys in blue, and the economics there would afford an interesting study, he also provides for their spiritual life in both Protestant and Catholic chapels in which to worship, and all Grant County is glad of this National institution within its borders.