Save the Soldiers’ Home! Unique effort to preserve veterans’ history in Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A Milwaukee organization is honoring veterans on this Memorial Day by working to preserve their history. Wood National Cemetery is the site of the "National Soldiers' Home." Built in 1867, volunteers returning from the Civil War were cared for there. Now, there's an effort to preserve and protect it.

The National Soldiers Home Historic District, in Milwaukee, is the birthplace of federal veterans' care in America and is a soldiers’ recuperation and living settlement established just after the Civil War.

The 90-plus acre district rests on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee between what is now National Avenue and Bluemound Roads, directly west of Miller Park.

The National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, as it was originally named, was established in 1865.

The establishment of a system of National Soldiers Homes, including Milwaukee, was one of the last pieces of legislation signed by President Lincoln before his assassination. 

One of only 43 National Historic Landmarks in Wisconsin, it is the most intact Soldiers' Home in the country -- and the only one with the majority of its surrounding recuperative village remaining.

"It's a pretty amazing building," Iraq war veteran Tom Voss said.

The National Soldiers' Home became a monument long ago, and a war veteran is fighting to keep it standing.

"By trying to revive this place, we are really trying to revive the service and caring in the state and Milwaukee," Voss said.

A first of its kind, the buildings that comprise the National Soldiers' Home are on the losing end of time.

"This is one of three original soldiers' homes that were built by the Lincoln administration. It was an act of Congress and that was the beginning of the legacy we have of serving our wounded soldiers," Peter Zanghi said.

The 90-acre plot is a national landmark.

"It's a great monument to veterans," Voss said.

The National Soldiers' Home includes three prominent buildings -- including: "Old Main," "Ward Memorial Theatre" and a chapel.

Zanghi joined the effort more than a year ago, through the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance.

"We're trying to get them to find uses for veterans that make sense," Zanghi said.

On top of that -- the effort includes telling as many people as possible about how unique the Soldiers' Home District really is.

"Right now we are trying to get people here. Because a lot of people -- they might have heard about it but they really don't know where it is," Zanghi said.

It's an effort to hold onto history as a testament to those who helped to preserve our future.

"I mean, look at it! It's amazing!" Voss said.

"I think we need to be reminded constantly of why we have the freedoms that we do and this is a great reminder," Zanghi said.

The Milwaukee Preservation Alliance says one of the best ways to save the National Soldiers' Home is first -- making people aware of it.

The organization has created a walking tour app for your smartphone!

It will help guide you through what is really -- a one-of-a-kind landmark right here in Milwaukee!

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the "Walking Tour" App!

CLICK HERE to learn much more about the effort to preserve the National Soldiers' Home via SaveTheSoldiersHome.com.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the National Soldiers' Home via SoldiersHome.org.