Roseburg VA Health Care System
VARHS Roseburg Campus on the Historic Register
Recently, a portion of the VA Roseburg Healthcare System’s Roseburg campus buildings were formally listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination was sponsored by the US Veterans Administration as part of a national effort to recognize the history of the agency.
Originally designed as general medical hospital, the VA Roseburg Healthcare System includes a rich history of expansion, growth and change to better serve our nations heroes. The roots and beginnings of the now 80 year-old facilities are interesting to read, as we started as the Oregon State Soldiers’ Home:
The history of the Veterans Administration Medical Center is back grounded in the Oregon State Soldiers’ Home established in 1893 and turned over to the National Soldiers’ Home Bureau in 1933.
The Oregon State Soldiers’ Home was created by act of the legislature in 1893 “to provide a home for honorably discharged soldiers, sailors & marines who had served in any of the wars in which the United States was engaged, or who served in the Indian Wars of Oregon, Washington or Idaho, provided they were or might become citizens of Oregon.” Funds were appropriated as follows: building, $8,000; land, $4,000; furnishings and improving, $3,000; maintenance, $12,000 annually.
A Board of Trustees was appointed to implement the legislative action, with their first official act to be the selection of a location for the Home. Forty acres of river bottom land situated one mile from Roseburg “Of the best quality and drainage and with an abundance of water of purest quality,” were purchased at a cost of $75 per acre.
The trustees advertised for bids and set contracts for the construction of the building for $7,483. Heating, plumbing and ventilating cost $3,200.
The Home was to be self-sufficient as possible, so as the work of clearing land went forward, small fruits and berry patches were planted, garden and vegetable plots were laid out and the institution was beautified by lawn, shrubs and flowers. The building was accepted and dedicated May 18, 1894. It was a “Handsome, two-story structure, wired for electricity, with basement and attic. Barns and sheds for farm animals, laundry and wood completed the facility.”
A flood of applications were received and membership capacity of 54 Veterans, which included three Veterans of Indian Wars, was quickly filled. The trustees soon recognized the inadequacy of the space available and the Home was expanded from time to time to eventually care for nearly 200 Veterans.
The State received $100 annually from the National Government for each member upon receipt of proper accounting except Veterans of the Indian Wars not regularly mustered into the U.S. Army, as these were the exclusive responsibility of Oregon, until a change in policy effective January 1, 1909, permitted all but two Indian War Veterans to receive federal support.
The commandants wheedled, implored & demanded adequate funds from the legislature to provide improvements needed by the Home. In the commandant’s report of 1900, he explained that the Home needed a new team of horses because of the original pair, one was dead, the other sick. The same year he begged for an operating table- pointing out that the equipment had to be brought by team and wagon from Roseburg when patients needed surgery which, incidentally, was performed in the bathroom for some years until a hospital wing was built.
In 1905, after four years delay in appropriation, wooded beds were replaced by metal ones after the commandant and surgeon of the Home convinced the legislature that some Home members came out of the hills filthy & dirty, bringing unwelcome, vermin guests which could be better eliminated by having bedsteads which could be sterilized.
Home rules forbade possession or use of liquor on the premises, profanity, vulgarity, “meddling” with the furnace, lights, etc., defacing buildings and demanded that members take a bath once a week and refrain from spitting on the floor in the hospital section of the Home.
The Oregon State Board of Control was created by general law in 1913 & took the Home under its all-encompassing wing. The population of the Home had reached its peak by this period and from 1913 on, it declined steadily. This was due in part to increased pensions which would enable Veterans to maintain their own homes, plus the attrition of age. By 1930 the average age of the men was 77, and 30% of them were hospital patients.
In 39 years of continuous operation, the State of Oregon cared for 2,000 Veterans at the cost of $1,059,375. By 1939, however, there were portents of major changes in political thinking. The Federal Government was moving into a program of greater responsibility in the field of social welfare. The need for federal funds to bolster economy would open the way for huge building projects throughout the country. These would have a profound affect on the future of the Oregon State Soldiers’ Home.
For us, the original main hospital building, the five-story brick structure with the magnificent commanding white pillars at the front entry that you still see today, opened in 1933. Subsequent buildings followed the same design pattern and were built adjacent to the location of The Oregon State Soldiers’ Home.
Having maintained the integrity of the brick structures since then, and with the history of The Soldiers’ Home, VA Roseburg Healthcare System was considered and finally formally entered into The Register of Historic Places in late 2012.