Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced Thursday the designation of Johnson City’s Mountain Home Veterans Administration Medical Center as one of 14 new national historic landmarks.
Salazar said Mountain Home, or “Mountain Branch” as it was originally known, is one of four national homes for disabled volunteer soldiers in 11 states and the District of Columbia that have played an integral role in the development of the country.
Mountain Home is among four national homes for disabled volunteer soldiers that have been recognized by the National Historic Landmark Program as national landmarks that reflect the development of a national system of veteran health care in the United States. The others are Western Branch in Leavenworth, Kan., Battle Mountain Branch in Hot Springs, S.D., and Northwestern Branch in Milwaukee, Wis.
With this designation, Mountain Home becomes Tennessee’s 30th designated site. Two others located nearby are Long Island of the Holston in Sullivan County (1960) and Sycamore Shoals in Carter County (1964).
“Each of these landmarks represents a chapter in the story of America, from archaeological sites dating back more than two millennia to historic train depots, homes of famous artists, and buildings designed by some of our greatest architects,” Salazar said in a news release. “By designating these sites as national landmarks, we help meet the goals of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to establish a conservation ethic for the 21st century and reconnect people, especially young people, to our nation’s historic, cultural and natural heritage.”
During his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln established a new benchmark regarding the federal government’s responsibility toward veterans. His legislative agenda in 1865 included a National Soldiers Home with several branches spread across the United States.
The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was established by Congress that year with the first branch built by 1867. Eleven board members, appointed by Congress, governed the “Home” and eight original branches were built in Togus, Maine; Hampton, Va.; Dayton, Ohio; Marion, Ill.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Leavenworth, Kan.; West Los Angeles, Calif.; and Danville, Ill.
Mountain Home became the ninth “home” when it was first occupied in 1903.
The original construction included 37 buildings, and the project was completed in 1910. There were eight barracks for 2,500 men, a mess hall (the Clock Tower), a four-ward infirmary, officers/surgeons quarters (homes), administrative building, power house, laundry, ice house, hotel, chapel, theatre, band stand (gazebo), jail and morgue.
In 2004, the Mountain Home VA Medical Center became part of a national study that assessed the historic significance of the 11 original national soldiers’ homes and determine their eligibility for listing as national historic landmarks.
There is a distinction between being listed on the National Register of Historic Places versus listing as a National Historic Landmark. Properties nominated for either category must meet certain age, historic integrity and significance criteria. Listing as a National Historic Landmark requires that a property be of national significance and that the historic integrity and character of the site and buildings be at an exceptional level.
The nomination process for Mountain Home began in 2004, and the final nomination report was completed in April 2007.
The National Historic Landmark Program, established in 1935, is administered by the National Park Service on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior. The agency works with preservation officials and other partners interested in nominating a landmark.
Completed applications are reviewed by the National Park System Advisory Board, which makes recommendations for designation to the Secretary of the Interior. If selected, property ownership remains intact but each site receives a designation letter, a plaque and technical preservation advice.
Additional information on the designations can be found at www.nps.gov/nhl.