In November 1901, newspapers across the country touted the beautiful new National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (N.H.D.V.S.). The heading of one newspaper was “A Great Soldiers’ Home.” The facility was also commonly referred to as Mountain Home.
Another publication stated that when it was finished, it would be one of the most notable groups of buildings in the state. The existing homes and soldiers' retreats that had been built across the country were exclusively for Union or Confederate veterans, but not both. The Johnson City one provided a shelter for men who volunteered in Union or Confederate Civil War service and in the war with Spain. However, Confederate soldiers were required to sign papers of allegiance back to the United States.
After fierce competition with six architects, the lucrative contract for erecting buildings and laying out grounds was awarded to J.H. Freedlander, whose design scheme encompassed 37 buildings. The plan called for eight barracks, theatre, mess hall, chapel, canteen, powerhouse, infirmary, jail, administration building, laundry, icehouse, morgue and even a fine hotel. Other structures were added later that included a library, zoo and baseball recreational area.
The site that comprised a tract of land 1.75 miles long and 0.75 miles wide was situated with a stunning view to the south of the Tennessee Mountains. The grounds were laid out in parks, groves and driveways and the landscape features added to the picturesque appearance of the home. The place was so delightfully situated it was believed that it would eventually become a popular health resort attracting people from all over the world.
General John T. Richards of Maine was appointed superintendent of construction. The plan included a large parade ground and a group of 12 barrack buildings. These structures were in a semi-ellipse arrangement and were within easy walking distance of the mess hall. Each barrack building had its own park and everything about the place was arranged so residents could spend their days in perfect comfort amid surroundings that were naturally beautiful.
The new home was obviously impressive to the masses, but what did the veterans who lived there think about it? One opinion came from Francis McClendon, a disabled veteran of the Spanish-American War from Florida who spent time there and penned a letter on Jan. 28, 1905 that summarized his feelings about the place:
“I send these lines to you to state that I am at present a member of the mountain branch of the National Mountain Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers at Johnson City, Tennessee. Will you have the kindness to send my paper to the above address? I am at present in the hospital receiving every attention I could reasonably ask for. We are having some extremely cold weather – four degrees below zero this morning. At the present writing, it has moderated considerably. This is something unusual for this section as it very seldom reaches zero.
“Well, this is a beautiful place costing in the vicinity of about $5,000,000. All the buildings are constructed on the most modern plans fitted up with every convenience. As for the hospital department, it can’t be beat. The capacity of this home is 2500. It now contains about 1150 or 1200. Some future time I will give you a more detailed account of it. With kind regards and best wishes I remain, yours truly, Francis McClendon.”
While the note speaks well for the expansive military facility, we can only wish that Mr. McClendon had given us a more detailed account of what it was like to reside there soon after the turn-of-the-century. Perhaps he did and we just need to locate the information.