New marker commemorates Vets Home history

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BENNINGTON — The Vermont Veterans' Home has been recognized by the state with a roadside historic marker to commemorate the long history of the site.

The markers, distributed as part of a program from the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, mark historic sites throughout the state and tell their stories. While the markers are usually located on the roadside, to encourage travelers to pull over and read about the sites, the Veterans Home received a special accommodation to erect the marker near the building's entrance in order to encourage visitors to see more of the campus.

The marker was approved by the Division for Historic Preservation after over a year of effort led by Bennington State Representative Kiah Morris. "The state was stunned that this hadn't been done already," she said. Morris was joined on Friday for the unveiling ceremony, along with State Representative Mary Morrissey, Veterans Home Administrator Melissa Jackson, Chief Operating Officer Al Faxon, and members of the USS Bennington PACT.

"This is part of our history," said Morris during the ceremony. "I'm so excited that we now have a way to commemorate it."

Faxon praised Morris and Morrissey, who he called two of the home's closest allies in the legislature, for the support they have given the center over the years.

The two-sided plaque reads, "In 1884, the State General Assembly authorized an initial $10,000 appropriation to establish a soldiers' home to care for disabled veterans of the Civil War. The former country estate of Seth B. Hunt, erected in 1860, was chosen. The Soldiers' Home of Vermont opened on April 1, 1887, with 25 veterans. The 200-acre site included a working farm for able members. In the 1880's, the first building campaign expanded the barracks and added a chapel and hospital facility. The original one-acre cemetery was enlarged to 17 acres, interring more than 300 veterans. The capital construction program of the 1960's added a social hall, new chapel, new barrack wings, dining hall, and the first veterans nursing home care unit in the U.S."

The back side of the plaque continues, "In 1898, soldiers of the Mexican and Spanish Wars and every subsequent conflict were granted admission into the Soldiers' Home. By the 1960's, the focus shifted from domiciliary care to long-term extended care with facilities for 159 veterans. The Soldiers' Home of Vermont was renamed the Vermont Veterans' Home in 1971. Today, the Vermont Veterans' Home is the second oldest operating state veterans' home in the U.S. and the only veterans' home in Vermont. The State continues to honor our nation's veterans by providing a home, community, and exceptional health care at this site. Memorial areas honor Vermont Medal of Honor winners, Gold Star Mothers, and Vermont veterans from all of our nation's conflicts since the Civil War."

The Veterans Home marker is the sixth in Bennington. There is one on Depot Street commemorating the "Vermont is a State I Love," speech given by President Calvin Coolidge in Bennington in 1928; two at the Bennington Museum, commemorating the Corkscrew Railroad and Historic Old Bennington; one at the Bennington Battle Monument; and one at the Park McCullough House in North Bennington. Additionally there are four in Arlington, five in Dorset, three in Manchester, two in Pownal, two in Shaftsbury, and two in Sunderland. In total there are almost 250 throughout the state. A complete list is available at the Agency of Commerce and Community Development's website.

The USS Bennington PACT is a group of shipmates from all over the country who served on the USS Bennington and their families. The group has been coming to Bennington on Battle Day weekend every year since 1993, when the ship's bell was brought to the town. It currently sits on the lawn at the town offices, and is rung every year in memory of the former crew members who have died.

Tom Ganse of Harrisburg, Penn., a member of the PACT, which he said stands for "Personal Actions Create Trust," said that several years ago members of the group decided to find a way to give back to Bennington, and ever since the group has been donating funds to the Veterans' Home and preparing meals for the veterans. This year the group raised over $1,000 for the home. "We want this place to succeed," he said. "We want it to be here 100 years from now. If the little bit of money we give can help with that, great." He said his group's primary goal in helping out at the home is to, "give the guys a day."

Reach staff writer Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or @DerekCarsonBB

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