National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Mountain Branch, Lamont Street & Veterans Way, Johnson City, Washington County, TN
For additional documentation, see HAER TN-1 & HAER TN-1-A
Significance: The Mountain Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS) was built between 1901 and 1905. The NHDVS was a federal institution authorized by Congress in 1865 and charged with caring for Civil War veterans disabled by their military service. By 1930 the system had eleven branches and became part of the new Veterans' Administration. The Mountain Branch was the ninth NHDVS branch and the most architecturally accomplished, although the level of design and site planning for all them is quite high. An architectural competition was held to choose the architect, the only time the Board of Managers adopted this approach. The winning design by New York architect Joseph H. Freedlander incorporated the latest ideas of comprehensive design and Neoclassicism as taught by the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Freedlander created a hierarchy of communal buildings, barracks, and service functions arranged along a central avenue with picturesque grounds and views south to the nearby mountains.
As a federal facility, the Mountain Home is indicative of the interplay between political patronage in Washington, D.C. and the development of a local jurisdiction. Like all the NHDVS branches, a powerful politician was instrumental in influencing its location. Congressman Walter P. Brownlow of the 1st Tennessee Congressional District ably leveraged his committee positions to bring about selection of his district for the newest Branch. Brownlow successfully emphasized the healthful climate and proximity to underserved veterans in Tennessee and other southern states. Although founded for Civil War veterans of the Union Army, the NHDVS membership had expanded over the decades to include U.S. Army veterans of the Mexican, Indian, and Spanish American Wars. Brownlow served as local manager and later on the NHDVS Board of Managers. Johnson City was a modest railroad town when the Mountain Branch was built, growing swiftly after its completion. Looking specifically at the construction process for the Mountain Branch, one can see the infusion of jobs for local firms and people, the need for local materials and supplies, and the economic growth brought in by visiting contractors, officials, and the Home members themselves.
Finally, Mountain Branch was built at a time of shifting emphasis from residential campuses to medical care for veterans. The importance of the hospitals at the NHDVS Branches had been growing throughout the late nineteenth century as medical care became more sophisticated. The Mountain Branch hospital was built first and planned as a key component in the complex. The needs of World War I veterans with lung diseases such as tuberculosis further pushed the shift to medical care as the most prominent aspect of veterans' services. From 1920-26, the Mountain Branch was redesignated the National Sanitarium, a facility dedicated to the rehabilitation of young veterans of the Great War who suffered from tuberculosis. In more recent years, the continued viability of the facility is largely due to expansion of the VA Medical Center and partnership with the Quillen College of Medicine, East Tennessee State University. Residential services are still provided, but medical care is a much larger proportion of the veterans' services offered here. Throughout its history, the Mountain Home has represented our national dedication to the care of veterans and their changing needs.
Survey number: HABS TN-254
Building/structure dates: 1901-1905 Initial Construction