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'A Hallowed Home for Heroes' explores the storied history of Milwaukee Soldiers Home

An Illustration of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, from the 1885 edition of the Wisconsin Blue Book.
James E Heg
An illustration of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, from the 1885 edition of the Wisconsin Blue Book.

Looking west over the City of Milwaukee near the Brewers stadium, you may have seen a Victorian turret rising above a thicket of trees. If you move closer, you’ll find a grand home, more than a century old, surrounded by a complex of historic buildings all created with a singular goal: helping America’s veterans.

It’s the Milwaukee Soldiers Home (also known as "Old Main") and since it was created in 1867, it has helped generations of veterans. A Hallowed Home for Heroes is a new documentary from Milwaukee PBS that explores that history and how the complex continues to help veterans today.

The Milwaukee Soldiers Home, also known as Old Main.
The Milwaukee Soldiers Home, also known as Old Main.

"It was created, actually, by a group of women who were taking care of soldiers during the Civil War-era, in makeshift, temporary storefronts. ... They were set on trying to figure out a permanent place for the soldiers to come and rest and heal," says Maryann Lazarski, one of the producers behind the documentary.

The women raised enough money to fund the project, and it became one of the first veterans homes in the nation.

Over the decades, a lot has changed at the complex, as producer Scottie Lee Meyers explains: "As Civil War veterans were sort of aging and dying, ... folks weren't really sure if there was a need for this place anymore. ... Then came World War I and things that followed, and then you had sort of a new generation of veterans moving into the home."

He continues, "1989, fast forward a bit, that is when the VA officially put locks on the door. Old Main was too old to tear down, but also too decrepit to let people live there anymore and so it just sat there vacant."

The home continued to deteriorate until the roof caved in, which Meyers says galvanized a community effort to restore the building to its former glory.

Today, the Milwaukee Soldiers Home is again a home for veterans, offering wrap-around services through the Zablocki VA Medical Center. The home remains an important part of both national and local history.

"This is a building that is made with the very sort of marrow of who we are. It’s a beautiful gothic tower, built with cream city brick, made from clay from the Menomonee Valley, I mean, it’s very much of us," says Meyers.

A Hallowed Home for Heroes will air on Milwaukee PBS (WMVT) on Veterans Day, November 11, at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. A full list of the air times for the documentary can be found here.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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