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SERVING OUR VETERANS: ND Veterans Home (pt. 1)

By Staff | Jan 18, 2019

North Dakota veterans and families are fortunate to have a Veterans Administration facility in their home state that can provide for their long term and nursing home care. This is the Veterans Home located in Lisbon, North Dakota. In my next two columns, I would first like to share some history of this facility with you and then some facts and information about the present facility as it is today.

By an act of Congress, in 1887, certain lands were set aside in various states and territories for the establishment and maintenance of homes for Union veteran soldiers. In North Dakota the state Veterans Home was established in 1891 and has been in operation since 1893.

At the meeting of the First Legislative Assembly of the State of North Dakota, House Bill #305 and Senate Bill #60, entitled, “An Act Appropriating Money for the Erection of a Soldier’s Home at Lisbon, and for the Contingent Expenses Thereto”, was passed on February 27, 1891. At this time, money was appropriated for the purchase of land and the erection of necessary buildings.

On August 14, 1891, a Board of Commissioners purchased 90 acres of land for $3500 in the valley of the Sheyenne River, adjacent to the city of Lisbon, and known as the “Cramer Farm”. The general supervision and government of the Home is vested in the Administrative Committee on Veteran’s Affairs as outlined in Chapter 37-18.1 of the North Dakota Century Code. The lands first allotted for the support and maintenance of the Home, amounted to approximately 40,000 acres, and was located in various parts of the state. They are under the supervision of the State Land Department. The ND Veterans Home Trust now has 2,753 acres left from the original 40,000 acres. The prior land sale proceeds and mineral royalties provide for the basis of the Trust Fund. When times were prosperous the interest and income from the land was more than sufficient for the maintenance of the Home and a surplus was accumulated. This surplus carried the Home through the 1930’s.

The Board of Commissioners selected the architectural firm of Orff Bros. of Minneapolis to draw plans and specifications for the barracks building. The contract was let to C.A. Leck, also of Minneapolis. The original barracks building was built of Menominee brick at a cost of $18,000. It was finished in native wood with maple floors; the barracks had an attic, two floors, and a basement. The attic held a water tank which could hold 30 barrels of water. The second floor had two dormitories, which held 15 people each, a six-patient hospital, and a lavatory with four marble wash basins. The first floor had a parlor, reading and dining room, office, kitchen, pantry, and serving room. The basement contained a boiler room, fuel and vegetable rooms, bathroom, and laundry. The barracks was completed on August 1, 1893, and the first veteran entered the Home on August 2, 1893. He was George Hutchings, a 73 year old Civil War veteran and a resident of Ransom County.

When the Home first opened dispensary type medical care was available, with a local physician making sick call each morning. Two practical nurses were employed; one was on night duty and the other serviced at intervals during the day. In 1899, a hospital building was erected, at an approximate cost of $16,000. In the late 1940’s the hospital was closed and the building became the civilian employee quarters.

In 1907, a building was constructed to serve as the Commandant’s residence, at an approximate cost of $9,000. At various times the out buildings were erected for horse and cattle barns, hog house, chicken coops, and a green house.

During the early days of the Soldiers’ Home, the residents were required to wear uniforms, which were furnished to them by the Home. The coat and vest were dark blue, the trousers light blue, and they wore black hats. In the 1950’s residents were required to bring their own clothing which consisted of three (khaki or gray) cotton shirts, three (khaki or gray) cotton trousers, three sets of underwear, twelve white handkerchiefs, two pair pajamas, a pair of bedroom slippers, and seasonable outer clothing.

Since the Home was self-supported in the early days, much of the labor was performed by the residents working with the farming operations, laundry, kitchen, garden, and keeping quarters clean. As the age group became older, this labor was not available due to physical disabilities, and civilian employees were hired. A work therapy program was designed to keep residents working if they chose or if there were jobs available. In the 1990’s, residents started to receive minimum wage, or they could choose to volunteer their time as well.

The Commandant for the Veterans Home is appointed by the Administrative Committee on Veterans Affairs. The 58th Legislative Session of North Dakota changed the criterial for the Commandant position. Previously, the Commandant had to be a veteran of the Spanish-American War, WWI, and/or WWII. Now the Administrator does not have to be a veteran. They additionally changed the title of Commandant to Administrator in 2003. Since opening in 1893, there have been 15 Commandants. The Home is presently served by its second Administrator.

Through the years, the barracks building deteriorated and was in such a state of disrepair that it would have taken thousands of dollars to repair, and further, the membership was increasing to a point where additional room was necessary, So, a bill was introduced at the Thirtieth Session of the Legislative Assembly providing for erection of a new barracks building, and was approved on March 14, 1947. This building was constructed at an approximate cost of $600,000 and was completed and formally dedicated on June 7, 1950. The four story building was designed to accommodate 150 veterans, spouses, and widows. It was modern in every detail including an automatic elevator. The old barracks was demolished in 1952. The entrance of this building is now marked by a Civil War Cannon.

A 1.7 million dollar construction and remodelling project was completed in 1980. With its completion, the facility conformed to all state and federal regulations on life safety and handicapped accessibility, increased its capacity to 159, provided new laundry facilities, and expanded the crafts area considerably. A new heating plant was built in 1981.

On July 1, 1983 the Administrative Committee on Veterans affairs changed the name of the “Soldiers Home” to “North Dakota Veterans Home”. It was felt that the new name more adequately reflected the residents the Home served.

The 1990’s brought many changes to the Home. A 3.6 million dollar project converted 17 basic care beds to skilled beds, added 21 new beds, a new kitchen and dining room, updated laundry services, central air conditioning, parking space and new road ways.

A four season room “Gazebo” was added to the 38 bed nursing home in 2000. It provides additional room for activities and a place to gather with loved ones.

The Veterans’ Home is maintained and operated by three sources of revenue; the General Fund of the State of North Dakota, federal funds, and special funds. The Home maintains a burial plot in the local Oakwood Cemetery. Not all residents who pass away are buried there; some are taken to where they preferred to be buried.

In my next column I will give you an overview of the current facility that was opened in 2011.

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