Soldiers' Home, State.One of the most important acts of the different state governments has been the establishment of homes for the soldiers who loyally defended the Union during the war, and who in their old age, or because of injuries received in defense of their country, might need care and support. Early in the '80s the representatives and senators from Kansas were urged to work for the passage of an act donating to the state the Fort Hays or Fort Dodge military reservation as a site for a suitable home for "the indigent ex-Union soldiers, sailors and marines of Kansas."
On Aug. 27, 1888, Congress passed an act giving to the State of Kansas the Fort Dodge reservation, and the legislature of the following year passed an act creating and providing for the management of the State Soldiers' Home, the act to take effect as soon as the general government turned over the reservation to the state authorities. Within a short time this was done and the home was opened on Jan. 1, 1890.
The act establishing the home provided for a board of three managers, who were to be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state senate. The members of the first board were to hold office for one, two and three years respectively, and thereafter one member was to be appointed each year. The first appropriation was for $5,000, with which sum a number of the old fort buildings were repaired. Then a few old soldiers and their families were admitted, and the home became a well recognized state institution where indigent soldiers and their families could find refuge in their declining years. All honorably discharged soldiers, sailors and marines disabled by disease, wounds or old age, or otherwise rendered incapable of earning their support, or who would otherwise be dependent upon public or private charity, are eligible for admission to the home. The board of managers set apart land for farming purposes, to be cultivated by the inmates, and in some cases a man with a family might have two and a half acres for his use and a cottage built at a cost not to exceed $250. Another appropriation was made in 1890, which enabled the board of directors to erect new buildings. The county commissioners of Ford county gave the home $5,000 to purchase land adjoining the home and to provide irrigation. The grounds were carefully laid out and beautified.
The home resembles a village with a population of several hundred. A large school building occupies one corner of the grounds, and a good dispensary and hospital with a resident physician provides for the sick. The commissary department occupies a large stone building, which is divided into a store room, postoffice and quartermaster's room. All the supplies necessary for a village community are kept and it is an interesting sight to see the members of the home come to get their supplies every Saturday morning.
The main buildings are located around the central square. The commandant's home, a handsome stone residence, fronts the river. The homes of the old soldiers are neat cottages, of three or four rooms each, and prove an entirely new departure in the idea of a benevolent institution. In 1893 an act was passed providing that all officers at the home, with the exception of the quartermaster, must be honorably discharged ex-Union soldiers, sailors or marines. It also provided that thereafter no soldier's wife should be admitted unless she was 40 years of age, and had been married previous to 1892, unless the soldier was a confirmed invalid and needed constant care.
From year to year as the number of soldiers at the home has increased, more buildings have been added and the appropriations increased. In 1939 the appropriations for support of the home aggregated over $100,000.
In 1897 the 13th department convention of the Woman's Relief Corps accepted from the Grand Army of the Republic the gift of the convention grounds and buildings located near Ellsworth, Kan., for the purpose of establishing a home and hospital. The corps, by the sale of the Bickerdyke book, had accumulated a fund and determined to call the institution the Mother Bickerdyke Home, in honor of Mary A. Bickerdyke. The state legislature appropriated $4,837 for the home. A board of five managers was chosen, to serve five, four, three, two and one year respectively and thereafter one member was to be elected each year.
The first board of managers met at Ellswortb on May 5, 1897. The buildings, containing 15 rooms, were remodeled to make them suitable for use as a modern hospital, and in addition there were 15 three-room cottages. For the partial support of the home each member of the relief corps was asked to contribute 20 cents a year, which would net $1,200 for the home. In 1901 the Grand Army of the Republic and the Woman's Relief Corps turned over the property and buildings of the home to the state as an annex to the State Soldiers' Home, and in 1907 an act was passed providing that any widow, mother or minor child of any honorably discharged soldier, sailor or marine of the United States army or navy, should be admitted to the home, provided such person had no adequate means of support and was incapable of earning her own living.Pages 713-715 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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