New York State Soldiers and Sailors HomePosted: December 25, 2013
One hundred and thirty-five (135) years ago, on Christmas Day 1878, the New York State Soldiers and Sailors Home located near Bath, New York, officially opened to admit veterans for the first time. That day twenty-five (25) disabled Civil War veterans partook of the home’s first Christmas dinner.
In 1876, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), then the largest fraternal organization of former Union soldiers, received a charter from the state of New York to establish a soldiers home in Steuben County near Bath. At the time, nearly 700 disabled or destitute veterans were housed in various state poorhouses. The GAR sold subscriptions to purchase a 240-acre farm in Bath, then sought support from the state legislature for “removal from the Empire State of the disgrace attending the presence in the county poor-houses of so many hundred of her brave defenders.” The legislature agreed to accept the home and provide for its continued maintenance as one of the state’s charities. [photo of Bath around 1879]
Almost from the time that it opened, the New York Soldiers and Sailors Home’s managers sought to have it included as part of the Federal government’s system of Civil War soldiers’ homes–the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS), which was the origins of today’s VHA. In 1876 the NHDVS consisted of only four homes located in Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia, but more were planned. By 1890 Bath was the largest of the state soldiers’ home and housed nearly 1,300 veterans. In 1890 an average of 4,516 men were taken care at roughly a dozen state soldiers’ homes versus nearly 13,000 by six branches of the NHDVS.
In its 50th year of operation the Bath state home and its cemetery became the 11th and final official National Home, known as the Bath Branch, when Public Law 70-531 was enacted on May 26, 1928. The NHDVS took over administrative control of Bath on May 1, 1929. Bath was initially leased to the government for a term of only 10 years, but in January 1933, was permanently deeded to the Veterans Administration.
In 1930, the NHDVS was merged with the Pension Bureau and Veterans Bureau to form the Veterans Administration. Bath and the other 10 National Homes were transferred to the Veterans Administration at that time. In 1988 President Reagan authorized elevation of the Veterans Administration to an Executive branch department and renamed it the Department of Veterans Affairs. Bath and all of the former National Homes continue to serve today’s veterans as a Department of Veterans Affairs facilities.
—Historian, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs