Imagine you are a Civil War veteran that was badly wounded during the war. You came home but could not work to provide for your family, and had a lifetime remaining with a body which did not adequately serve you any longer. What would you do? Where would you go?
Now imagine a world with no social safety nets. No Welfare, Medicare, Veterans benefits, unemployment checks – nothing! That was the life of everyone before the New Deal programs of Franklin Roosevelt and later executive administrations, except in minor instances.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania realized this plight of many and wanted to honor and care for those who served their Country. So, on June 3rd, 1885, a bill was introduced by Isaac B. Brown of Corry that “An act for establishment and maintenance of a home for the disabled soldiers and sailors of Pennsylvania who as citizens of the commonwealth enlisted and participated in the war for the preservation of the Union.”
The first Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home in the state was established on the site of the Marine Hospital in Erie. The hospital building was constructed by the State sometime between 1861-1869 but was never used for its originally intended purpose. It was neglected and fell into disrepair, but ultimately proved to be an excellent location for the new Soldier’s and Sailor’s facility. The building was enlarged and improved on the 107 acres of property known as Garrison Hill. The low grounds (closer to the lake and today, no longer part of the property) was used for pasturage so that fresh milk would be available, along with pigs, chickens and a large garden furnished fresh vegetables in season.
The Home was designed to have the appearance of a grand hotel and anyone drawing a veteran pension was eligible to reside there. In no way was it considered a charity to stay. The men who lived there earned the right to comfortable care and medical assistance.
One of the more distinctive features of the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home are the stained-glass windows in the chapel.
The top window is of President Lincoln and always takes my breath away.
Another noticeable feature on the grounds is the presence of the “Wayne” blockhouse. Built in 1880 as a memorial to General “Mad” Anthony Wayne who died in Erie in 1796, the blockhouse was built over his “original” grave. (More to that story if you don’t already know later!)
A small cemetery is located on the grounds as well. In the middle is a statue dedicated to the unknown soldier and the rock on which it stands was relocated from Gettysburg.
The Erie Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home is one of 6 in the state of Pennsylvania. It still accepts veterans, male and female and their spouses as residents and, from what I can tell, provides excellent care. The Home offers up-to-date services in an historic setting. I feel grateful not only that our servicemen and servicewomen have given their lives to our country, but that we the citizenry can care for many who need help towards the end of their lives. That is what long life and happiness is all about; helping each other.