By Barbara Andrews
At their best, vintage postcards tell a story. One of the most poignant is the fate of millions of veterans who served their country at the highest cost to themselves and their families.
As early as 1811, the government recognized the need for a place where veterans could find a home when age and infirmities made independent living difficult or impossible. It took until 1834 for the first facility to open, the United States Naval Home in the Philadelphia Naval Yard.
The first soldiers’ home was established in 1851 in Washington, D.C. The Old Soldiers’ Home, now known as the Armed Forces Retirement Home, was followed by the establishment of many state and federal homes, including some that accepted widows and orphans. When the Veterans Administration was formed in 1930, this agency took over the administration of 15 of the 17 federal homes.
States and benevolent organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic and United Confederate Veterans were involved in starting more homes, most taken over by the states. By 1933, 43 states managed 55 homes for elderly and disabled veterans.
Cities, too, became active in establishing hostels for veterans, some evolving into homes for disabled servicemen. Women activists helped establish charitable homes in Boston, Chicago and Milwaukee. During the Civil War, the U.S. Sanitary Commission operated 18 soldiers’ homes, 11 lodges and one rest home in 15 states to meet the needs of discharged and disabled veterans.
In all, 75 “historic” homes were established in response to the huge number of Civil War veterans, many of which went on to accept World War I vets. Many of these were substantial structures built in the best late Victorian tradition, the kind of buildings that appeal to collectors when they appear on Golden Age (early 1900s) postcards.
Many communities were proud of their old soldiers’ homes, but postcards showing them aren’t nearly as plentiful as more commonly collected courthouses, churches, post offices and other public buildings. Views showing the quality of life in the homes are even harder to find.
The Soldiers’ Home in Leavenworth, Kan., was fairly well documented on circa 1910 postcards, showing a large facility with multiple buildings, including a separate dining hall. It was situated on Lake Jeanette with rolling lawns and a bandstand. It’s near Leavenworth National Cemetery and was originally the Western Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The medical facility was transferred to the Veterans Administration in 1930.
The site was originally part of a Delaware Indian Reservation. By 1886, there were 17 structures on the property. The first trolley line went through the town to connect Fort Leavenworth and the Soldiers’ Home. Because the original black and white photographs were colored for postcards by people who may never have seen the facility, the veterans are all shown in dark blue, making them still look like an army. A plus on any postcard is the presence of the men.
Postcards featuring veterans are often found priced as low as $1 to as high as $25 depending on the subject matter. When they can be found, Old Soldiers’ Homes are touching reminders of the price veterans paid for their country. They definitely belong in any history-based collection.
Barbara Andrews has contributed postcard articles to Antique Trader for more than 35 years. She’s an author of women’s fiction, working in partnership with her daughter. She is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Resources For Collectors & Sellers
• NEW FOR FALL 2011: Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles 2012 Price Guide