The endangered Commandant’s Row buildings on the historic Indiana Veterans' Home grounds will soon face demolition if nothing is done.
Commandant’s Row is a set of three buildings on the edge of the property, each built with its own architectural style. The Commandant’s house is the only building of the three in use.
The Commandant’s house is a large Dutch colonial revival with a gambrel roof and four large white columns on the porch.
The Lawrie Library is a neoclassical-style red brick building with many of the original windows still intact.
The third used to be the administration building. It was built in a Queen Anne style, with red brick and a large porch. It is the building in need of the most rehabilitation, as the entire structure is in disarray.
According to Matthew Weller, chairman of the preservation committee for the Wabash Valley Trust for Historic Preservation, many veterans of the Civil War were becoming homeless, indignant and causing a burden on their families. In the years following the Civil War, there was a national movement to house aging veterans, so states across the country set up state-sponsored homes to house veterans and their families.
The Indiana Veterans' Home came out of this movement. Construction began in 1892 after the land was gifted by Tippecanoe County residents.
“These are the only three surviving original structures from the original campus,” Weller said, “and that’s what makes them really important buildings to preserve, because they represent a really important history.”
The Veterans' Home is the only one in the state of Indiana, according to the Indiana Veterans' Home website.
“A lot of people say that when they come up here, even if they’re not interested in old buildings or architecture, they can see that there is a difference in these buildings,” Weller said.
Many of the original buildings are no longer standing, and the community that had once been a part of the Veterans' Home has dispersed. Preservation of Commandant’s Row becomes that much more important to Weller.
“I think that’s what is such a shame about the fact that they tore down a lot of their old structures,” Weller said. “It was much more like a community and now it’s become much more institutionalized.”
Weller and the Wabash Valley Trust hope to bring back the sense of community with the rehabilitation of the Lawrie Library. He said they plan to turn the old library into a museum and to showcase the history of the home for the public to tour.
Indiana Veterans' Home Superintendent Linda Sharp is eagerly for the revamping of the Commandant’s House. Sharp moved into the home in October 2017 and has repaired years of damage inside.
Commandant’s Row has been on the Wabash Valley Trust’s watch for about a decade now, according to Weller, but it recently was returned to that list last summer.
Indiana Landmarks, an agency focused on restoring and repurposing old buildings, included these Veterans' Home buildings on its 10 Most Endangered list this year.
The list has really been about finding a long-term use for the structures. Nobody has found a good use for them so far, but nobody has really tried, Weller said.
Several factors determine whether a building is endangered, according to Weller. Most often those include the amount of maintenance done and the level of deterioration, but changes in ownership can also create problems for the old buildings.
“There are some in imminent threat not because they’re in bad shape,” Weller explained, “but the entity that owns them has other plans that would make them endangered, even if they weren’t in bad shape.”
Indiana's Department of Natural Resources owns the deeds to the three buildings, but the Veterans' Home maintains them. This relationship creates difficulty between the two groups because the Veterans' Home officials don't want to put money into something they don't actually owns, said Weller, who believes a change in ownership is a must for these buildings before they can be saved.
“Our next goal is kind of figuring out what each part is going to cost,” Weller said. “We’re talking about events we can hold to raise funds, grants being something that will play a part, too."