The History of The Grotto Gardens at the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center
The twin towers are the centerpiece of the Grotto Gardens landscape at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, a National Historic Landmark in Dayton, Ohio. Congress established the system of National Asylums for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and legislation was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1865. The Central Branch, also known as the National Soldiers Home, opened in Dayton in 1867.
The Grotto and surrounding gardens were developed by resident Civil War veterans in the area surrounding a limestone quarry. Stones from the quarry were used in many early buildings. By 1900, 25 acres of ornate gardens had become a garden paradise which was considered more beautiful than Central Park in New York City. It was a national resort destination attracting more than 600,000 visitors a year. The site was an integral part of the social life of Dayton for more than 60 years.
In 1930, the Veterans Administration took possession of the facility when the focus was shifted from home care to medical treatment. From 1930 – 1960, there was a gradual decline in maintenance of the gardens due largely to the depression, WWII, and changing demographics. By 1960, the ornate gardens were totally neglected, overgrown, and hidden from view.
In 2012, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and The American Veterans Heritage Center initiated the current reclamation of the historic Grotto Gardens landscape. The Ohio State University Extension’s Greater Montgomery County Master Gardener Volunteers joined the team in 2013 to provide maintenance support, develop and maintain new gardens, and continue the reclamation process. Along the way, other volunteers have joined the team and there have been significant financial and in-kind donations by individual, organizations, garden clubs, and garden centers. Because of this kind of outside interest, the reclamation is progressing much faster than anticipated. In the spring of 2014, 32 memorial trees were planted. A 35 foot fountain, almost identical to the one that existed in 1900, is currently being installed in one of the lakes.
Guided tours of the gardens and presentations can be arranged. Contact us via email through our Contact Page.
How You Can Help
Please contact us if you would like to donate time, plant materials or money to help fund the ongoing restoration and upkeep of the gardens.