54. Soldiers’ Home Chapel, 1889

Currently vacant
North Mitchell Boulevard at General Wolcott Avenue
Architect: Henry C. Koch and Company

Soldiers’ Home Chapel
Soldiers’ Home Chapel

The federal government established the National Asylum (later renamed National Home) for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers immediately following the Civil War. The Milwaukee Soldiers’ Home was one of three constructed initially, with the others located near Augusta, Maine and Dayton, Ohio. In 1930, the newly created Veterans Administration assumed ownership and management of the facilities. By this time, there were 11 National Soldiers’ Homes around the country, serving disabled veterans of military conflicts from the Civil War to World War I. The Milwaukee Soldiers’ Home is still owned by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The site selected for the Milwaukee Soldiers’ Home consists of more than 90 acres, which at the time of its establishment was more than a mile west of the city limits. (The property was annexed to the city in 1925.) The site was selected in part for the therapeutic qualities of its pastoral setting, accessible by train but isolated from the smoky industrial city. The main building on the property, incorporating a hospital, dormitories, and other facilities, was designed by Edward Townsend Mix and built in 1869. Many other buildings were constructed on the property over the following decades, including the non-denominational chapel of 1889. Prior to this, a smaller space in the main building was designated for use as a chapel.

From the beginning, the chapel was used for both Catholic and Protestant services, including some services in German. It was also used for funerals. The chapel remained in use by the Department of Veterans Affairs until the early 1990s, but has been vacant since that time. The Soldiers’ Home Foundation is currently engaged in fundraising to restore the building and make it available to veterans and the general public for memorial services, weddings, funerals, and other functions.

The Soldiers’ Home Chapel is the only religious building in Milwaukee in the Shingle style, a primarily residential style popular from the late 1870s into the 1890s. The style was much more common in the Northeastern states than in the Midwest, and there are only a few Shingle style buildings of any type in Milwaukee. The Shingle style is a rare example of an architectural style term named for the material used. The distinguishing characteristic, of course, is the use of wood shingles for the exterior wall covering. Like the Queen Anne style of which it may be considered a subset, Shingle style buildings generally have complex forms, steeply pitched roofs, and picturesque asymmetry. The shingle siding typically continues around the building’s corners without the interruption of vertical corner boards, emphasizing the continuity of the siding material around the entire volume of the building rather than dividing the walls into separate two-dimensional panels. The visual result is a continuous skin-like covering. (The shingles were typically left unpainted to weather to a dark brown or grey color. The white paint on the chapel is a later alteration.) The exterior walls of the Soldiers’ Home Chapel incorporate four different shapes of wood shingles, with bottom edges that are flat, sawtooth, rounded convex, and rounded concave. There are also some areas of horizontal clapboard siding.

Soldiers’ Home Chapel
Detail of the building’s exterior, showing the four different types of shingles used.

Davidson, Lisa Pfueller. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Northwestern Branch, Chapel. Historic American Buildings Survey. HABS No. WI-360-E.

“Soldiers’ Home Notes,” Milwaukee Sentinel, September 24, 1889, page 2, column 5.