When Horace Beals shipped granite from Rockland to other parts of Maine in the mid-19th century, he’d often hear stories about the curative waters of the Kennebec River.

So when he tired of the quarry business, he decided to buy acreage near the river with the hopes of building a Saratoga Springs-like resort.

Beals traveled the world to find wallpaper and tapestry and other luxury items for the 150-unit hotel, which he called Togus Springs, from the Native American name “Worromongtogus,” which means mineral water. He had everything ready, except there was no road to the property, so Beals sank more money into the project. In 1859, however, there weren’t a lot of people traveling to Maine to find curative water, so the hotel opening was underwhelming, according to Maine State Archivist David Cheever.

But from the failed resort emerged a new purpose for the property: a first-of-its-kind veterans’ care facility.

Historical records, news articles and interviews illustrate the sweeping impact Togus has had on veterans’ services over the last century and a half, paving the way for a national model of residential care that changed the way U.S. veterans were treated after returning from combat. Those changes occurred even as Togus endured burned-down buildings, deaths on campus and tension over alcohol prohibition as the property was transformed from a resort into a federal veterans’ care campus.

“Its existence ushered in a new level of veterans’ benefits,” said Darlene Richardson, a historian with the Veterans Health Administration in Washington, D.C. “Never before had any major country provided medical care and housing for soldiers, sailors and marines who served as temporary volunteer soldiers.”

Its beginnings were inauspicious. Horace Beals died unexpectedly a short time after the Togus Springs hotel closed and his family took over the property. They had no idea what to do with it, so the property sat unused.

In his last piece of legislation before being assassinated in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln set up a network of homes for injured and disabled soldiers returning home after the Civil War. The network would be known as the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

Maine’s congressional delegation noted the Togus property could be occupied immediately so it was the “first one out of the starting block,” Cheever said. It became the new network’s Eastern Branch.

The first soldier to be sent there was James P. Nickerson, of Company A, 19th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, in late 1866, Cheever said. An article in the Kennebec Journal from that year said the site was “comparatively new and eminently adapted to the use of the asylum.”

Before the Civil War, Richardson said, the National Asylum and the U.S. Soldiers Home offered hospitals and housing only for men who had served more than 20 years in the military, so when Togus opened, the new system of federal veterans’ homes and hospitals was built from the ground up based on Florence Nightingale’s environmental principles for good health.

“Worthy components and bits from the military and private sectors were added, and the system evolved as medical science evolved,” Richardson said. “From that first National Home in Maine grew the great federal system of veterans’ hospitals that we know today.”

EARLY LIFE AT TOGUS

Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, considered by Togus historian Donald Beattie to be the “father of Togus,” served as president of the National Home’s board of managers for about 15 years. Richardson said Butler was “greatly committed to taking care of disabled soldiers after the war.”

The asylum, as it was called then, opened in 1866. Veterans, who were known then as inmates, were treated in the former Togus Springs Hotel building until it burned to the ground in 1870.

Early on, life on campus was similar to active military service – veterans were issued surplus uniforms and bugles were heard throughout the day.

Official policy in Togus’ early years stated inmates were required to work. Many worked in the boot and shoe factory. By the end of the 1870s, veterans were making about 30,000 pairs per year. Other jobs included chief cook, which paid $20 a month; police sergeant, $15 a month; and hospital barber, $10 a month. The campus’ vast open space included a large farm with livestock cared for by veterans.

An amusement hall was built and included a 500-seat auditorium and a small gallery. There were bowling, billiards and dominoes; and even though gambling was officially prohibited there was also a small track for trotters.

Although Togus opened during a time of alcohol prohibition in Maine, bootlegging and drinking were tolerated. Soldiers sometimes were given whiskey to ease their pain.

By 1880, Togus housed more than 3,000 veterans in the hospital and private quarters. Early in that decade, a congressional oversight committee studied Togus and gave it a favorable report.

“The committee expressed themselves as much pleased with the appearance of the men, the cleanliness and neatness of their appeal being especially noticeable,” an article in the Kennebec Journal said.

But it wasn’t all good on the veterans campus.

‘MINIATURE CITY’

Drunkenness was the chief problem in Togus’ early years.

In 1867, James West was the first person to die at Togus after being punched during an altercation at a drinking hall early one morning, Richardson said. And Kennebec County Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Malloy was killed in the line of duty in 1884 while attempting to enforce liquor laws. He was searching the carriage of a suspected alcohol dealer when a struggle ensued and Malloy was shot and killed.

A Narrow Gauge Railway and trolley service completed in 1890 brought outsiders to Togus, not just to visit disabled family members, but also to listen to concerts, tour the grounds and check out animals in the campus’s zoo.

In an article in the Lewiston Sun Journal Magazine, editor and writer L.C. Bateman in 1905 called the facility a “miniature city” where “few or none but worn out veterans of the Civil War reside” and “make up a community that is as unique as any that can be found in all New England.”

The community continued to change and evolve throughout the early 20th century. As Civil War veterans got older, they’d often sit with younger veterans and share war stories.

Togus was a full-fledged community with its own administration, its own night life, its own social structure and its own entertainment. Cheever said Togus provided mutual aid to firefighters in nearby Augusta and Chelsea.

However, the beer hall was closed in 1907, the zoo was sold in 1923, and the Togus Brass Band folded, so the campus was no longer a destination for visitors. But Togus would see a big change in the coming years.

NEW VETERANS’ NEEDS

In October 1930, the Veterans Administration was established by President Herbert Hoover and Togus officially became known as the Eastern Branch of the National Home, Veterans Administration. Togus underwent many changes in the next several decades.

After World War II, Togus began providing full-service care to huge numbers of returning veterans.

Beattie, the Togus historian, said there was growing emphasis on psychiatric care and on reducing the number of patients living at the facility.

Patient care was supplemented by entertainment, athletics, a library, the campus canteen and chaplain services.

By midcentury, Togus was hosting Harry Houdini in the opera house and fielded its own baseball team, which played an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox in the late 1940s in front of 10,000 people at the Togus baseball field.

Patient care after World War II included supplementary care such as educational, physical, occupational, corrective and manual arts therapy. Around that time, Togus began hosting an annual sportsmen’s show featuring displays of fishing gear, boats and motors and other outdoor equipment.

A Kennebec Journal article from 1947 reported that nearly one-third – or about 31,000 – of Maine’s approximately 95,000 World War II veterans received medical attention and treatment at Togus.

PHILOSOPHY OF CARE

When the campus celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1966, Togus covered 514 acres with 70 buildings, 7 miles of road, two cemeteries, two ponds, a dam and 2 miles of sidewalk.

“A large parade in sweltering heat” marked the centennial and included a replica Narrow Gauge Railroad, the Kennebec Journal reported at the time.

A number of important medical advancements were made as the facility entered the late 1960s in the areas of mental health and suicide prevention; treatment of diabetes and cancer; pain management, and treatment for alcohol addiction.

Much medical, surgical and therapeutic research was conducted at the facility between World War II and the 1980s, and Togus was a leader in Legionnaire’s disease research in the 1970s.

Post-traumatic stress disorder became a larger concern among staff members and veterans during the latter part of the 20th century. Togus opened its first unit dedicated to treating PTSD in 1986.

The first of Togus’ Community Based Outpatient Clinics opened in Caribou in 1987, and the clinics continue to bring health care to veterans in rural areas.

As the century came to a close and Togus started treating veterans from the Middle East conflicts, it began to emphasize primary, specialty and preventive care in outpatient settings. A new women’s clinic opened in 1998, and a newer clinic was dedicated in 2014.

Now Togus has 10 outpatient clinics serving the more than 100,000 veterans across Maine, and its current director, Ryan Lilly, plans to continue the expansion.

“Togus was the pre-eminent veterans’ hospital and it has stayed as a primary-care, critical-care and residential-care option for veterans going back 150 years,” Cheever said. “As the wars have changed and the wounded have come in with different maladies and injuries and illnesses, Togus has stayed with the times.”