Veteran’s Day Guest Speaker Jeremy Ebersole
In honor of Veteran’s Day, we will be featuring Guest Speaker Jeremy Ebersole, Executive Director of Milwaukee Preservation Alliance. He will be presenting the story of the restoration of the Old Soldier’s Home, built in 1886 as one of the very first homes for Civil War veterans. It operated for over 100 years, but then was abandoned. The MPA and some other local Milwaukee organizations got together to save and restore it to be used as it was intended as a place for veterans to retire to. There’s some great videos of the Old Soldier’s Home that are on the MPA website.
The Save the Soldiers Home Project is a local initiative and partnership between the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, Inc. (MPA) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) to create awareness, rouse interest and build public support at the local level for the restoration and reuse of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home Historic District. The two organizations have been working closely for several years, but the momentum for the project was bolstered following the roof collapse at the rear wing of Old Main in February of 2010.
Subsequently, MPA nominated the Soldiers Home to be listed on the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list, a nomination it received in the summer of 2011. The same year, the National Park Service (NPS) designated the Milwaukee Soldiers Home a National Historic Landmark, the highest honor the NPS can bestow on places of national significance. In 2012, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the Milwaukee Soldiers Home a National Treasure.
The effort leveraged grassroots advocacy and engagement and key preservation tools such as Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to bring together local, state, and national preservation groups, veterans and related organizations to encourage action to return some of the District’s most threatened historic buildings to the service of veterans.
Thanks to this effort, in 2016, a team led by The Alexander Company and the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee was chosen by the Department of Veterans Affairs to rehabilitate a number of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home District’s historic buildings, including the iconic Old Main, Administration Building, Catholic Chaplain’s Quarters, and three duplexes. As of March 2021, these historic buildings now serve as permanent supportive housing for veterans and their families at risk of homelessness, serving as proof positive that strategic partnerships, visionary leadership, and creative funding cannot just save buildings, but tackle homelessness, ignite a community, and serve as a national model as well.
We’re extremely honored that the Soldiers Home has been the recipient of both a National Trust for Historic Preservation Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award and the Wisconsin Historical Society Board of Curators Historic Preservation Award for this transformative project.
Building on the success of this award-winning effort, MPA continues to advocate for the continued revitalization of other key parts of the Soldiers Home campus. Several key buildings, including Ward Memorial Theater, Governor’s Mansion, and Chapel remain unused and deteriorating. MPA is currently encouraging the VA to pursue a request for proposals seeking a developer to rehabilitate these three notable, vacant historic buildings, as it did with Old Main.