The Michigan Soldiers Home, circa 1905 (Click on the image to view it in a larger size)
A Home for Veterans
The Michigan legislature established a home for disabled soldiers, sailors and marines by passing Public Act 152 on June 5, 1885. This institution was part of a national effort to provide domiciliary care for Civil War veterans. The Michigan Soldiers’ Home, in the words of Major and Supreme Court Justice Allen B. Morse, “was a testimonial to the worth and services of her [Michigan’s] sons in the war for the suppression of the Rebellion and the re-establishment of a United Government . . . a home for disabled and enfeebled veterans who lost their health and energies in defense of our homes. May it stand forever.” (Baxter, History of the City of Grand Rapids.)
Close-up on Uriah Gress (standing, with cane)
The Board of Managers created by Act 152 chose to build on the Nelson Farm, which was located north of Grand Rapids. The citizens of Grand Rapids purchased 132 acres for $16,500, and deeded the property to the State of Michigan. Saginaw architect F.W. Hollister drew up the plans, and the construction contract of $99,667.57 was awarded to builder Charles Tiedke (also of Saginaw). Ground breaking occurred on March 15, 1886; the Michigan Soldier’s Home was completed and dedicated on December 30, 1886. The State also established a cemetery on the grounds in April of 1886. The Civil War veterans in today’s blog were photographed, circa 1905, on the grounds of the Michigan Soldiers’ Home. The veteran with the cane (far right-hand side of photograph) is identified as Uriah Gress, who was Soldiers’ Home applicant #4107.
At the age of twenty-three, Uriah Gress enlisted in Company A, 6th Michigan Infantry. He received a disability discharge from New Orleans on December 21, 1862. In 1864, he re–enlisted in Company H, 28th Michigan Infantry, but was again discharged for disability at Alexandria, Virginia, on May 19, 1865. After the Civil War ended, Gress returned to Lake Township, Berrien County, Michigan, and married Lucy J. Heathman in 1867. The couple had one son, Martin, who was born in Iowa in 1881. Lucy died in 1883.
Post card image of Michigan Soldiers Home, circa 1905 – circa 1915
Uriah Gress entered the Michigan Soldiers’ Home on September 24, 1903 at the age of 64. On his application, Gress attested that he was of sound mind, but was suffering from a double hernia, broken hip and the piles. Like all veterans, he agreed to abide by the rules of the Home, perform all of the duties required, and turn over all money received by him in excess of $5.00 per month. (Gress received a pension of $12.00 from the United States government.) When Gress died of heart disease at the Soldiers’ Home Hospital (February 18, 1917), his account was $17.35 (2010 dollars: $292). His casket cost $15.00 and the remaining money was sent to his son, Martin L, Gress of Williamston. Both Uriah and Lucy Gress are buried at the Spaulding Cemetery in Williamston, Michigan.