Throughout its 150-year history, the Togus veterans’ hospital campus has endured fires, had millions of dollars in improvements, and evolved with the needs of veterans returning home from different wars.

Togus’ main building burned down in a fire in early 1868, killing one veteran who could not survive the frigid winter conditions after escaping the flames. The campus’s brick hospital, built that year, survived the blaze with minimal damage.

A building program during 1869 and early 1870s saw the construction of an amusement hall, a residence for the deputy governor of Togus and a fire engine building. A bakery, a butcher shop, a carpenter shop, blacksmiths’ work space, a retail store, a sawmill and a boot and shoe factory were all built during the 1870s, Togus historian Donald Beattie said.

As was the case with a lot of the buildings made of wood in the period between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century, fires were a major problem. The amusement hall was lost in a fire and rebuilt in 1871 for about $20,000.

The campus underwent another building boom in the 1880s when a new amusement hall, a memorial chapel, a new restaurant, a cafe and the Headquarters Building all were completed. A large theater, which hosted concerts and stage productions, opened in 1893 and contained 15,000 square feet of entertainment space.

Togus continued its expansion through the 1890s because of the increased need for care of Civil War veterans. Togus Governor Samuel H. Allen described the Main Hospital, which was rebuilt in 1898 with more than 18,000 square feet, as being “enlarged and improved,” which was a necessity.

The barracks at the National Soldiers Home at Togus is shown in this postcard that dates to the early 1900s.

The barracks at the National Soldiers Home at Togus is shown in this postcard that dates to the early 1900s. Courtesy of the Kennebec Historical Society

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, Togus had about 90 buildings and barracks that could accommodate about 1,200 veterans. New barracks and a new hotel were built within the first few years of the 20th century, which was a key feature in providing services to visitors to Togus.

Construction slowed during Woodrow Wilson’s administration and didn’t pick back up again until the Veterans Administration (later replaced by the Department of Veterans Affairs) was established in 1930, Beattie said.

That construction boom included the completion of a fireproof 250-bed hospital that included a modern X-ray facility and a surgical ward, significantly changing the way Togus provided patient care. Within a few years of Togus becoming a VA facility, a nurses’ home, a neuropsychiatric hospital, a regional office, a garage, a dining hall and kitchen and a utilities facility were all under construction. The VA estimated that the overall building program in the 1930s cost $2.5 million to $3 million.

Around 1950, the campus print shop opened and began making holiday cards and brochures and information about special events, and veterans on campus were trained in using the printing equipment.

The Togus National Cemetery was closed to burials in 1961, and a nurses home unit was added to the campus in 1974.

In 1991, a $31 million upgrade of the hospital was completed, and the Governors Quarters, which was built in 1879, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 2012.

Togus continued to undergo changes during the beginning of the 21st century, including construction of the Beals House, which provides temporary housing to families of patients receiving care at Togus.

Director Ryan Lilly said the major challenge is the continued upkeep of the existing infrastructure, and he said the last few years have been dedicated to “a lot of nuts and bolts” projects such as roof replacements, correcting water infiltration problems in building facades and upgrading heating and cooling capacity.

“We expect to begin construction in fiscal year 2017 on a much needed project to build additional space on the main hospital building, as well as construction on our first phase of a four-phase project to replace our long-term care building,” he said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ