The VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus celebrates 150 years Saturday with a day of events including an encampment, parade, several guest speakers and a Civil War re-enactment.

The more than 500-acre campus received its first veteran, a Civil War infantry solider from Massachusetts named James P. Nickerson, on Nov. 10, 1866, and it has served hundreds of thousands of veterans over the last 150 years.

“As the first facility in what would become the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system, Togus’ role in the evolution of health care for America’s veterans is an important one,” said Togus director Ryan Lilly.

Saturday’s events begin at 9 a.m. with trolley tours of the sprawling campus and children’s activities and games behind the tennis court. Several exhibits and a historical encampment will also start at 9 a.m.

The parade starts an hour later and will include veterans, antique cars, motorcycles and re-enactors. Guest speakers following the parade include the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, Maine’s congressional delegation, Lilly and Michael Mayo-Smith, the Network Director for the VA New England Healthcare System.

Following the parade, live music and a barbecue will precede the dedication of the veterans tree and hospice memory garden. The re-enactment, called “Til the Last Shot’s Fired,” begins at 3 p.m. The re-enactment’s Facebook page says the event will honor Jewett Williams, a Maine Civil War veteran who was institutionalized in Oregon until his death in 1922. Williams’ cremains stayed in Oregon until Thomas Desjardin, former Maine education commissioner and a longtime Civil War historian, started the process to bring Williams back to Maine. His cremains returned to the state last month.

The celebration of 150 years of service to veterans will honor not only present-day veterans, but every soldier, sailor, corpsman, and airman who has come before, said the Maine Living History Association’s website.

“Maine has a long and storied history of military service,” Lilly said. “Togus has been the foundation of so many efforts to repay those that have sacrificed so much on behalf of the country.”

Lilly said the staff is thrilled to be able to celebrate this milestone.

“We look forward to hosting the celebration where we recognize the service of Maine’s veterans, as well as the VA employees that have served them admirably since 1866,” he said.

Togus will hold another celebration on Nov. 10, which is considered the facility’s official birthday.

Abraham Lincoln’s last piece of legislation before his assassination created a network of homes for injured and disabled veterans to provide care for all the soldiers returning home after the Civil War. The network would be known as the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, and Togus was the first facility.

Maine’s congressional delegation 150 years ago identified the Togus property as being immediately ready to serve veterans because of the property’s hotel, built in the 1850s by Horace Beals, who envisioned the property as a Saratoga Springs-like resort.

“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.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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