Union Civil War veterans created colorful floral designs on the grounds of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, now known as the Dayton VA Medical Center. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DAYTON VA ARCHIVES
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

Dayton VA Grotto Gardens included in national exhibit

The Dayton VA’s historic grotto gardens, built by Civil War veterans as a sanctuary after the war, has been included in a new exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.

The exhibit, “Celebrating New American Gardens,” features photos, landscape designs, drawings and project descriptions for 21 gardens spanning the country.

“I was elated,” said Robert Kincses, a trustee with the American Veterans Heritage Center, who submitted the application to be considered for the exhibit. “The fact that we are there is a significant achievement.”

>> HISTORY EXTRA: Civil War veterans built this stunning grotto that is a must for any to-visit list

The original grotto gardens, located on the campus of the Dayton VA Medical Center, dates back to 1869. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DAYTON VA ARCHIVES
Photo: Staff Writer

The exhibit in the nation’s capital celebrates public gardens that are new or renovated within the last five years. It will be on display through Oct. 15.

Dayton’s grotto gardens were built on a site quarried for the limestone used to build Home Chapel and other buildings and roads for the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, now the campus of the Dayton VA Medical Center.

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Robert Kincses (CQ), trustee with the American Veterans Heritage Center (left) and Jane Falck, a master gardener volunteer, chat along a pathway in the grotto garden on the grounds of the Dayton VA Medical Center. Master Gardener volunteers have spent the past two years restoring the area originally developed by Union Civil War veterans. . LISA POWELL / STAFF
Photo: Lisa Powell

Charles Beck, a landscape designer, supervised the first crew of 75 Civil War veterans who molded the topography of the gardens in the limestone quarry area and built caverns within the grotto.

Gardener Frank Mundt began growing vines in the rock crevices in 1868. He took care of growing and caring for native plant species in the grotto as well as cultivating exotic plants in greenhouses on the campus.

The grotto was a safe haven for the veterans who had suffered through the devastation of the Civil War. The quiet surroundings and beautiful plants and flowers were a peaceful tonic.

>> 7 vintage images of Dayton VA Grotto

Over the decades, the site lay dormant, cloaking the springs, stone garden walls and original brick walkways in invasive vegetation. It was so overgrown employees on the campus did not realize there were stone structures hidden on the grounds, Kincses said.

The Dayton VA partnered in 2012 with the American Veterans Heritage Center and with the Ohio State University Extension, Montgomery County Master Gardener volunteers and spent years reclaiming the grotto and gardens.

Kincses, who helped direct the garden recovery, said he kept current and former veterans, as well as their loved ones in mind during the years it took volunteers to transform the garden back to a sanctuary.

“I thought that this place needed to be revisited and brought back for their comfort and solace,” Kincses said.

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