Togus National Cemetery is located in Kennebec County, in the town of Chelsea, Maine, on the grounds of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical and Regional Office Center.
The name Togus comes from the Native American name Worromontogus, which means mineral water. The Togus property was originally a summer resort called Togus Springs. It was owned and operated by Horace Beals, a wealthy granite merchant from Rockland, Maine, who hoped to establish a racing and resort community like Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He invested over $250,000 in a hotel, stables, bowling alley, farmhouse, bathhouse, driveways and racetrack. The untimely resort opened in 1859 but failed to generate business due to the Civil War. The resort, known locally as "Beals' Folly," closed in 1863. Beals died shortly after his business failed and the government obtained the property for $50,000. The spot was selected because of its isolation from large cities, well-known spring and bargain price tag.
In 1865, as the Civil War was drawing to a close, President Abraham Lincoln signed an act establishing the National Asylum (later changed to Home) for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The Eastern Branch at Togus was the first of these facilities to open, in November 1866.
The first veteran was admitted to Togus on Nov. 10, 1866. The home’s population remained below 400 until a building program began in 1868, which eventually provided accommodation for nearly 3,000 veterans. The facilities were organized much like a military camp with men living in barracks and wearing modified Army uniforms. Although a 100-bed hospital was completed in 1870, medical care at the home was limited, even by the standards of the day.
Togus was a relatively isolated location until 1890, when a narrow-gauge railroad from the Kennebec River in Randolph and an electric trolley line from Augusta were completed. These transportation improvements led to the home becoming a popular excursion destination for Sunday picnics. The grounds featured a zoo, hotel and theater that brought shows directly from Broadway. Band concerts were also held there regularly. The facility became part of the Veterans Administration (VA) in July 1930 when all agencies administering benefits to veterans were consolidated.
Togus National Cemetery is divided into a West Cemetery and an East Cemetery, with a total of 31 acres. The older West Cemetery was established in 1865 and moved to its present location west of the home about 1867; it closed for interments in 1936. To continue providing burial space, the East Cemetery was established in 1936 and closed for interments in 1961.
Monuments and Memorials
Eastern Branch - National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers' Soldiers & Sailors Monument, 1889
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument was erected in 1889 at what was the north end of the cemetery (now West Cemetery) at Togus VAMC, historically the Eastern Branch - National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS). All cemeteries affiliated with the eleven oldest NHDVS branches, designated national cemeteries in 1973, feature a prominent monument, typically an obelisk. Governor Luther Stephenson purportedly lamented that other Homes already had a monument, leading to this one being built at Togus by residents. No record has been found to indicate who among the 2,000 or so residents at time worked on the structure.
The 1890 National Home annual report described the monument as "very handsome in its rough simplicity, and is a source of pride to the men." The design was reputedly drawn by William Spaulding, a home resident and former marble worker from Philadelphia, PA; stonework may have been completed under the supervision of Jeremiah O'Brien, also a home member and formerly a noted stonecutter of Quincy, MA.
The three-tiered obelisk is approximately 26 feet tall and 11 feet square at the base, built of ashlar granite blocks about 1 foot high by 2 feet wide each. Four polished granite plaques are centered of each side of the upper base. The west face is inscribed: "In memory of the soldiers and sailors who fought for the Union." In 1922, National Home officials approved the replacement of the plaque on the east face "with a slab bearing an inscription showing dates of all wars in which those who served are entitled to membership in the National Home": "WAR WITH GREAT BRITAIN 1812–1815 / WAR WITH MEXICO 1846–1849 / WAR OF THE REBELLION 1861–1865 / WAR WITH SPAIN 1898–1899 / PHILLIPINE INSURRECTION 1898–1902 / WORLD WAR 1917–1918."
More than 120 years after its dedication, NCA conservators determined that the monument's inner core was so deteriorated that it had to be rebuilt. In June 2010, as masons began to dismantle the monument, they discovered a time capsule – a copper box which contained newspapers, NHDVS annual reports and photographs. With the box was a green glass bottle and the bowl of a smoking-pipe. The rebuilt monument features a new foundation and core. NCA rededicated the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on September 15, 2010, in a ceremony that included the placement of a new time capsule under the capstone.
1916 Soldiers & Sailors Monument
The Soldiers & Sailors Monument erected in the Togus West Cemetery in June 1916 honors the "memory of the soldiers and sailors of the Spanish-American War and service other than the Mexican and Civil Wars." Funds to construct it, $250, came from the Eastern Branch - National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers' general post.
Made of reinforced concrete with a white protective coating, the overall monument is 10 feet high and nearly 7 feet square at the base. The form is reminiscent of an altar: the tall base has corner posts that support a roof, which covers two angled marble plaques. The main plaque reads: "In Memory of the / Soldiers and Sailors / who served their country / in the War with Spain 1898 / Philippine Insurrection 1899–1902 / China Relief Expedition 1900 / Indian Campaigns."
Celtic Cross, ca. 1930
The Celtic Cross Monument is located in the Togus East Cemetery. Little is known about this structure—the designer, builder, and donor have not been identified—but it is believed to have been erected about 1930. Carved from a single piece of Hallowell granite, the large cross stands more than 13 feet tall and is tapered from base to top. It is mounted on a stepped granite base inscribed with "LET THEM REST IN PEACE."