When I tell people about My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans (University Press of Kentucky, 2010), I can usually count on them to ask these questions:
1. Who lived there?
The Kentucky Confederate Home was open to Confederate veterans who had served honorably. The veteran submitted an application describing his service record, swearing that he was not mentally deficient and not addicted to alcohol.
2. Was it a rest home? A hospital? A poorhouse?
It was all three…and none of those. Some of the men who came to the Kentucky Confederate Home suffered from lingering war wounds or lost limbs; others had lost the ability to earn a living due to old age. Still others were affected by what we now call post-traumatic stress syndrome.
3. Who built the Home? Was it part of the VA?
There was absolutely no federal assistance for Confederate veterans, and the few state pension programs for Confederate veterans were pretty meager. It was usually the veterans themselves who organized the Home and raised funds to build it.
4. Were there other soldiers’ homes?
Sixteen lasting homes were organized and built between 1887 (Virginia) and 1929 (California). The Kentucky Confederate Home was the brightest jewel in this necklace of homes draped across the southern and border states.
5. What did it look like?
Kentucky veterans bought a luxurious former resort hotel in Pewee Valley, Kentucky, instead of building a more institutional home from scratch. The old hotel had seventy-two guest rooms (all completely furnished), dining hall, kitchen, running water, steam heat and gas lighting A wide veranda, furnished with comfortable rocking chairs and wooden gliders, surrounded the building on three sides; second-story balconies and windows on every floor provided natural cross-ventilation. It was a beautiful place
6. What did the men do there?
One inmate griped that he had nothing to do but eat and lie in a hammock all day; many inmates filled their days with gardening, games, reading or chewing the fat with other inmates. Though some of the other homes were work farms or required inmates to work to earn their keep, the Kentucky Confederate Home allowed the men to do nothing with their time, if that’s what they wanted.
7. Why do you call them “inmates”?
The word has traditionally referred to persons living with others in the same building, voluntarily or not. Today, we think of inmates as people involuntarily housed together, but it didn’t have quite that same meaning a hundred years ago.
8. How many men lived in the Kentucky Confederate Home?
As many as 300 may have lived there at one time, (although a few may have been on temporary furlough or visiting the hospital in Louisville). Up to a thousand men lived in the Home from 1902 to 1934.
9. What happened to them?
They aged and died. In 1920 there were about 180 men living there, and their average age was close to 80 years. The number of inmates fell from 72 in 1926, to 46 in 1928, to 27 in 1930 and to 12 in 1931. By 1934, when the Home was closed, only five inmates still lived there.
10. Is the Home still there?
No, the old resort hotel burned in a 1920 fire. The rebuilt and remaining buildings were left to deteriorate when the Home closed, then eventually cleared from the property. Today, the site of the Kentucky Confederate Home is residential property.