Dayton’s ‘secret’ garden offers a peaceful escape

Temporarily closed at the start of the pandemic, the Dayton VA Grotto Gardens have reopened

An oasis of blooming flowers, sparkling water and historic structures is tucked away on the campus of the Dayton VA Medical Center.

The Grotto Gardens, built by Civil War veterans as a sanctuary after the war, is a peaceful place for a relaxing stroll.

The serene 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 known as the Dayton VA.

Charles Beck, a landscape designer, supervised the first crew of 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. Big banana plants, palms and huge agave plants were once part of the display.

Visitors to the National Home grounds “descended through a stone archway and strolled by luxuriant foliage and a waterfall,” according to an online VA virtual museum. Pathways wound through the gardens and boat rides were available on the lakes.

More than 660,000 visited the home at its peak in 1910, six times the population of Dayton at the time.

Over the decades, the site lay dormant, cloaking the springs, stone garden walls and original brick walkways in invasive vegetation.

The Dayton VA partnered in 2012 with the American Veterans Heritage Center and the Ohio State University Extension, Montgomery County Master Gardener volunteers to resurrect the grotto and gardens. The reclaimed site was dedicated in August 2014.

Volunteers continue to expand and enhance the gardens. The Grotto Gardens were closed at the start of the pandemic but have reopened and are free and open to the public.


WHAT: The Grotto Gardens at the Dayton VA Medical Center

WHERE: The gardens are located at South Gettysburg and Tennessee Avenues on the campus of the VA Medical Center, 4100 W. Third St., Dayton (The Gettysburg gate is currently closed on weekends but the Liscum Drive entrance is open).

ADMISSION: Admission is free and open to the public

MORE INFO: Tours and volunteer opportunities are available via e-mail at


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