men the 1920s, tuberculosis, formerly known as consumption, was still a very real health threat to many Americans. Beginning in the late 19th century, two methods were implemented to slow the progression of the disease, in the individual and in the community.
It was found that when patients were sent to places where they could breathe cleaner air, have regular exercise and eat nutritious meals, the disease decreased and their overall health improved. When it was also confirmed that tuberculosis was indeed contagious, a movement was started to remove infected people from the general population. Institutions, called sanatoriums, were established which combined cure, or at least management, and containment of disease in one place.
One of the first, largest and most famous of these facilities was at Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. In 1920, the Niagara County Sanatorium (now Mount View Assisted Living) was opened to treat the sick, and elderly patients from all over the county were admitted there. At the time, that location, on top of the Niagara escarpment, was considered an ideal location for a sanatorium. Children were also treated there but local doctors and health officials believed that those young people who were in the early stages of the disease, or those who might be more susceptible, could benefit from a summer camp designed specifically for their age and needs.
The Niagara County Health Camp, originally known as the Preventorium, opened on June 30, 1926 as a summer tuberculosis sanatorium for children. When the camp began, it was located on 10 acres on the south side of East High Street just east of Davison Road in Lockport. The Preventorium came about mainly through the efforts of Miss Lydia Martin, county secretary of the Tuberculosis Committee. The property was a farm with apple orchards with an old brick house that she turned from a “dilapidated farmhouse into an attractive spike and span”. Much of the equipment, supplies and initial work was donated by local businesses and performed by volunteers.
During the first few years of operation, 50 children were placed in the camp each summer. The number gradually increased in the following years.
One measurement taken each day was the child’s weight. By the end of the season most of the children had gained 8 to 10 pounds, which was a positive achievement at the time.
By the 1930s, with tuberculosis rates falling, the camp’s mission expanded to include children from low-income or other disadvantaged homes from all over Niagara County. The main goal of the camp was to provide children with nutritious meals, outdoor exercise, crafts and other activities.
From a 1950 publication: “The purpose of the Niagara County Children’s Health Camp is to send campers home at the end of the season with healthier minds and bodies.” The campers’ full, regimented daily schedule began with rising at 7:15 a.m. and being in bed by 8:30 p.m. Activities between those hours included breakfast, light work, health inspection, free play time, sunbath, dose of cod liver oil, supervised play, bath time, midday dinner, rest period, afternoon lunch, more free play time, crafts, afternoon supper, more supervised play, bed, storytelling and night.
In 1935, a college student from Lockport named Rachel Flagler worked as a camp counselor that summer for “$50.00 a month and maintenance.” In her appointment letter, Rachel was referred to as an “experienced consultant” and asked to “help the new consultants ‘learn the ropes’.” Ten years later, Miss Flagler was named Camp Director, a position she held until 1953. She is also remembered as a longtime guidance counselor at Lockport High School. Much of the Health Camp material in the Niagara History Center collection came from her.
During the first 25 years of the camp’s establishment, the average number of children attending the seven-week camp each summer increased from 50 to 100. By the end of the 1950s, 200 children were being served in two 26-day sessions. The popularity of the Health Camp continued to grow in the 1960s and the number of eligible applicants increased to 300 children, necessitating three 17-day sessions.
With the increase in the number of campers came increased costs. Food, supplies, salaries and regular maintenance costs put pressure on the county budget. Despite these costs, a swimming pool was added to the camp. In the 1970s, the number of children who attended was 400 over four 12-day sessions. By the end of the decade, the camp needed a complete overhaul to bring it up to modern standards. The estimated cost of repair and/or reconstruction was $60,000 (nearly $200,000 in 2023).
Discussions were underway to build a new health camp in a more rural area of the county as development encroached on the East High Street and Davison Road property. Meanwhile, the camp continued for a few more years, but at the end of the 1982 season, the Niagara County legislature announced that the camp would not operate the following year due to the “unsafe” conditions and the cost of bringing the camp up to modern building codes. Several sites were suggested for a new camp but it was never built. The buildings, equipment and eventually the property itself were sold, ending 56 years of improving the health and well-being of thousands of Niagara County children.