Thursday, November 02, 2006

Syracuse Baby Camp

Over the summer we were at my sister-in-laws camp at Sandy Pond for a family get-together. I got to chatting with my sister-in-law’s husband’s sister’s husband. I won’t repeat the entire conversation but part of it went something like this:

Me: Yah, I know that area, my grandparents lived on Rider.

Him: Oh yeah? Where on Rider?

Me: You know the two houses that used to be connected – the old orphanage? My grandparents lived in the one that used to be the staff quarters.

Him: My mother grew up in the house that was the orphanage.

Talk about a small world. We’d both been told that our grandparent’s houses had once been connected and used as an orphanage at some point. The conversation turned to other memories and I never did ask him if he knew anything more about the orphanage.

I got to thinking about our conversation recently and decided to look through old news items to see what I could find out about the orphanage. I knew that the houses are at 248 & 250 Rider Ave. Searching for these addresses didn’t yield anything prior to the 1940’s when I believed our families bought the houses. Searching for orphanage, orphan asylum and children’s home didn’t work. I would have given up thinking that I got the story wrong as a child except that we both remembered the same thing.

Out of frustration I started looking at ALL articles that a search brought up for Rider Ave prior to 1940 and there it was, the Syracuse Baby Camp at 234-236. A little more digging and I found that my grandparents had actually purchased their house in April 1936 and at that time the address was 234 River Ave, so no wonder I couldn’t find anything when searching for the address.

So what exactly was the Syracuse Baby Camp?

In the early 1900’s many children were living in tenements. In the summer, due to poverty, poor sanitation and lack of refrigeration, many children became ill. The tenements had poor air circulation and got very hot making ill children even worse. These children ended up in the local hospitals, many of them staying there for long periods on the tax payers’ dime.

The Visiting Nurse Association realized that what these children needed was fresh air and proper nutrition. In 1911 they discussed they idea of a Baby Day Camp. It would be set up in a tent; mothers would bring their sick babies for the day, to be cared for by the nurses and doctors if necessary. In the evening the babies would return to their homes to be brought back the next day and everyday until they were well. The mothers would also be educated in how to properly feed and care for their children. Some of the nurses felt that the camp really would need to be operated around the clock to be truly effective.

I do not know if a Baby Day Camp was opened in 1911. In the summers of 1912 through 1914 a full time Baby Camp was operated by the nurses at Rockwell Springs. I believe Rockwell Springs was near the area of South Salina and Pleasant Streets. It was set up in tents and very successful, being credited with keeping many babies out of the hospital and saving the tax payers considerable dollars.

In the Oct. 19, 1914 Post Standard I found the following short notice. “The dance will benefit the treasury of the organization more then usually depleted by the building of the summer camp for sick babies in Ryder avenue this summer”. The Baby Camp moved to the Rider Ave. location in the summer of 1915. I have not discovered how the Visiting Nurse Association acquired the two houses on Rider Ave. “The building of the summer camp” could mean that they actually built the house at #250 or it could mean that both houses were already there and they were attached and outfitted to their new purpose.

It remained a summer camp until 1925 or 1926, closing each year when the weather became too cold. Many civic organizations donated services, money and / or supplies to the camp over the years. It was an operation that was working and everyone could feel good about.

The following description of the camp appeared in the Nov. 25, 1927 edition of the Syracuse Herald: “The Visiting Nurse Association maintains a Baby Camp at 236 Rider Ave for undernourished babies and those in need of special supervision of diet. The camp is open winter and summer with a trained nurse in charge assisted by a nurse dietitian and seven practical nurses.”

“At present the camp is equipped only for babies under one year with beds for 30 children. The cost to the Visiting Nurse Association of caring for a baby in the camp is $14 a week and the family or organization placing the child are asked to meet this cost. But here, as in the daily visits, exceptions are made for babies needing such care whose parents are unable to meet the full cost.” The nine adults would have lived in my grandparent’s home when they were not on duty.

The Baby Camp was closed on June 1, 1931. It appears that the camp’s closing was not only a financial decision but also a social one. The 8 babies that were there at the time were placed in foster homes. At that time the value of the two houses was estimated at between $20,000 and 25,000. The houses were bought from the VNA early in 1936 by Arthur Barstow, a local real estate speculator, for 85,500. Maybe some day I’ll look at the records and see when the VNA obtained them, when they were built and how much my grandparents paid a couple of months later.

It was sad to stop and take this picture today. We sold the house (on the right in the photo) back in 1985 after my Grandfather died. It seemed to have changed so much, but really only the color had changed. Memories are funny things but there are a lot of great ones of this house from my childhood.


  1. Don't be sad, Apple! It is a gift to be able to look at that house and read thru the paper's archive about your family!
    That baby camp is facinating! Your grandparents knew what it was when they bought it, right? Imagine that!

  2. what a fascinating story from the archives of family history. it is hard to go back and see the changes sometimes but the memories stay with us. cherish them.

  3. I always enjoy your historical posts. You remind me of one of my good friends. She's a history buff and has become our self-appointed church historian. She comes up with all sorts of interesting information and photos, not only about the church, but the village it's in, and all around our area.
    This was an interesting story about your grandparents' house. That was an ambitious project and a good idea.

  4. JoAnn Jarvis3:36 PM

    I live on Rider Ave and the Baby Camp is up a few doors from me. I also worked many years as a RN for the VNA and that is where I learned about the VNA Baby Camp. There used to be pictures on the walls of the VNA of the Baby Camp with the VNA Nurses attending the babies. The house looked exactly the same as the house does now. The nurses were in long dresses to their feet wearing their white aprons and white caps. They are beautiful pictures.