LIMA — If the oppressive, un-air-conditioned environment of Lima in the early 20th century was detrimental to the health of poor children, whose families lacked the means to escape it, the solution, The Lima News pointed out, was close by.
“A home in the country, where there is plenty of fresh air, restful sleep, good things to eat and healthful play. This is what the Junior Red Cross-Kiwanis Children’s first Fresh Air Camp provides,” the News wrote on July 30, 1922. “It is a place where little ones, whose nourishment has not been complete and whose physical condition is somewhat impaired, will be brought back to rugged health. The camp is located on the Perry Chapel stock farm, five miles east of Lima on the Bellefontaine Road during the past week.”
A month later, the camp physician, Dr. Charles Smith, proclaimed the camp a success at a meeting of the Lima Kiwanis Club, which itself had been organized about two years earlier. Describing the two dozen campers as “ruddy cheeked and smiling,” Smith said the children had “gained in weight from one to four pounds each,” according to an Aug. 29, 1922, story in the News.
The Lima Kiwanis Club president, after the success of the initial camp, told the News the camp would probably become a permanent fixture. And, supported by donations and fundraisers, for most of the next decade it was, although it changed locations several times. The Lima Beane, a pen name used by the publisher of the News, was pleased by the news. “Friends: Your plans for the establishment of a fresh air camp for 50 undernourished children of my city during the summer months, opening July 2, is one of the most commendable moves that has been brought to my attention,” he wrote June 15, 1923. “I want to approve it heartily and bespeak quick and satisfactory response in a campaign to secure necessary funds, ‘For inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, My children, ye have done it also unto Me.’”
That summer the camp was moved to the Sealts farm two miles southeast of Lima in Perry Township. “The camp will provide quarters for more than 45 under-nourished children of the city and will open July 9. The camp will continue for six weeks and will be under the supervision of members of the Kiwanis Club and officials of the Junior Red Cross, with whom the civic organization is cooperating,” the News wrote June 21, 1923. Among the additions that summer was a donated “large English hospital tent” to “be used for recreation by children who are unable to join the more athletic events of other children of camp … ,” the News wrote.
After the 1924 camp was canceled because, as the News reported July 30, 1924, “at the last moment it was found that the site for which the club had negotiated could not be secured,” the Kiwanis Club made sure that would never again be a problem. “The Kiwanis club has purchased one acre at the junction of the Dixie Highway and the Findlay road on which it will erect a $3,000 building. The place will be known as the Kiwanis Fresh Air Camp,” the News reported April 14, 1925, adding that the lot was purchased for $300 raised through assessments on club members.
“All of the actual work of construction is being done by members of the club who were divided into six groups of 20 men each by President E.A. Siferd.” the News reported May 26, 1925. “Although a majority of the workers are unskilled at handling building tools, the first day’s organization was working as smoothly as though they had been the most experienced carpenters within an hour … .”
The new camp, with a capacity of nearly 200, was dedicated in early July. “There is a large hall in the center of the building that may be used for a dining room, living room or meeting room. On either side of this hall are dormitory rooms to be used one for boys and the other for the girls. At the rear of the main hall is a kitchen equipped to take care of the entire camp,” the News reported July 7, 1925. “Kiwanian doctors will visit the camp every day and examine the campers to see that every defect curable there can be looked after.”
A week later, the News wrote that the campers for 1925 had been chosen. “Over 50 children were examined at the Red Cross Center Tuesday morning as a preliminary before sending them to the Kiwanis Fresh Air Camp, which opens Wednesday, July 15, for an eight-weeks period,” the News wrote July 14, 1925. “After examinations Tuesday morning, the children were given lunch and the boys taken to the YMCA and the girls to the YWCA where they were given baths and attired in their new camp clothing. The boys were outfitted in dark blue denims and the girls in khaki one-piece play dresses.”
On Aug. 7, 1925, at the halfway point of the camp, Mrs. Otha Barr, the camp supervisor told the news, “There is not one child in the camp who has not shown a decided improvement in health and weight … ” with one boy gaining 10 pounds. “Roses are again blooming in the cheeks of youngsters,” she said.
The camp was improved for the following summer. “Extra equipment including running water, kitchen supplies, furnishings that will make for more efficiency and comfort are being added,” the News wrote on April 25, 1926, noting that the grounds also were improved with the addition of shrubbery and shade trees.
According to the News, the children approved of it all. “Already five wonderful days of sunshine, play and companionship have passed, the children count as they lay resting on their cots at the noon hour,” the News wrote July 17, 1927. “But their still remain five more weeks to be filled with wiener roasts, excursions in the wood and endless play.”
In addition to the endless play, the camp also offered something a little more substantial. “All children will be given a physical examination on their arrival at the camp and later in the period minor corrective operations will be performed by Lima surgeons,” the News noted on July 20, 1930.
When not in use for the Fresh Air Camp, the site was a popular destination for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. “Saturday 70 Scouts biked to the Kiwanis fresh air camp, on Dixie Highway, where a camp dinner was served … ,” the News wrote on April 18, 1926. As the year ended, nearly 100 Scouts “trudged through the snow in a winter hike from Scout headquarters in the Interurban Building to Kiwanis Fresh Air Camp on Findlay Road, a distance of two and a half miles … ,” the News reported Dec. 29, 1926.
In 1929, the Family Welfare Association announced plans for a camp for Lima mothers at the Kiwanis facility. “It will be principally for those mothers of Lima who have large families and are forced to work hard. Mothers who have been ill during winter or spring months and who have not entirely recuperated” as well as underweight and undernourished women, and those on the “border of sickness,” the News wrote July 16, 1929.
The Kiwanis Club sold the property in the depths of the Great Depression. On Oct. 4, 1933, the News announced that the “property in the Dixie Highway north of Lima, known as the Kiwanis Fresh Air Camp for children, including a large building and about an acre of land, Wednesday was sold by the Kiwanis Club to Mr. and Mrs. E.H. Martin, of Wapakoneta … . The new owners plan to open within 30 days a dine and dance place to be known as the Martin Tavern.” Martin’s Tavern remained open until a fire in September 1949.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.