Camp Naumkeag as Salem Health Camp

In 1910, Salem was facing a health crisis, not unlike our own current pandemic, with hundreds of tuberculosis cases plaguing the city. In the face of disaster, civic engagement in Salem arose, and the Committee on Prevention of Tuberculosis was created to raise funds to establish a camp for the many patients. While it was recognized that being exposed to fresh air and sunshine would aid sufferers, the Contagious Disease Hospital in Salem had no outdoor facility.

The newly formed committee, comprised of women from Salem, worked closely with the Board of Health and Contagious Hospital to determine a location that would be suitable for an open- air camp that could be easily supplied. Their first fundraiser occurred in 1909, where they sold carnations. This was successful, but did not meet the needs required for the camp, so the committee took a bold step forward. 

In order to raise additional money, a special edition of the Salem Evening News was created, and the entire edition was focused on fighting tuberculosis. It would cost ten cents, instead of the usual one penny. Hundreds of females fanned out across Salem on May 7, 1910 to sell the newspaper. According to local author, Jerome Curley, “the sales were a great success – $3,502.04 was raised. In today’s dollars that would be the equivalent of raising $80,906.36.”  This outstanding display by Salemites was an incredible reflection of resiliency in a time of need.

Tents were brought to the site and were furnished for the patients.

Eventually a more permanent structure, a pavilion, was built to keep patients dry when it rained. While the camp operated in the summer months, the Board of Health supplied thousands of meals. It would close in October, but reopened for several years as the city battled to gain control of the plague.

Once the surge of the Tuberculosis epidemic had swept through the city, the camp closed. However, it would later reopen for recreation by other groups.

The buildings currently standing were built in the early 1930s after a lightning strike destroyed the previous buildings beyond repair. A lodge and multiple cabins were later constructed.

In 1946, the Salem Girl Scouts overtook care of the camp and named it “Camp Naumkeag.” In later years, Naumkeag Associates took care of the property and oversaw its various uses.  Groups like the YMCA have been involved in continuing its care, as it can be used or rented for various functions. It is a treasured piece of open land in Salem and has an interesting “origin” story we should remember at this time in history.

Sources consulted:

  1. Salem Evening News May 7, 1910. Microfilm at Salem Public Library
  2. 19th Annual Report of Associated Charities. Reports of Work Done by Citizens of Salem Through Volunteer Organizations. n.d.
  3. City Documents of Salem 1910 edition
  4. City Documents of Salem 1911 edition
  5. Vertical File in Salem Collection – Camp Naumkeag
  6. Salem State University Archives (photos from flickr)
  7. “Then & Now: A History of Health” by Jerome Curley.  Salem Patch Sept. 10, 2011