Mess hall at the Bald Eagle Hill Children's Health Camp - Washington DC
The Bald Eagle Hill Children’s Health Camp was built in 1936-1937 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for children suffering from tuberculosis. The camp’s address was 4900 Nichols Avenue SE, which is now Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. The camp was located at the southern end of the avenue, near its intersection with Joliet Street, which is the site of today’s Bald Eagle Recreation Center.
This WPA-built camp replaced a smaller tuberculosis facility in Northwest DC and cost between $79,000 and $110,000 to construct.
In 1939, the Sunday Star described the camp: “Scattered over nearly five acres of grassy hilltop land overlooking the Potomac River at Blue Plains, D.C., are numerous frame structures… operated by the District of Columbia Tuberculosis Association… Of the 126 young campers this season, 80 are white and 46 colored. Segregated according to race and age, the patients are kept continuously under the watchful eyes of the young men and women counselors…” (Washington was a thoroughly segregated city at the time, at the height of the Jim Crow era).
At the Bald Eagle camp, the children received proper nutrition, healthcare, and rest. They could participate in arts and crafts, fly kites, go on nature hikes, and more. “On Saturday nights the children are treated to a movie in the camp recreation room. Their favorite is popular Shirley Temple” (Sunday Star, 1939). A typical stay at the camp was eight weeks, and it was considered to be a therapeutic break from the pollution and summer heat of city life.
The Bald Eagle camp seems to have ceased operations sometime in the early 1940s, at the same time that tuberculosis vaccines for children were becoming more effective. The entire camp has disappeared, though there may be traces in the reforested hill site. One possible remnant is the old light standard seen in the photo of the baseball field by the recreation center.
We do not know when the present Bald Eagle Hill recreation center was built, but it is quite modern and well-used by local folks.
National Archives Record Group 69-N
Photographs of patients at the Bald Eagle Hill Camp: (https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/washington-d-c-on-the-road-to-health-the-boys-have-chosen-news-photo/515951030#91338washington-dcon-the-road-to-health-the-boys-have-chosen-the-picture-id515951030), accessed January 7, 2018.
“‘Fresh-Air’ Camp Site Selected,” Evening Star, February 25, 1936, p. A-4 (accessed September 16, 2020).
“Camp Soon Ready At Bald Eagle Hill,” Evening Star, May 28, 1937, p. B-5 (accessed September 16, 2020).
“Children’s Health Camp Wins Public Support in Three Years’ Growth,” Sunday Star, August 6, 1939, p. C-4 (accessed September 16, 2020).
“Health Camp Invites Visitors,” Evening Star, July 27, 1939, p. A-15 (accessed September 16, 2020).
“Community Series Introduces Movies to Tiny First-Nighters,” Evening Star, June 21, 1949, p. B-1 (accessed September 16, 2020).
“Tuberculosis Vaccine Found Successful in Child Tests,” Wisconsin State Journal, United Press, May 16, 1942, p. 1.
Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on January 8, 2018.
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