09 September 2015

"Mountain Air, Mother's Care"

New Yorkers have been sending their tykes out to "the country" for decades, centuries even. Entire institutions, such as the Fresh Air Fund - which began in 1877 - have grown up around the concept that kids need to spend their summer vacation away from city life in the Adirondacks, on Long Island, or even right here in the Sourland Mountains of Somerset County, N.J.





One such camp was operated by Mrs. G.G. Closson and her veterinarian husband in Neshanic. With good intentions, she placed tiny three-line ads, such as the one above, in New York newspapers, hoping to attract clients with the tagline: mountain air, mother's care. But when Henrietta Honius from the New Jersey Bureau of Child Hygiene made an inspection of the property in the summer of 1919, she found the children were barely receiving one of the two touted benefits.


Trenton Evening Times, September 9, 1919

In a word, conditions at the camp were appalling. Seventeen children were living and sleeping in just a few rooms of the ten room house - as many as eight to a room - in homemade berths or straw mattresses on the floor, with little ventilation. No indoor sanitary facilities were provided, and the house was found to be "generally unclean". Mrs. Honius reported to her boss, Dr. Julius Levy, that "Mrs. Closson is an unintelligent person, whose motive for conducting the place is entirely mercenary". The Clossons were receiving $4.50 per week per child in 1919.

The inspection came after parents complained that their children were returning to the city malnourished and with bedsores. Indeed Mrs. Honius further reported that "Mrs. Closson knows nothing about the proper diet for children and.... she should not be permitted to conduct such an establishment."

Ironically, it may have been this inspection that saved the camp. Upon review of the report, Dr. Levy recommended to the state that private kiddie camps should be licensed and inspected on a regular basis. One-year licenses would not be renewed if conditions were unsatisfactory.

Mrs. Closson must have taken heed. Kiddie Kamp Kumfy Kare continued in business throughout the following decade and beyond, with hundreds of city kids enjoying that Sourland Mountain air.....and Mother Closson's care.


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