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Cloudcroft Baby Sanatorium

In June 14, 1911, the Cloudcroft Baby Sanatorium opened, staffed by Dr. Branch Craige of Baltimore, and Miss Knox, a registered nurse. That summer the hospital was full of little patients. According to the hospital log, most patients were discharged as “cured, improved or well.”

 Wingless Angels, Spirited Babies

By Florence Dean

Summer days in the southwest during the early years of the 20th century, as they are today, were brutal with searing temperatures well over 100 degrees. It was extremely difficult to keep food from perishing, especially food for infants. Milk soured in no time, and babies suffered from gastrointestinal disorders that kept them dehydrated. Some did not survive.

In 1904, Dr. Herbert E. Stevenson was on a train headed from El Paso to California with his wife and very ill 18-month-old son. The child had been ill for some time and the doctor hoped a cooler climate would help. Sadly, the child died on the train; the family returned home. Later, a second son was born. His life was saved when the doctor took him to the closer, cooler climate in Cloudcroft. The child’s health improved in the mountain air.

Cloudcroft at the time was mostly populated by “cottagers,” people who could afford to leave the desert during the summer months for cool mountain breezes. Although Cloudcroft was only a few miles from Alamogordo, at an elevation of 8,600 feet, there was a huge difference in climate. Cloudcroft offered pine trees and temperatures 40 degrees cooler than the desert floor. Dr. Stevenson soon purchased a tract of land near Cloudcroft and spoke with friends about the possibility of opening a hospital there just for babies. It would only be open during summer months.

Baby Haven

The El Paso and Southwestern Railroad built a road to Cloudcroft in 1909. Logging had begun there before 1900, and with the railroad now accessing the little town, people purchased land lots and began the summer trek to the cool mountains. Simple cabins were built with canvas sides and roofs sheltering wood floors. The Cloudcroft Lodge, a retreat that attracted many visitors, burned in 1909. Dr. Stevenson was instrumental in getting railroad leaders and the president of Phelps Dodge Corporation to rebuild the lodge.

Later, the railroad donated land for the proposed hospital, and Joshua Reynolds, president of the First National Bank of El Paso, gave Dr. Stevenson $10,000. An anonymous donor contributed another $5,000. The Alamogordo News reported the following in April 20, 1911: “Here is a philanthropist whose generosity is resulting in the founding of a life saving station of the first magnitude. His bigness of heart and his breadth of mind are not measured by the size of his gifts, but by the manner of giving, which has been wholly without pomp or ostentation. He has steadfastly declined to have his name made public.” E. Krause, an El Paso architect, offered his services and there were other generous contributors. At last the hospital was assured and construction began.

In June 14, 1911, the Cloudcroft Baby Sanatorium opened, staffed by Dr. Branch Craige of Baltimore, and Miss Knox, a registered nurse. That summer the hospital was full of little patients. According to the hospital log, most patients were discharged as “cured, improved or well.” Unfortunately two babies, one admitted in extremely grave condition with cholera, did not survive. Babies came from nearby Alamogordo and as far away as Chihuahua, Mexico. Dr. Craige and others brought sick babies from El Paso. Still others came with their parents on the railroad.

The railroad made sure the water supply to the hospital was tested and a sewer system installed. Electricity was supplied by the railroad power plant, though it was only available from 6:00 p.m. until midnight.

Wingless Angels

Just as the hospital and new lodge were scheduled to open, the Southern Pacific ran a $3.00 “Excursion Special” from El Paso to Cloudcroft. A group of visiting nurses took advantage of the special and returned to El Paso impressed with the new, modern hospital. They told about the large dormitory containing 30 cribs, a room for babies with contagious diseases, a doctor’s office, staff rooms, and bathrooms. There was a well-equipped kitchen and radiators in each room, while porches on three sides made it possible to put cribs outdoors on sunny days.

The founders of the hospital wanted to establish an endowment fund of between $15,000 and $18,000 so the facility could provide services to babies from poor families as well. This goal was reached, and no families were ever refused care because of the inability to pay.

Dr. Craige and Miss Knox managed the Sanatorium for two years, and were replaced by two registered nurses, Emily Green and Louise Dietrich. Dietrich, then an El Paso resident, was born in New York State. She had a long and illustrious career in nursing. She was well-known in her field of work for reducing infant mortality. They operated the facility for the next eight years. Several doctors helped the nurses: Drs. B.F. Stevens, J.A. Rawlings, A.P. Black, Harry Leigh, and others who often brought sick babies with them to Cloudcroft.

The El Paso Times stated in 1911, “Although Dr. A.P. Black was not in residence, he made frequent trips to Cloudcroft, often taking sick babies with him. Dr. Black gave the first blood transfusion ever given in the mountains. The baby was seriously ill and he (Dr. Black) was forced to improvise and “make do” with whatever was available.”

Entries in pages of the patient log, preserved at The Sacramento Mountains Historical Museum and Pioneer Village in Cloudcroft, list treatment for one little patient as: 2⁄3 milk, 1⁄3 barley, lime, H2O, and one ounce lactose. There were no antibiotics; excellent nursing care accomplished much.

At the end of the 1923 summer, 23 patients had been treated with no fatalities. Emily Dana Greene, the registered nurse superintendent, commented in the log, “A most successful season. The number of admissions was low but the daily average was exceptionally high and there were no deaths.”

Residents Unite

Although the El Paso Women’s Club must be credited with enthusiastic, unending support for the Sanatorium from the beginning, Cloudcrofters also united to raise funds. Weekly tea and bridge parties were held in the gardens of Cloudcroft. Each year a masquerade dance was held. The Little Theater group from El Paso produced a yearly play at the Cloudcroft Pavilion. This event was always a highlight for Cloudcroft residents. The performance was marked by a dinner preceding the performance, and a post-performance party.

The Weekly Cloudcrofter, in July 1917, commented on the dedication of people in both El Paso and Cloudcroft. “One of the permanent entertainments is the annual Masquerade Ball. This Ball will be given at the Pavilion on Saturday evening, an admission of fifty cents will be charged to everyone. There will be no dance at the Lodge on Saturday evening and from the interest taken in the coming Ball there should be much enjoyment as well as material benefit.”

The Alamogordo News also reported on the event. “A good many people of Alamogordo are making arrangements to attend this big ball.” The Fourth Cavalry Band attracted hundreds and raised $175 for the Baby Sanatorium.

Over the years about 500 patients stayed at the Baby Sanatorium. Approximately a third came from New Mexico towns, and on occasion from old Mexico.

History of Occupants

The last year the Baby Sanatorium functioned as a hospital for sick children was 1934. In 1935, it became a recreation camp for underprivileged children. Although the building was closed in the summer of 1937 to allow for repairs, it reopened for five more seasons.

Pearl Harbor made it necessary to close the facility as a children’s care camp, and in 1942 most of the equipment was rented to the El Paso Girl Scouts. The baby cribs were given to the Sunshine Day Nursery in El Paso when the building was converted to a summer camp.

During 1945 and 1946, the Girl Scouts used the building for Brownie Scout activities. Clyde Lathrop, manager of The Cloudcroft Lodge, agreed in 1947 to make repairs to the Baby Sanatorium so his family could use the facility. Again, the building was made available to the Girl Scouts each June and July.

In 1951, an art colony was formed in Cloudcroft. Young potential artists who attended were housed at the Baby Sanatorium. This arrangement lasted until 1958, when the El Paso District Mission Board of the Methodist Church was allowed use of the building until the end of 1961. Then, the Baby Sanatorium was purchased in 1964 by Buddy Ritter, who at the time owned and operated The Cloudcroft Lodge. The building was demolished and a private residence built on site.

Baby Reunion

In June 1999, in conjunction with the Cloudcroft Centennial Celebration at The Sacramento Mountain Historical Museum, a reunion was held of patients and others associated with the Baby Sanatorium. Ten babies who survived, reunited: George and Jimmy Angelos (1934), Marvin Bass (1926), Frances Bonnell English (1922, the only child born at the Baby Sanatorium), Shirleen Escontrias Guinn (1934), Marvin Flossi (1933), James Goforth (1919), Lilla Goggin (1932), Margie Springer Young (1927), and Dorothy Svoboda Hilbert (1929).

Most former patients remember little of their stay at the hospital, others knew only through stories passed on by their parents. However, one Cloudcroft resident, Carrie Green, recalls helping her father deliver milk to the Baby Sanatorium and watching the nurses carrying the little babies. At the time, milk cost 15 cents a quart but the cows that furnished milk for the babies were kept in a special corral and fed separately. The milk for the babies, because of the special care, cost 20 cents a quart.

Margie Springer Young says, “I may have left Cloudcroft but Cloudcroft has never left me.” She spent one summer at the Baby Sanatorium, essentially as a boarding patient, while her parents were out of town. She says in later years, she and her parents took summer strolls past the Baby Sanatorium. “During daily long walks around Cloudcroft, they never stopped telling me about their decision, showing me where the building was located and how well they [the nurses and doctors] took care of me. I expected to see the remains of big sand boxes.” Mrs. Springer Young says for years she thought the name of the facility was “Baby Sands.”

Dr. Marvin Flossi of El Paso attended the reunion and writes, “My parents never spoke of this event, short of telling me that I was severely ill as an infant.” Shirleen Escontrias Guinn was about 14-months-old when she was a patient admitted for dehydration, but recalls little of the event. Helen Hackett states that she was never a patient at the Baby Sanatorium, but her grandfather, Dr. Henry Towne Safford, Sr. and father, Dr. Henry Towne Safford, Jr., sent babies to the hospital.

Twenty-Three Summers

The Baby Sanatorium was open 23 years, and during that time many baby lives were saved by the dedicated work of the doctors and nurses. Five hundred families were spared the agony of losing their children to the cruel, long ago summers in Alamogordo, El Paso, and communities such as Tularosa, Las Mesa, and Sanderson, TX; Morenci, Benson and Wilcox, AZ; and as far away as Imperial, CA.

The Baby Sanatorium was an innovative and compassionate solution by doctors struggling to save tiny lives before modern technologies we know today became available.            

Baby Meta’s Story

There are many wonderful stories of babies cured by the excellent care and healing mountain air, however, there were inevitably babies who were extremely ill when admitted. One of these was little Meta Rheinheimer, a niece of Dr. E.W. Rheinheimer, who was a doctor at the hospital. Meta was admitted to the Sanatorium July 3, 1918, and passed away July 6.

Meta’s mother, Emily Louise, was expecting another child and was unable to stay in Cloudcroft with eight-month-old Meta. Sadly, Meta died before her mother could return.

The family recounts, wistfully and with affection, that Emily Louise was said to have been so devastated by Meta’s death, she never really bonded with the second little girl, also named Emily Louise.

The Sacramento Mountains Historical Museum & Pioneer Village

The Sacramento Mountains Historical Museum & Pioneer Village is located at 1000 Highway 82 in Cloudcroft. It is open Fridays and Saturdays during the winter from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There is an admission fee.

For information and for summer hours contact Windy Jenkins, director, at 575-682-2932 or at smhsmuseumoffice@yahoo.com. The website address for the museum is www.cloudcroftmuseum.com.

The museum has a crib from the Baby Sanatorium, the original patient log and many photographs. Its exhibits also include a Pioneer Village and other artifacts.

Writers Byline: Florence Dean writes from Cloudcroft where she is a member of Otero County Electric Cooperative headquartered in Cloudcroft. She wrote, “The 75th Anniversary of The New Deal,” in the March 2008 enchantment.