Mark J. Price
On the coldest days of winter, when the wind moaned and the snow swirled, the doors and windows were open.
Frail children took deep, cleansing breaths and exhaled tiny clouds of wispy vapor.
Fresh air was a remedy.
Sunshine Cottage, the children’s ward at Springfield Lake Sanatorium, provided a healthful respite for young patients battling tuberculosis, one of the deadliest diseases of the early 20th century. Far from the smoke and soot of congested cities, the rural complex was hailed as “a veritable fairyland” for youths isolated by illness.
Chronic fatigue, persistent coughing and weight loss were symptoms of the bacterial disease, which spread into the lungs through airborne droplets from coughs or sneezes.
In the days before antibiotics, Dr. Clarence L. Hyde (1878-1945), superintendent of the sanatorium from 1920 to 1945, believed fresh air, sunshine and rest would restore patients to health, so he prescribed all three in liberal doses.
The 108-acre Summit County institution was nearly a decade old when Sunshine Cottage opened in November 1924 southeast of the main complex. Clemmer & Johnson Co. constructed the low-roofed, gabled, brick building for $125,586 (about $1.7 million today).
The 100-bed facility had living quarters, lavatories, a central lobby, dining room, kitchen, classroom, library, clinic, offices and other amenities. Little beds, tables, chairs and bookcases were among the child-size furnishings. On the walls were murals of characters from Little Red Riding Hood, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island and Hansel and Gretel.
Beginning with the child
Sunshine Cottage opened with 77 children ranging in age from 18 months to 16 years. About 500 guests attended the dedication. Naturally, it rained.
Akron Mayor D.C. Rybolt presided over the ceremony. The Rev. Richard A. Dowed, the Rev. George P. Atwater and Rabbi David Alexander offered prayers. The Tuesday Musical Club provided entertainment.
Sunshine Cottage patient Rosanna Williams, 7, had a show-stopping moment with the song It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More — despite evidence to the contrary outside.
“Oh, it ain’t gonna rain no more, no more,” she sang. “It ain’t gonna rain no more. How in the heck can I wash around my neck if it ain’t gonna rain no more?”
Considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on tuberculosis, Dr. Hyde presented a lengthy dissertation on “The White Plague.”
“Medical men now appreciate more and more the aphorism, ‘To combat tuberculosis, we must begin with the child,’ ” Hyde told the audience. “This building, dedicated to the care of the tuberculosis child, should be a source of much pride to the residents of Summit County. Not so much because of the physical plant about to be opened, but more because they have recognized their responsibility to him and are undertaking the problem of lessening the occurrence in future generations.”
Edwin C. Shaw (1863-1941), president of the board of trustees at Springfield Lake Sanatorium and chairman of the Sunshine Cottage building committee, also spoke.
“This hospital might be called a prophecy and a fulfillment — a fulfillment of drama entertained in the past, and a prophecy of great things to come,” Shaw said.
He hoped that the facilities would be more than adequate for “the schooling and character building needs of our rapidly growing family of children.”
Shaw, a tall, distinguished-looking man with a white Van Dyke beard, was a beloved figure at Sunshine Cottage, where he knew every patient by name. The fresh-air children called him “Daddy Shaw” and followed him around the complex. In 1934, Summit County commissioners renamed the entire complex Edwin Shaw Sanatorium despite the vigorous objections of its namesake.
Sunshine Cottage patients had a highly regimented schedule with each child receiving 14 hours of rest each day, four hours of schooling and an hour of recreation. They ate a balanced diet that included milk, eggs, meat, fruits and vegetables. The children sang songs for 10 minutes after every meal.
Sleeping in the open
It’s difficult to imagine today, but kids slept outdoors on porches all year long. During winter, children filled gallon jugs with hot water and covered themselves with blankets.
“A visitor who drops in at Sunshine Cottage around 2:30 any chilly January afternoon would see a long row of cots stretched side by side on a long porch,” Akron Times-Press writer James Craig reported in 1938. “Puffs of steam shoot upward from each cot as though from so many jets, as the youngsters breathe deeply, then exhale. But no children are visible.
“At 3, heads commence to sprout all along the line and alert-looking youngsters with cheeks the color of Northern Spy apples begin to pop up. Glasses of tomato juice are delivered to each cot by the nurses. Then it’s ‘All Out,’ and the children bounce out of bed and haul gallon jugs from beneath the covers.”
In summer months, children frolicked in their underwear while basking in the sun. That wasn’t possible in winter — especially in Northeast Ohio — so Dr. Hyde employed artificial sunshine to treat his patients.
Children entered a special room with a sun symbol painted on the door. They sat in their skivvies on tiny chairs and received a daily dose of ultraviolet light from a carbon arc lamp on a sand-filled floor. It was the closest thing to a beach in January and February.
In the cottage, a motto was inscribed on a mantel: “Of all flowers, the human flower needs the sun the most.”
Of the 246 people buried in a small cemetery on the sanatorium grounds, none was from Sunshine Cottage. All died between 1915 and 1922.
Making progress on TB
The county’s tuberculosis rate plunged as health authorities worked to protect the public from cattle infected with the disease. Officials stressed the necessity of consuming cooked meat and pasteurized milk.
Slowly but surely, patient enrollment declined at Sunshine Cottage, too. The facility released 100 patients in 1926, 86 in 1930, 57 in 1935 and 22 in 1942.
Sunshine Cottage was all too happy to close in June 1943. Only 10 patients remained, and they could be treated at home.
Officials fretted over what to do with the building. In the late 1940s, it served briefly as a satellite campus for the Summit County Children’s Home on South Arlington Street.
The vacant property fell prey to vandals and thieves for more than a decade until the Summit County Child Welfare Board reopened it in 1965 as Sunshine Center, a housing complex for 100 children.
It was renamed Andersen Village in 1977, but closed in 1985 after its last three residents were placed in foster homes.
The sun finally set on Sunshine Cottage.
Meanwhile, the aging sanatorium reinvented itself in 1967 as Edwin Shaw Hospital, a rehabilitation facility for patients recovering from strokes and other medical problems.
Akron General Medical Center took over the hospital in 2005, but moved its operation to Cuyahoga Falls in 2009.
The 108-acre complex has been vacant since 2010.
All that fresh air and sunshine are going to waste.
Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price is the author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.