Must-See RVA! — Pine Camp Tuberculosis Hospital

Must-See RVA! — Pine Camp Tuberculosis Hospital

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

February 2017 — Central Building, front

4901 Old Brook Road
Built, 1909
Expanded, 1934
Architects, Carneal and Johnson (Central Building)
VDHR 127-0829

The farm that became a hospital.

Tuberculosis was one of the world’s most feared and difficult diseases until the mid-twentieth century. Since it was contagious, isolation in pleasant surroundings was one of the first parts of treatment. A principal treatment developed among mainstream medical practitioners consisted of rest. They suggested that if the lungs were allowed to rest the tubercle bacillus would be isolated. Fresh air was thought to be an effective treatment as well. A massive campaign of public awareness was waged for many years, advocating strict hygiene, fresh air, and modem forms of treatment. A system of public and private sanatoriums was developed across the country where patients often lived for years under a strict regimen of isolation and complete or moderate inactivity.

(VDHR) — 2003 nomination photo

The beginnings of the Pine Camp Tuberculosis Hospital can be dated to a request by Richmond’s public health officer for $10,000 from the city to combat what was known as the ‘White Plague.“ No money was appropriated and private citizens took up the cause. The Tuberculosis Camp Society was founded in 1909 in the midst of widespread awareness of the contagious character of the disease and the latest methods of treatment which included fresh air and rest. Frances Branch Scott, member of a prominent and wealthy Richmond family, convened a meeting in her home in November of 1909 to discuss the founding of a charity hospital for urban victims of the disease. Frances Scott was then president of the Sheltering Arms Hospital, Richmond’s premier charity hospital, and she and others were concerned about the lack of treatment available for tubercular patients at that institution.

February 2017 — Administrative Building, front

At the request of the Tuberculosis Camp Society, the city set apart a 1,000-foot by 1000-foot tract of wooded land at the northwest corner of the city farm on which the society built an administration building and a “pavilion” where 20 patients could rest, receive treatment, and avoid infecting others. Undoubtedly the elevated and rural character of the site and the previous and ongoing use of another part of the farm for treatment of contagious diseases suggested the site. It was also readily accessible near the end of the Ginter Park streetcar line. The original purpose of the camp, in this time of strict segregation, was to serve white patients only. The “Piney Camp Home” opened in November of 1910.

February 2017 — Administrative Building, rear

When the Richmond Department of Public Health took over operation of Pine Camp in 1916, the facilities remained very limited. Tuberculosis continued to be recognized as a serious threat to public health. The city experienced 277 deaths from consumption or pulmonary tuberculosis in 1916. Of these, the majority (167) were black. However, by the early 1920s, the hospital had a capacity of only thirty-six white patients and no facilities for black sufferers who were sent to a state hospital or cared for at home.

February 2017 — Laundry/Garage Building

The city council approved a bond issue of $75,000 for the expansion of the camp in 1921. This was followed a year later by an appropriation of $50,000. Among the first of the new buildings constructed in 1922-23 was the large, one-story, hip-roofed, stuccoed administration building. This was accompanied by a new infirmary of 24 beds, a new pavilion of 24 beds, a heating plant, and a garage/laundry. The original pavilion was remodeled and the frame administration building was rehabilitated as a nurses’ home. The newly enlarged camp with a capacity of eighty-four opened in November of 1923. According to the newspaper, the camp was “the most up-to-date” tuberculosis treatment center in the nation and a “monument to civic progress”. Treatment was still not provided at this site to non-white patients.

February 2017 — Central Building, rear

By 1930, increased demand for institutional treatment of tuberculosis stimulated a need for more beds at Pine Camp. There was a waiting list to get into the hospital that could then accommodate 100 patients. Awareness of a need for special treatment for children and to extend the treatment program to black citizens gave impetus to a decade of expansion. A state fund for public treatment of the disease was available to the city of Richmond. The head of the city’s Department of Public Health, Dr. W. B. Foster, urged the city to use this money to build a new hospital building at Pine The city council approved an appropriation of $80,000 in June of 1931. With the completion of the Central Building in 1932, the capacity of the camp increased to 150.

February 2017 — Central Building, rear

A 1936 survey indicated that there were 1,797 tubercular cases in the city, of which 420 were among the African-American population. The next project for the hospital was provision of a separate unit for black sufferers of the disease. In keeping with segregation laws and practices at the time, a new weather boarded frame Negro infirmary was built several hundred yards to the east of the Central Building at a cost of $25,000. This building that opened in 1936 and housed 56 patients cost less than half that of the new main building designed for a similar number of whites. A wing with sixteen additional beds was added in 1938 and funded by the city. By the 1940s, demand had again risen for admittance to Pine Camp. In 1941, the Mayor announced plans to add 30 beds to the Negro unit. A new forty-bed enlargement of the African-American infirmary was dedicated in 1943.

February 2017 — Central Building, main entrance

There was a dramatic decline in admissions in 1954. The patient load dropped from 228 to 181. Alternate treatments largely based in antibiotics resulted in a drop in average length of stay from 608 days to 307 days. State hospitals had drawn off most of the white patients from Pine Camp and admissions of white patients had ended several years earlier. Completion of a new state hospital in Richmond for black patients would draw most of them away as well in the near future.

February 2017 — Central Building, east end ramp

In early 1955, Pine Camp requested and received accreditation as a general hospital, with the intention of converting beds to alternate use. A forty-bed unit for rehabilitation of indigent, chronically ill patients was started in the first floor of the Central Building. Movable partitions were constructed to separate patients due to the continually changing racial makeup of patients and the populations of male and female patients. The ramp at the east end of the building was added in 1955 to allow access of from the Central Building to the rehabilitation building. By early December 1956, the city began considering the closing of either the City Home or Pine Camp Hospital. Late in the same month the city announced the closure of Pine Camp. By the end of 1957, the last patients were transferred to the City Home.

February 2017 — building plates from demolished structures

After closing in 1957, the camp was left unused for several years until the decision was made to rehabilitate it to serve as a recreation center for the city’s northern section. Most of the buildings dating from the early twentieth century were demolished, including the four pavilions, the Negro Infirmary, the Power Plant, and the doctors’ and nurses’ residences. Only the Central Building, the small Administration Building, the Laundry/Garage Building, and the Medical Director’s Residence and the Resident Physician’s Residence remained by the 1980s. (VDHR)

These days, the latter two are gone, replaced by a new recreation center that was built in the late 1990s.


Must-See RVA! is a regular series
appearing on rocket werks – check it out!



About Rocket Werks 265 Articles
Combining protean forces from the forbidden Zero Serum with the unbridled power of atomic fusion, to better probe the Wisdom of the Ancients and their Forgotten Culture.
Contact: Website