SCC site was once a verdant sanatorium

Campus housed tuberculosis patients

October 27, 2006 | 04:40 AM
When Professor Reynold Welch began teaching biology at the Suffolk Community College Ammerman Campus in 1968, he became curious about his surroundings. A picture on the current college catalog had sparked his interest and he subsequently began to wonder about both the Ross Building and Marshall Building.

"I thought, who's Ross? Who's Marshall?" Welch recalled. "I also tried to locate the landscaped photograph on the front of the catalog. I searched the campus, but I couldn't find it."

After studying photographs and documents in the college library, the professor learned of the Suffolk County Tuberculosis Sanatorium, which had occupied the Selden site up until 1961.

According to Welch's findings, Suffolk County initiated the founding and construction of the tuberculosis sanatorium at the prodding of doctors William Hugh Ross and Frank Overton in 1912.

"The sanatorium's first buildings were erected in 1916," the professor said. "The site had an infirmary and a shingle-style ward for men and another for women. They were located where the Southampton Building now sits. In the early 1920s a less fire-prone and more adequate and substantial infirmary was constructed."

Why did the county pick this particular site? Welch said the location was perfect.

"The land was cheap and the area was underdeveloped," he said. "There was also a plan of a trolley which would run from Patchogue to Port Jefferson, but money ran out and it would eventually only go as far as Holtsville."

A small one-room school house was eventually constructed to serve the needs of the tubercular children. Beginning in 1923, an average of 22 students were schooled by teacher Fannie Curtis. The school reported receiving many donations including playground equipment consisting of coaster slides, swings, seesaws and horizontal bars.

Between 1923 and 1924, 48 male and 29 female patients were residing at the sanatorium. Nineteen of these patients were under the age of 16.

Films were furnished gratis by various distributors, allowing residents to see motion pictures weekly. Several parties were also given and the children were taken on trips to the circus and the county fair.

"There was no cure for tuberculosis," Welch noted. "Doctors felt rest was the only cure."

According to a report filed in 1923 by Suffolk County's tuberculosis visiting nurse, Mary P. Weaver, 827 cases existed. Two hundred and seventy-two of those people lived in the Town of Brookhaven. By 1933, the number of cases in Brookhaven had increased to 537.

Welch also noted a reforestation which took place on the campus in 1928. The New York State Conservation Commission donated 10,000 three-year-old Norway spruce and Scotch pine trees. Of the thousands planted, only one tree currently remains.

"In the 1890s Dr. Ross was engaged as a house doctor in Brentwood," Welch said. "The town was considered a major health resort area and eventually he started the Ross Health Resort. In one of their pamphlets it mentioned the scent of pine trees had something to do with improving a patient's health. I believe this is why the trees were planted."

In the mid-1930s the last major construction on the sanatorium began. Under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, two solidly built concrete and brick buildings were erected and dedicated in October 1935. The Ross Building was for men and the Marshall Building was for children. The Marshall Building was named after Dr. J.H. Marshall, president of the sanatorium's Board of Managers.

Both structures still stand, but they have been renamed after former college presidents. Ross is now the Ammerman Building and Marshall is now Kreiling Hall.

Welch said he also investigated rumors about the basement of the Marshall Building. Some thought it had been used as a morgue.

"The sanatorium did have walk-in refrigerators, but they were used by the cafeteria," Welch said. "The roof of the building was used for plane spotting. If you go to the roof there is a small structure, which still has the compass rose on the ceiling. I even found a photograph of Dr. William Kolb, the superintendent of the sanatorium, dressed in uniform on the roof and looking toward the sky. He served in World War I."

The buildings of 1916 still stood at the time of the college's founding, and were not razed until the early 1970s, when the institution was expanded. The oldest surviving building on campus is the circa-1920 "new infirmary," now the Norman F. Lechtrecker, or NFL, Building.

Suffolk Community Executive Dean William Connors is the longest-serving employee at the Ammerman Campus. He described the setting as it looked when he began his career in 1967.

"The three buildings used by the sanatorium were used as faculty offices," Connors said. "Eventually they were replaced by the Southampton Building. The NFL Building was also erected and has been used in many ways over the years. It was once the student center, with the library and science labs in the basement. It is now used for administration."

Welch noted the original infirmary was taken down in the fall of 1968 and replaced with the Riverhead Building because it was 50 years old and not desirable for academic purposes. The small school house was removed the same year.

By 1961, all that was left of the sanatorium operation was an outpatient clinic. In its final year, the center shared occupancy with the newly established college.

Suffolk County Community College was legally born in December 1959. In October 1960, it opened with 171 full-time students, whose classes were held at Sachem's Junior-Senior High School in Ronkonkoma. The 335 part-time students received instruction in the old Riverhead High School.

Today the Ammerman Campus has approximately 12,000 students. Connor said just before this semester that the college expected to enroll about 22,000 students throughout its three campuses for the fall.

When Welch was asked why he had taken the time to research the sanatorium and its doctors once his initial questions were answered, he gave just one specific reason: "Because everyone else had forgotten."

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