The Town of Berkshire, originally named Brown's Settlement, was occupied in 1791 by several families from Berkshire County in Western Massachusetts. Berkshire is located in Northeast Tioga County and originally encompassed all of present Berkshire, Newark Valley and Richford. The Town is bisected by NYS Route 38 which runs north-south parallel to the east branch of the Owego Creek. Berkshire is often referred to as "centrally isolated" - equidistant from Cortland, Ithaca and Binghamton in the Southern Tier of New York State.
Berkshire is rural in nature with several active dairy farms and a variety of other agricultural enterprises and small businesses, but is primarily a residential, low crime rate community. Berkshire lies within the Newark Valley Central School District. The hilly landscape offers breathtaking vistas and vast opportunities for year round outdoor activities.
Berkshire endeavors to remain respectful of its heritage while it fashions a new direction for a hopeful future. Renewal and repurposing lead the way to new vision and new invention, as old facilities are revitalized for new use, sparking efforts for further development that satisfy the needs and desires of the community.
THE TOWN HALL
Just two short decades ago, the Berkshire Town Hall consisted of a small room in the Highway garage which was also the Town Court as well as the Highway Superintendent’s office. There was barely room for a small conference table, a row of crowded periphery seating and a single filing cabinet. Town records were stored in private homes and car trunks. On election days, voters cast their ballots in a temporarily vacated truck bay. In 1999, the Town purchased the 18 Railroad Ave. property which had been a hardware store and originally the Berkshire Railroad station. Using primarily grant funds and lots of volunteer labor, especially from the Highway Department, the building eventually morphed into what is now the most efficient and attractive Town Hall in Tioga County, with offices, meeting room, court facilities, a large records storage area and a lighted parking area.
Berkshire’s 1950s vintage fire station was truly showing its age. It was sparsely insulated, had rotting timbers and a leaking roof that was beyond economical repair. Newer firefighting vehicles had outgrown the old station making parking difficult and since trucks had to be horizontally stacked, quick access to appropriate response vehicles was often denied. Four years ago, with some assistance from USDA, a new station was constructed with adequate clearance and parking space, offices, meeting room and kitchen.
THE HIGHWAY GARAGE
Twenty years ago, the highway garage was a crowded 4,500 square foot metal sided building, poorly insulated, with a leaky roof and drafty windows and doors. Heating costs exceeded $6,000 annually and most of the highway equipment had to remain outdoors, unprotected from the elements and difficult to start if needed in the colder months. In 2001, a 5,500 addition, constructed self-help by the Highway crew, more than doubled the amount of covered, heated space in the Highway garage, providing adequate protected shelter for all highway equipment. Additionally the highway guys installed a new metal roof on the original section, repaired or replaced windows and sealed the overhead doors. The purchase of a waste oil furnace provided adequate heating for the entire complex, reducing annual heating bills to a few hundred dollars. Aging highway equipment resulted in frequent breakdowns and skyrocketing repair costs. A planned equipment replacement schedule using budgeted equipment reserve funds, not only resulted in an upgraded fleet, but reduced overall costs by eliminating expensive financing charges – without raising taxes.
SIDEWALKS AND ROADS
Not that long ago in Berkshire, only 40 percent of Town roads were paved and the main highway through Town was a motorist’s nightmare with bumps, puddles and potholes. Kids rode their bikes and mothers pushed infant carriages on the streets for the only sidewalks in Town were along a short section of Rt 38 in the center of the hamlet, and those were narrow, cracked, with many panels displaced by tree roots and had no consideration for the handicapped. After several public hearings, the Town Board in conjunction with the Highway Superintendent and Planning Board, developed a 5 year plan for road improvements. Thanks to judicious use of NYS CHIPS support funds, along with some budgetary prowess, Berkshire can now boast that 98 percent of its roads are paved without any significant burden to taxpayers. A few years ago, thanks to some discretionary funds from then State Senator Libous, more than ½ mile of new sidewalks were constructed along side streets in the hamlet with the work performed by the Highway Department. More recently, after considerable urging from local officials, that section of NYS Rt 38 that runs through the center of Berkshire has been repaved and new, wider sidewalks enhance the convenience and safety of children and pedestrians. Future plans include more sidewalks for the “downtown” area. A budgetary reserve fund is dedicated to this effort. The hamlet is expanding to the south with the construction of new homes, a retail business and the relocation of the US Post Office. Planning is underway for new sidewalks to the south to accommodate increasing foot traffic which currently must share the heavily used state highway.
THE BERKSHIRE COMMUNITY HALL
In October 1931 a group of five Berkshire men formed a corporation called the Berkshire Community Club in order to spearhead the formation of a Community Hall. Their official mandate was to provide for the “educational, social and athletic welfare of the community.” By the end of 1931 construction of the desired building was underway. Community Hall’s grand opening was held Saturday, February 6th, 1932. In 1955, the school adjacent to the Community Hall was closed. Since a major function of the Hall was to support the school with a gym & cafeteria, the remaining members of the Berkshire Community Club allowed the Hall to fall into disuse, and eventually was used for storage.
In 1979, the Community Hall was included in a survey of historic structures conducted by Cornell University and in 1984 was one of twenty-eight Berkshire buildings to be placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The “green building” sat deteriorating for twenty more years, with various groups looking into the possibility of restoration, before the newly formed Berkshire Community Association (BCA) dedicated itself to renovating Community Hall for the “educational, social and athletic welfare of the community” once again.
BCA obtained a renewable 15 year lease from the Berkshire Fire District who had obtained legal ownership of the building. The past 14 years have witnessed a major restoration of the Community Hall, including, but not limited to: significant foundation and structural repairs, complete new electrical and lighting systems, a large main entrance addition, acquisition/installation of sewer water and heating systems, complete renovation of a basketball court/large gathering area and stage. These improvements were funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars, obtained from generous grants and donations as well as many thousands of hours of volunteer labor. Nearly, but not quite complete, the renovated Hall is extremely popular. Actual & scheduled events by non profit & civic organizations, youth activities and individuals, suggests that the Berkshire Community Hall will be in use for 400 days/events in 2019. Funding has been acquired for the installation of a handicap wheelchair lift and a warming kitchen is planned for the near future.
BERKSHIRE FREE LIBRARY
In 2020 the Berkshire Free Library celebrated its 100th anniversary. At a meeting October 18, 1920, 130 members voted “That a free library be hereby established for the free use of inhabitants of this Town and vicinity in accordance with the laws of 1910, ch.140, § 59.” The library’s Absolute Charter was granted June 24, 1926 and in 1997 the charter was amended to include the whole Town of Richford in its service area.
The Berkshire Free Library building is listed on the National Historic Register, and in the 1990s underwent major renovations to incorporate what was the apartment area into the library’s public area providing much needed space for the book collection and some of the offered programs. In 2004/5 the building’s exterior was renovated and the grounds landscaped to include new sidewalks, period pedestrian lighting, an “eyebrow” park and handicap accessibility. A local history museum has been created and incorporated as part of the library.
During summer months, children’s programs such as reading improvement and arts & crafts are an integral part of the library’s fare. Pre-school Story Time is held weekly and special family programs such as weaving on Table Loom; and Pumpkin Art are new this year. Five computers are available to the public along with instruction on their use. Books are available in large print, as e-books, and as audio books. Although the local collection is limited by space, inter-library loan items are delivered twice a week through the Finger Lakes Library System.
WELCOMING THE AMISH
Early in 2018, a large property in Berkshire was purchased by two Amish families. Since then, 14 Amish families, originally from central Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, have been sufficiently attracted to this area to purchase land and/or homes in, or in close proximity, to Berkshire. These new residents have built several homes and many barns. Significant fallow acreage has been returned to agriculture. They also have created construction firms, bakeries, truck gardens and a quilt shop. The Amish, with their unique culture, have complemented Berkshire’s rural lifestyle while adding an interesting variation to our local atmosphere.