Life Comes Back to Berkshire's Community Hall
A long time ago, the people of Berkshire had a building in the heart of their town where they could gather as a community. In 1932, local volunteers built Berkshire's Community Hall to house a school lunchroom, social and organizational events, youth sports and a host of other activities for residents of northern Tioga County.
In the 1950s, though, some of these functions moved to a new elementary school. People stopped maintaining the Community Hall and it fell into disrepair. That left the rural Town of Berkshire with no large venue for non-school activities. A group that wanted to host a dinner, put on a fundraiser, stage a play or start a basketball team either held the activity outdoors, took it out of town or didn't do it at all.
Five years ago, when volunteers proposed to restore the Community Hall, the idea touched off an eager response and many memories. "They said, 'Oh, yes, we're really interested.' 'I remember I met my husband there.' 'I played basketball there.' 'I broke my wrist on this wall,'" says Fraser Williams, President of the Berkshire Community Association. Help poured in from local organizations, such as the Berkshire Fire District and Fire Company, the Berkshire History Buffs, the Newark Valley Historical Society and the Berkshire Free Library.
This spring, the Community Hall is resuming its position at the heart of Berkshire's community life. With help from many volunteers and donors, including a $10,000 CF grant to the Town of Berkshire, residents have completed the first phase of a project to restore the Community Hall, now listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Although the Hall can't yet support winter activities, it's ready to host groups of up to 160 people from Berkshire and nearby communities during the warmer half of the year.
The Foundation's grant allowed the Berkshire Community Association, coordinator of the restoration effort, to hire a contractor to repair the Hall's foundation and basement. "We put in I-beams. We put in pilasters to shore up the walls to make sure everything's going to be perfectly good," Williams says.
Residents are eager to start using the hall as soon as they're able, Williams says. "We already have a guy from Newark Valley High School who said, 'You get it ready and we'll start putting on plays during the summer.'" Residents want a hall for wedding receptions; home schooling families want a place where they can get together for group activities.
And like their forerunners in 1932, local kids want a gym for basketball, Williams says. "We have a lot of kids hanging around saying, 'When are you going to get it done? We're ready to start playing.'"