History of Berkshire Farm Center

More than 127 years of changing lives, creating futures!

Beginning: The vision of Frederick and Catharine Burnham


Frederick G. Burnham and his wife Catharine had a vision for helping troubled youth in 1886. On 580 acres in Canaan, New York -- purchased from a local Shaker community and originally intended for use as a breeding farm for fine cattle -- the Burnham's created a refuge for what were then called “wayward boys”.


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Berkshire's grand history featured in  The Chatham Press -- includes archival photos from 1800's and 1900's!

The Burnham's believed that a stable, loving environment, contact with nature and emphasis on a strong work ethic could help these boys overcome their past problems and start them on the road to better lives.

The Burnhams' vision and their personal commitment to making a difference in children's lives led to what is known today as Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth, one of New York State's largest and most successful agencies serving troubled children and their families.

The idea that the Farm represented a family, rather than an institution, was a major factor in its success and its powerful influence on the boys' lives. Mrs. Burnham, who is credited with suggesting the initial idea for the Farm to her husband, was the presence behind this idea of family. She got to know the boys well, and often corresponded with them after they had left the Farm and embarked on new lives.

Vision becomes reality

The Burnham's came from Morristown, New Jersey, where they were very active in the church as Sunday school teachers and in nearby communities in Newark and New York City.

Mr. Burnham operated a law practice in New York, in partnership with John Van Buren, son of Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States. President Van Buren had a home in Kinderhook, New York, not far from Canaan, and it was through this association that the Burnham's most likely became acquainted with the area.

The Burnham's had many wealthy and socially prominent friends whom were interested in the work and its success. At first there were only 20 boys, then for many years 80, and then up to 100 boys. In the 32 years from the birth of Berkshire Farm to the death of Mr. Burnham in 1918, the Farm served over 1,000 boys and reported that four-fifths of them went on to a better way of life as productive members of their communities.

Building on success


From its start as a small residential facility for boys from New York City, Berkshire Farm grew as it began to serve youngsters from elsewhere in New York and from other states. In 1956, an aftercare division was established in the New York City office and, a decade later, this program was expanded to become the community services department. Also in 1966, Berkshire opened an office in Buffalo, and another in Schenectady to serve the Capital District and the Hudson Valley. Soon afterward, additional offices were opened in Rochester, Syracuse and Long Island.

A continuum of community-based child care

Berkshire Community Service Workers now are an integral part of each youth's treatment team. They act as liaisons to the students' families, and also handle intake, aftercare, and outreach to local family courts and social service departments. Nine regional, district and satellite offices also offer a continuum of community-based child welfare and juvenile justice services for girls and boys and their families. These include home and school-based placement, prevention, alternative-to-placement and reunification, foster family programs and group homes. Berkshire also provides secure detention and non-secure detention foster boarding and group care for children awaiting action in court cases.

At one time, the Farm served youngsters from seven states and the District of Columbia. Due to long travel distances, differing state requirements and payment programs and the impracticality of having Community-Based Workers in far-flung locations, services outside New York State were gradually eliminated.

Changing names for changing times

imageUntil the 1960s, young men worked on the large farm that was a part of the Berkshire campus and provided much of the food served to the students. For years, some of the boys helped in the farm's dairy, as in the photo at right.

Economic factors and new regulations made the farming operation increasingly impractical, and it was ultimately discontinued.

As the work of Berkshire evolved, the name of the organization changed as well:

  • 1886-1894 -- Burnham Industrial Farm

  • 1894-1959 -- Berkshire Industrial Farm

  • 1959-1974 -- Berkshire Farm for Boys

  • 1974-present -- Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth.

Berkshire Farm Center today

Berkshire Farm Center reaches approximately 3,000 children and families throughout New York State, providing an array of community-based preventive, foster care, and group home services. The Agency has more than a dozen regional and district offices around the state, as well as additional satellite locations, seven group homes, and hundreds of foster homes.

Berkshire also offers non-secure and secure detention services at three facilities. Berkshire strives to keep children in their homes with their own families, but sometimes situations arise that require out-of-home placements, which are usually temporary.

imageAt its Residential Treatment Center in Canaan, New York, Berkshire also serves some 600 young men each year from urban, suburban and rural areas throughout New York State. Typically, children in the residential program have been troubled by behavioral and emotional difficulties, family problems, substance abuse, and other issues. Expanded over the years through donations and purchases of land, Berkshire's Canaan campus now comprises 2,000 acres, much of it wooded and ideal for therapeutic outdoor activities.

Today, through Berkshire's vocational training program, young men participate in job readiness classes and work in on-campus jobs in the dining hall, offices and other areas of the agency. Some also work at local restaurants and other establishments in nearby communities.

About Berkshire Farm Center's Archives

Since it was founded in 1886, Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth has exemplified the leading role played by private non-profit agencies in the development of treatment services for troubled youth and their families.

Berkshire's documentary records and photographs reflect the evolution from a small facility housed in buildings purchased from Shakers to a prominent, statewide agency more than a century later. The Archives comprise records dating from the Berkshire's formative years, its growth, and the adaptation of its programs to changing economic and social conditions and to the needs of the children, their families, and the communities in which they live. The collection contains about 50 cubic feet of documents, papers, correspondence, pamphlets, newsletters, artifacts and more than 2000 photographs.

Included are records relating to the agency's founding, its physical and structural development, correspondence dating from the late 1800s and minutes of Board of Directors meetings (1886-1980). Annual Reports (1900-present), the Berkshire Farm Record (1893-1975) and numerous other publications are available as well. Fundraising materials such as reports, strategies, community involvement and publicity occupy a significant portion of the collection.

Berkshire_ArchivesBerkshire Farm Center established its Archives in 1997 to preserve historical material and to make it available to researchers, students and others. Managing this wonderful collection of history is our Archives Director, Philip Kaminstein (in photo).

The Archives are open by appointment Mondays and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For further information or to arrange a visit, please call Philip Kaminstein at (518) 781-0906 or email Phil Kaminstein.

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