While the municipal borders dictate that some of the Berwick community is in Columbia County and some in Luzerne County, and that some of it is in the borough limits and some in Salem Township, the community thinks of itself as one. Indeed, the community of Berwick comes together as a unit in a number of ways.
There are certain attributes with which people tend to associate Berwick. Travel throughout the country and one will often meet someone who has heard of this small town. Quite often that will be because of its stellar high school athletic program. Noted for football especially, the high school team has brought home the state championship six times. The high school has also produced a stellar group of graduates, as evidenced each year with new inductions into an already burgeoning Academic Hall of Fame.
The borough has many other stellar attributes, including the Christmas Boulevard, PPL’s nuclear power plant boasting a spotless record, a close relationship with its sister city in England, Wise Potato Chips, and the ribbons and bows from Berwick Offray that people all over the world use to wrap gifts.
In past decades, Berwick was famous as the original home of the American Car and Foundry Company. Maker of train and subway cars, AC&F also manufactured military tanks during World War II. As a mammoth operation deep in the heart of the borough, AC&F employed thousands of local citizens before it ceased operations in 1961. AC&F’s location is now home to an industrial complex that boasts 14 manufacturers. Their products range from microelectronic components to industrial starches, from PVC pipe made from recycled plastic to fashionable sweaters, from manufactured homes and hotels to truck chasses.
AC&F’s efforts during the war left the community with a unique expanse along the Susquehanna River. Called Test Track Park, it currently provides a baseball diamond, a boat ramp, a bicycle trail, beautiful shade trees and a great place to watch the river.
While the nearby PPL-owned nature preserve and the Riverlands are technically outside the borough limits in Luzerne County, most Berwickians tend to think of the Riverlands as their own. With a nature center, hiking, fishing, picnicking and group nature hikes available, it’s a real treasure in Berwick’s back yard. The same is true for Ber-Vaughn Park, technically in the borough of Briar Creek, which is owned and operated by the Borough of Berwick, but utilized, shared and loved by the extended community.
The Berwick Area School District, which boasts an enrollment of 4,100 and a professional staff of 240, encompasses two boroughs and a township in Columbia County and three townships and a borough in Luzerne County. Two private schools are also located within the district, as are several daycare centers. Luzerne County Community College has also added a campus in downtown Berwick.
Berwick boasts an adult day care center, a Senior Citizens Center, an active AARP and a Senior Circle program at The Berwick Hospital Center. The borough offers excellent health care with its own 169-bed privately-owned hospital and 240-bed long-term care facility with outreach services.
The Berwick Hospital Center was sold to Community Health Systems in 1999, the first in Pennsylvania to do so. The proceeds from that sale were entrusted to the newly formed Berwick Health and Wellness Foundation to provide funding primarily through grants for projects and programs that will improve the health and welfare of the people in the Berwick area.
Four rehabilitation centers in the community provide quality care to local citizens. Other health and fitness organizations include Berwick Area YMCA and several private clubs.
Berwick has several strong, community-supported human service agencies, as well as traditional social and service clubs with extensive volunteer bases. The Berwick Area United Way supports 15 agencies and helps to provide services such as the Wheels for Work program and the Community Soup Kitchen. Volunteers in the Day of Caring complete cleanup and improvement projects that save hundreds of dollars for member agencies.
Numerous other organizations within the community contribute to its economic health and well being. The Berwick Area Chamber of Commerce has a membership base of 300 diverse businesses and industries representing thousands of employees. The Chamber’s primary goal is to strengthen the economic base of the area so that its citizens may enjoy an ever-improving quality of life. Its recent focus has been on workforce development with attention to both current and future employees. One of the groups with which it works closely is the Columbia-Montour Business-Education Partnership.
The Berwick Industrial Development Association (BIDA), which took over the former home of the American Car and Foundry, manages an industrial complex housing 14 industries that form the economic lifeblood of the community. Berwick Industrial Plan and Spirit, an area-wide economic agency, assists businesses with PIDA and PEDFA financing and works with other county, state and federal economic development programs and organizations.
Berwick is home to a disproportionate number of industries for the size of the community, according to a research study conducted for BIDA. Some of the major employers in the area are Wise Foods, manufacturer of potato chips and other snack products; PPL, an electric utility and nuclear power plant; Berwick Offray, manufacturer of decorative ribbons and bows; Lady Ester Lingerie Corporation, maker of fashion lingerie, including the Delta Burke line; and DeLuxe Homes of PA, Inc., producer of prefabricated housing, apartment units and college dorms.
Berwick is proud of its downtown district, the site of unique shops, restaurants, banks, office suites, a movie theater and a beautifully-renovated apartment building with first-floor commercial properties. The Downtown Division of the Berwick Area Chamber of Commerce hosts two downtown street festivals, All American Day in May and Fall for Berwick in September. The famous Thanksgiving Day Run for the Diamonds hosts about 1000 runners a year. The Jaycees Christmas Boulevard, a light and decoration display along Market Street, is held throughout the month of December.
In the spring, the Boulevard is transformed into a flowering vista. An example of community pride, the adopt-a-plot program is sponsored by the Chamber, run by the horticulture club of Luzerne County Community College, planted by volunteer individuals and organizations and watered by local fire companies.
When visitors traverse the Boulevard, they pass a beautiful, historic home, known locally as the Jackson Mansion. A cened. Deeded to the borough the mansion is currently home to the borough offices.tury-old structure, planned by Colonel Clarence Jackson while in a Civil War Confederate prison, the mansion was completed in 1878 two years before he died. Deeded to the borough the mansion is currently home to the borough offices.
The Borough of Berwick is home to about 11,000 citizens. The extended community, however, is home to the 23,000 residents of the Berwick Area School District. It is a community about which is increasingly said, “There are some exciting things going on in Berwick!” Berwick is indeed a community of exciting potential and expanding opportunities headed into a dynamic future.