**Many thanks to the Berwick Historical Society for their assistance in retrieval of the following historical account of the Borough of Berwick. Much of the information found below can be accredited to Joan M. Lewis, author of Berwick: As it was Then, As it is Now. For more history of the Borough of Berwick, please visit the Berwick Historical Society. **
There is so much history to Berwick that we cannot include it all in this page. We encourage you to visit the McBride Memorial Library, which was recently opened in 2008, or the Berwick Historical Society, which was founded in 1938, to learn more about our rich history.
Berwick was first inhabited by American Indians along the Susquehanna River. In 1786, Evan Owen, an Englishman, decided to settle on the land which is now called Berwick. He had originally purchased land from William Penn in the areas from around Bloomsburg all the way to Berwick. He decided to sell his land in Bloomsburg, however, he settled in Berwick. He wanted to settle a village opposite the mouth of the Nescopeck Creek. So, in 1780, he began to plot out and survey lots here. Six years later, he coaxed the first settlers to move here. Englishmen John and Robert Brown became the first settlers in Berwick in 1786. They called the settlement “Owensburg”, however, Owen, a humble Quaker, renamed the land “Berwick”. He named it this because the wife of one of the Brown brothers hailed from Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland County, England. Owen continued to sell lots to people, in particular, many settlers from the Philadelphia area. Early settlers had the bare essentials; therefore, the community shared many things, such as farmed land and wild game.
Evan Owen built a road over a two year period to connect Berwick to Lehigh. This was an expansion of a Native American trail that had already been built. It was now wide enough to fit vehicles through. In an effort to build better and easier transportation, the state legislature funded a bridge to connect Berwick to Nescopeck, across the Susquehanna River. The bridge was built in 1807 and took 7 years to complete. It cost $52,000. It was 1260 feet long and rested on heavy planked timber. The original bridge was destroyed in 1835 by an ice flood in the river. The bridge was rebuilt.
Because Berwick was located along the heavily traveled Susquehanna River, there was a great potential for growth and expansion, especially in the area of industry. The many stage coaches that traveled through the area created an early need for hotels. Included in these hotels were the Berwick Hotel, Hotel Morton, and St. Charles Hotel, where St. Charles Park sits in the downtown today. Improvements to highways and the canal, which was built in Berwick in 1831, made growth possible. In 1858, the canal was sold to the railroad company, which was a clear sign that industry was on the move. The earliest industries in Berwick included coopers, carpenters, blacksmiths and other specialties, chair makers, gunsmiths, weavers, dyers, masons, cabinet makers, pottery, butchers, and others.
Jackson, Woodin, and AC&F
Berwick has to thank three men for the roots of early economic development in the area. Most of the development that these men founded many years ago still exists today. The three men that were so crucial to Berwick’s history included Mordecai Jackson, Earl Wise, and George Vaughn. In addition, there are many other individuals that are to thank for the development of Berwick, however, the grassroots of economic development fell on the hands of these men.
In the 1800’s, the area began to grow from farming, which drew more people to the town. This meant that more services would be needed, which meant industries would need to grow. People came and developed industries. Mordecai Jackson and George Mack jolted the growth of Berwick by building a small foundry in 1840 where 3rd Street and Market Street intersect today. Jackson bought out Mack in 1843 and partnered with Robert McCurdy until 1846. For the next three years, Jackson owned the foundry by himself, until he united with William Hartman Woodin in 1849. Together, Jackson and Woodin created the Berwick Rolling Mill. Mr. Jackson was a good mechanic and managed the everyday business of the operation. Woodin was a fantastic salesman and helped develop the business side of the foundry. The mill expanded and began to build railroad cars. On March 17, 1866, the foundry burned to the ground. The Jackson business was booming. In 1899, the American Car & Foundry Company took over the foundry. At that time, Jackson & Woodin Manufacturing was the largest car builder in the eastern United States, and Woodin rebuilt it to be much larger and much more successful than it previously was.
AC&F spent $3,000,000 expanding the plant to meet the demand of the nation. In fact, the company expanded and built plants in St. Louis and Detroit in 1902. New York City purchased their first subway cars from AC&F. AC&F was a vital asset to the United States military for World War II as well, as the Stuie Tank was built from the Berwick plant. After World War II, the economy began to slow once again. In November of 1961, AC&F decided to close the doors of the Berwick plant. They offered the Borough to purchase the plant, unfortunately, this was not financially feasible for the Borough. However, a set of employees from the plant, Alfred Catterall, Walter Vorbleski, and Ray McBride, purchased the plant and helped support the Berwick area in a time of economic downturn. They renamed the plant the Berwick Forge & Fabricating Corporation. The men sold the Forge to the Whittaker Corporation in 1968. The Forge finally closed in 1983.
Jackson and Woodin also opened the Berwick Store Company. In 1872, the store was moved to Market Street, where CVS is located today. The Young Men’s Christian Association rented a few rooms out of the building. Jackson and Woodin also had their offices in the building. The two men also formed a business selling horses. It is said that there used to be an underground tunnel ranging from the Jaycees all the way to the Company Store.
Wise Potato Chips began in 1921 by accident. Earl Wise, Sr. owned a store on Mulberry Street. He had too many potatoes at one point, so he asked his mother, Sarah, to make chips for him. His father, M. I. Wise, helped Earl sell the chips at his store. They quickly became very popular. The demand was so great that in 1923, they built a small plant on Iron Street. Earl and his father designed the plant.In 1926, they enlarged the plant and did so several more times. For his 20th anniversary in 1946, in honor of his mother, Earl threw a party and created a logo of an owl for the plant.
The plant was destroyed by fire in 1944. In 1945, Wise reluctantly decided to rebuild. He had William Sutter design a new factory for him. Sutter built what became one of the biggest and most modern factories in the United States at the time. In 1963, a 2nd plant was opened in St. Augustine, Florida, two months after Mr. Wise passed away.
Earl Wise, Jr. and Robert Wise took over as President and Vice President of the business after the death of their father. In 1964, they negotiated with Borden, Inc. to take over the management of the plant. Nothing really changed as Wise remained in both brand and as a stable of Berwick. Today, Robert Wise is still a very active member of the Berwick community
In the early 1900’s George Vaughn, Sr., an oil worker from West Virginia, decided to open a bakery with his $500 life savings. Mr. Vaughn had been raised in Pennsylvania and decided, after several years of operating in West Virginia, to move back home to his home state. In 1916, he chose to live in Berwick, where he opened up his very own bakery. He chose Berwick because it was high above flood waters, where he had problems while living in West Virginia. He started with one oven, but greatly expanded in a short amount of time. By 1961, the bakery employed over 100 employees. When Mr. Vaughn died in 1950, his son George, Jr. and Hugh Vaughn, took over. They sold to Maier’s in July of 1974. Unfortunately, the bakery is no longer in operation today.
Not only were these men dedicated to their businesses, but they were dedicated to their community as well. Jackson and Woodin both donated land to the Borough of Berwick. The wife of Colonel Clarence Jackson, the son of Mordecai Jackson, donated their mansion to the Borough of Berwick to use as a City Hall. Mr. Wise donated money to build the former library. The McBride family donated to the new library. Mr. Vaughn gave the Borough of Berwick land for a park, where Ber-Vaughn Park now sits today.
Our former City Hall; "The Jackson Mansion," is pictured on the left and the new City Hall is pictured on the right side. Berwick Borough City Hall is located at 1800 N. Market St. Berwick, PA 1860.
|The Jackson Mansion|
Berwick's former City Hall is a century-old Victorian Mansion, planned by Colonel Clarence G. Jackson in a Civil War Confederate prison. The building was completed in 1878, two years before Colonel Jackson died at the age of 38. It was built of specially-worked Vermont stone, with hand carved wood-work, handmade tiled fireplaces, and heavy 9-foot high entrance doors, set in a beautifully landscaped park, a memorial to him and his wife Elizabeth.
Col. Jackson was born in Berwick on March 25, 1842, the son of Mordecai and Margret Gearhart Jackson. As a young boy of 7 he drove the horses which supplied the power for the only machinery in use, a blower and a lathe in his father’s foundry.
Clarence attended the Berwick schools and at the age of 14, he entered the Seminary of Williamsport, graduating in two years with the highest honors. He entered Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, where at the age of 18, he graduated at the head of his class.
He returned home at the age of 20 and entered the service on August 2, 1862 as a 2nd Lt. of Company H, 84th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. Twice, he was wounded and twice he was captured by the Confederate Army and taken to Libby prison, one of the worst prisons in the South.
It was during his two prison stays that Jackson dreamed and planned of his mansion to be built in his town of Berwick. Jackson was finally exchanged for Southern prisoners and returned home, not yet recovered from his wounds.
In 1866, Jackson married Elisabeth Seybert. This was the same year in which the now expanded Jackson Wood Works was totally destroyed by fire. In 1872, the partnership of Jackson and Woodin Manufacturing Company was born. Col. Jackson became the vice-president of the firm. This was the same area where he drove horses for power at the age of 7.
He became vice-president of the Rolling Mill. He was a bank director, a School Board member, a trustee at Dickinson College, Church trustee, a prominent member and chief advisor of the state Republican Party, a trustee of the state Normal School at Bloomsburg, and a trustee of the Methodist Church, which was the popular church in Berwick in the 1800’s. All of these positions he filled with great credit and unusual ability. Mr. Jackson was one of the substantial businessmen of Pennsylvania and one of the prominent members of the Republican Party. His wide acquaintance, his liberal views and his political acumen made him one of the chief advisors of the party and he was prominently mentioned for the highest office in the gift of the state.
The Jacksons had two daughters, Henritta and Jane. In 1877, Jackson engaged a Danville architect named Brugler to design his home which was a showplace of North Eastern Pennsylvania and a leading center for leading social circles.
It is quite sad to note that Mr. Jackson died in 1880 after living in his dream house for only 3 years. It is believed that he died from unattended wounds suffered in the Civil War. At his death, he left an estate of $900,000. Mrs. Jackson and her two daughters continued to live in the mansion until the daughters married and left home. Mrs. Jackson died in 1914 and her will gave the use of the Jackson home as a City Hall. In 1915 the building and its grounds were given to the Borough of Berwick for municipal purposes by the Jackson daughters in memory of their parents. City Hall remained in the Jackson Mansion until 2009.
To enter the front of the Mansion one must pass through two sets of massive doors 9 feet high and 4 inches thick. The inside door contains an inset inscribed “C.G.J.”. On the inside, one is struck by the beauty of heavy wood work framing the high doors and recessed windows as well as the shutters for the windows. The dark hand carved wood is characteristic of the Victorian style of architecture and gives evidence of the skill of early day craftsmen. The mansion is said to be one of the finest examples of Victorian style building of its type. This building contains many mirrors.
Leading directly to the roof from the third floor is a small narrow stairway and was known as the widow’s watch. Here it was thought that women would go and watch the river for the return of their husbands from the war. Many did not return.
The Council room we used was once the reception room of the Colonel and Mrs. Jackson. It includes stained recessed and high windows. It also includes a fire place with hand made tile and a beautiful mirror. Across the hallway from the where we housed Council Chambers are two rooms with heavy wooden sliding doors. These two rooms were occupied by our office personnel. Each of these rooms contains a fire place.
To the rear of the first floor were the offices of our Borough Manager and our Secretary. This was the dining room of the Jackson’s. Across the hall from the dining room was the Jackson Library. This room was utilized as office space as well.
The second floor of the mansion contained 5 bedrooms. We had the Red Cross, our map room, and our Emergency Management Center located in the 2nd floor. To go up to the second floor, one must ascend a curved exceptionally sculptured stair case with a stained glass window above the center landing. At the top of the stairs, one is met with a huge mirrored piece with heavy drawers. We feel this might have been used as a wardrobe or a gun case.
There were 3 bathrooms and 10 bedrooms on the second and third floors, with each bedroom having hot and cold water running. The marbled topped vanities with running water still exist.
Since the first floor contained no kitchen, it is assumed that the basement of the mansion was used for cooking purposes. The basement has a fireplace, which was probably used for cooking.
The second floor also boasts 3 fireplaces. A dumbwaiter extended from the basement to the third floor. The servants’ doors were next to the elevator or dumbwaiter.
The third floor, which is not accessible to the public today, has 5 rooms. There was a small area for cooking on this floor.
Circling the front of the mansion is a very wide porch. On the wall of the front porch now hangs two informational plaques, one presented in 1915 and another during a major celebration.
On the north side of the building is a covered over hang or portico which leads to another side entrance to the first floor. The horse and buggy could stand under this portico and allow visitors to enter the mansion from the side.
Located to the rear of the mansion was the carriage house of the Jackson’s. It was used as the Berwick Borough Police Station. Both the mansion and the carriage house are made from stone imported from Vermont.
More recently, in the late 1990’s, City Hall had been restored to maintain its historical feel. The renovations cost approximately half a million dollars, which was largely funded by state grants. However, it included some much needed patch and replacement work on the 100 + year old roof, re-pointing of the stone, and renovating some of the inside of the building. In the very near future, the Borough plans to re-plant a copper beach in the front yard, which was torn down in 2005. The tree was over 100 years old. In addition, the Borough plans to re-point the block work around the front and side of the wall in front of City Hall.
City Hall has moved to a new location, and the Berwick Historical Society has since assumed responsibility of the Jackson Mansion. They are currently restoring the Mansion to appear similarly to its original state when the Colonel and his family resided there. They continue to maintain the property and have since allowed the public to view this great feature of the Borough!
The “Run for the Diamonds” started in 1908 and has occurred every year on Thanksgiving Day since. Thousands of runners and spectators are present for this yearly event each year. This race is 9 miles long and although it is technically not a marathon due to the length it is still familiarly recognized as the, "Berwick Marathon." The prize for male winners 1st-7th is a diamond ring and the prize for female winners 1st-7th is a diamond pendant. People from all over the country attend this event.
For more information about this race and others which take place in Berwick Borough please check out www.runfordiamonds.com. This event is organized each year by the Berwick Marathon Association.
Isaac Holoway opened the first Quaker Meeting House in Berwick. This and the Market House were the first schools built until 1839. The Berwick Academy, 3rd Street High School, Ferris Heights, Salem, Chestnut St., Jr. High, Sr. High, Nescopeck’s three schools, Orange Street, Orchard Street, 14th Street, and Fairview Ave schools all followed. In 1965, the Berwick and Nescopeck schools combined. Today, we have four elementary schools (Orange Street, Salem, Nescopeck, and 14th Street), a middle school, and a senior high school. Berwick athletics are known throughout the state and nation, as the Berwick Football team was a two-time national champion in the 1990’s and once in 1983, as well as a six state championships. The most recent athletic state championship was accomplished by the boys baseball team, which won the state title in 2008.
PPL Susquehanna was built around 1977 The two towers are 540 feet tall. The facility is located on 1100 acres of land. The beautiful Riverlands Park with Lake Tookawhile sits on 100 acres and has over 234 different species of birds. PPL Susquehanna employs over 1000 employees and serves as a major employer in the Berwick region.
PPL operated the plant until June 2015 when Talen Energy was formed from PPL's competitive supply business. The plant has two General Electric boiling water reactors within a Mark II containment building on a site of 1,075 acres (435 ha), with 1,130 employees working on site and another 180 employees in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Harrisburg-based Allegheny Electric Cooperative purchased 10% of the plant in 1977.
Susquehanna produces 63 million kilowatt hours per day. It has been in operation since 1983. The prime builder was Bechtel Power Corporation of San Francisco, California.
In November 2009, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) extended the operation licenses of the reactors for an additional 20 years.
Berwick Christmas Boulevard sees thousands of visitors every year. The Boulevard was first built by the Jaycees in 1947 and has been a regional favorite for over 60 years. It is over a mile long with beautiful Christmas lights and displays, which includes Santa Claus visits, while serving our famous Wise Potato Chips to passersby. Children even have the opportunity to drop their Christmas letters off to Santa.
This spectacular event is held every year on Market Street in Berwick Borough. Be sure to come visit each year. It is fun for the whole family!