Explore the History of Berkshire Farm
Visit Berkshire
Farm Archives

Berkshire Farm Center
and Services for Youth,
13640 Route 22,
Canaan, New York 12029

Some of the original Shaker buildings, 1886.
With permission, NYCHS designed and presents
this web version of Berkshire Farm's Archives
brochure from which the text and images come.
Berkshire Farm retains all rights.
The vision of Frederick and Catherine Burnham

It was in 1886 that Frederick G. Burnham and his wife Catherine had a vision for helping troubled youth. 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 Burnhams created a refuge for what were then called wayward boys. 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 believed.

Frederick Burnham

Catherine Hilliard Burnham

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.

Transforming a vision into reality

The Burnhams hailed 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.

House mother talks with boys, late 1920s.
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 Burnhams most likely became acquainted with the area.

 The Burnhams had many wealthy and socially prominent friends whom they interested in the work of the Farm, and from the start it was successful. 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.

A Sunday outing, early 1920s.
Berkshire builds on its 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, an office was opened in Buffalo, and another in Schenectady to serve the Capital District and the Hudson Valley. Soon after, wards, additional offices were opened in Rochester, Syracuse and Long Island.

A continuum of community-based child care

At work in print shop, 1965.

Berkshire community services workers now are an integral part of each boy's treatment team. They act as liaisons to the boys' 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.

Boys at work in the dairy, 1914
The name of the organization changes

Until the 1960s, boys worked on the large farm that was a part of the Berkshire campus and provided much of the food served to the boys. Economic factors and new regulations made the farming operation increasingly impractical, and it was ultimately discontinued. Today, through Berkshire's vocational training program, boys 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.

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

A haircut, early 1950s.
Berkshire Farm today

Berkshire's residential treatment center in Canaan serves some 600 boys annually from urban, suburban and rural areas throughout New York State. Typically, boys in the program have been troubled by behavioral and emotional difficulties, family problems, substance abuse and other issues. Nearly 3,000 boys and girls struggling with similar issues are served each year in community-based programs.

Expanded over the years through donations and purchases of land, Berkshire's Canaan campus now comprises some 1,700 acres. The agency has nine regional and district offices around the state, as well as additional satellite locations.

Boys leave school at the start of spring vacation, late 1930s.
About the Berkshire Farm 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 youngsters and their families.

Its 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 some 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.

Farm main gate,1960s.
Visit the Berkshire Farm Archives

Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth established its Archives in 1997 to preserve historical material and to make it available to researchers, students and others. 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 (518)781-4567, ext. 214.

Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth

13640 Route 22
Canaan, New York 12029
phone (518) 781-4567
fax (518) 781-4577
Rose W. Washington
Executive Director
Philip Kaminstein
Archives Director
With permission, NYCHS designed and presents this web version of Berkshire Farm's Archives brochure from which the text and images come. Berkshire Farm retains all rights. Its range of child care and juvenile justice services includes placement prevention and placement alternatives. Visit it on the web at:
Home Page
To Correction
Starter Page