Berks County Commissioners to crack time capsule Thursday

The Berks County Commissioners, at their regular business meeting Thursday morning, will open the time capsule placed at the cornerstone of the old Berks Heim building in June 1951.

Commissioner Chairman Christian Y. Leinbach believes the contents will prove interesting. “This will not be the letdown that occurred when Geraldo (Rivera) opened Al Capone’s vault,” said Leinbach, referring to the heavily hyped 1986 television special in which only empty bottles and dirt were found in Capone’s secret Chicago underground vault. “There will be something in this capsule, I think, although I wasn’t there or even born unlike one of the commissioners,” he said. (Commissioner Mark Scott was not available for response to this statement.)

The public is encouraged to attend this meeting. The meeting is broadcast live on BCTV.

Interestingly, the commissioners are literally sitting on top of another time capsule. In September 1992, just as the County Services Center was set to open, an atmosphere-free steel time capsule was sealed in a wall of the vestibule. Among the items included were a copy of the 1992 county budget, local daily and weekly newspapers of the day-shirts, a telephone book, and a key from the Berks County Prison. Officials said that time capsule will be opened in 2092.

About Berks Heim:

Berks Heim is the successor to what was known as the Berks County Almshouse located in Cumru Township. The almshouse or “poor house” operated from about 1824 through 1951. The current Berks Heim sits on land commonly referred to as the welfare farm in Bern Township. This area consists of more than 875 acres of land once owned by Gov. Joseph Hiester and acquired parcel by parcel by William W. Essick, founder of the Penn Optical Co., beginning in the 1920s. He ultimately gifted the entire acreage to the County of Berks with at least one specification – the county prison be built there. Through judicial and governmental decisions, all county health and welfare institutions would be concentrated on these lands, just to the west of Route 183. In 1949, the first architectural renderings of the new Berks Heim were done, that November county voters approved a $2-million bond issue for the project. In April 1950, with the acquisition of another nearby 34 acres, ground was broken. Another $850,000 bond issue funded increasing construction costs. The corner stone laying ceremony occurred Sunday, June 24, 1951. Construction of the Heim cost $3 million. When the original building was opened, it had a 400-patient capacity.

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