History of Berkley


Berkley's Logo

Berkley’s Logo

The land that would later become Berkley was a mixture of swamp and dense forests and was originally thought uninhabitable, it was avoided by even the Native Americans.  That changed in 1817 when Lewis Cass personally visited the area and decided that it was good enough to settle and began selling land to farmers who came and worked hard to drain the swamps and cut down the forests.  Berkley steadily grew as transportation in the area got better, with the Sagniaw Trail, which later became Woodward Avenue, and the Detroit-Pontiac Railroad.  Major growth came to Berkley in the early 20th century when The Ford Motor Company released the Model T.

The affordable transportation made it possible for people to easily move into the Berkley area and the highly desired jobs at the Highland Park Ford Plant a few miles away motivated people to flock to the area.  Between 1910 and 1920, the last of Berkley’s farms were sold and turned into subdivisions, and the first phone line and electric lights were introduced.  In 1923, Berkley officially became a village and with that came the first election, fire and police departments, and basic infrastructure.

Growth in Berkley came to a grinding halt in 1929 with the stock market crash and the Great Depression that followed.  90% of the 5,558 residents in Berkley lost their jobs when the market crashed.  The residents could no longer afford their taxes and as a result many services were canceled or reduced.  Two schools, Burton and Pattengill, were closed and the remaining schools were all switched to half days and all gym, art, and music classes were canceled.  The loss in tax revenue also forced the city to shut of the electric street lights.  In 1932, Berkley became a city so that taxes are lowered.  Berkley continued to struggle up until the start of World War II which caused another surge of growth for the city.

Berkley has continued to grow steadily over the years, advancing as times change.  In 1957 a new city hall was build as an addition to the old one.  A new gymnasium was built for the high school in 1973.  The city’s first municipal access channel was established in 1983 and the city’s first website was launched in 2003.  Berkley celebrated it’s 75th anniversary in 2007.

A Berkley Historical Committee was created during the nation’s bicentennial celebration to preserve Berkley’s history.  The committee collects materials and artifacts that residents donate and in 1991 they opened the Berkley Museum in the old fire house that is still in operation today.

The Old Fire House that now houses the Berkley Museum

The Old Fire House that now houses the Berkley Museum