Local and Regional Area
LOCAL & REGIONAL AREA
Berkshire County, with a total population of just under 125,000, is located in the far west of Massachusetts, bordering Vermont, Connecticut, and New York. Nestled in the heart of this region known worldwide for its outstanding quality of life, the City of Pittsfield is a community rich in history and brimming with potential. 44,000 residents call Pittsfield home, yet its daytime population rises to 60,000. As the largest city in Berkshire County, it stands as the county’s geographic, governmental, commercial, cultural, medical and industrial center. Over 26 million people live within 125 miles of Pittsfield. You can wake up in the beautiful Berkshires, have lunch in New York or Boston, and be home in time for dinner.
HISTORY & OVERVIEW
Settled in the 17th century and incorporated in 1761, Pittsfield was a quiet agricultural community throughout the 18th century. The dramatic social, technological, and economic changes which characterized the 19th century—immigration, railroads, industrialization—transformed Pittsfield into a bustling center of commerce and culture. As the industrial age reached its zenith in the first half of the 20th century, Pittsfield was a showcase for American manufacturing prowess. In World War II, General Electric employed more than 13,000 people in Pittsfield, and by the 1950s, 3 out of 4 workers in Pittsfield were employed by GE.
The transition to a post-industrial era was a difficult challenge for Pittsfield. The city lost thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs in the 1970s and 1980s as GE dramatically scaled back its presence here. In response, Pittsfield worked hard to preserve the natural beauty of the area and enhance its cultural resources, and it continues to do so. Both efforts have been successful, and Pittsfield continues to attract people while nurturing a more diverse, more stable economic base.
BUSINESS & ECONOMY
Pittsfield’s current economic landscape is no longer dominated by a single employer. Pockets of entrepreneurial innovation in such fields as plastics and printing have produced dozens of smaller, thriving firms. Standing with these smaller firms are such well-known corporations as Berkshire Life (now a subsidiary of The Guardian Life Insurance Company), General Dynamics Mission Systems, Interprint, Annie Selke Companies, Lenco Armored Vehicles, Neenah Performance Materials, and Wayfair.
The 2012 launch of the 52-acre William Stanley Business Park aimed to continue the legacy of innovation left by its namesake. The site is now home to a number of tenants, including the Berkshire Innovation Center, launched in 2020 as a nexus point for local entrepreneurs, regional businesses and global enterprises supported by a community made up of members, sponsors, academic partners and long-term strategic partners. The business park is also home to an award-winning, 1.8-megawatt solar array which was the first in the state for a utility company and New England’s largest when it went online in October 2010. This boosted Pittsfield’s already high rank as one of Massachusetts’ most environmentally-conscious cities to call home.
Some 130 houses of worship are found in the Berkshires. That may seem like a lot for a predominantly rural region with a declining population, but there were once many more. Among Roman Catholic churches alone, upwards of ten have closed since 2004 (six in 2008). Secularism, especially among young adults, is on the rise, and many of the remaining traditional faith communities are struggling to keep their doors open. Fortunately, St. Stephen’s is on stable financial footing with a solid future as the largest Episcopal church in Berkshire County.
Pittsfield is the medical hub of Berkshire county, home to Berkshire Health Systems, the area’s largest employer. Occupying a sprawling downtown complex, it offers services which include neurosurgery, trauma, stroke care, endoscopy, surgery, cancer, cardiology, rehabilitation, and diagnostic procedures. Among the top 100 hospitals in the nation out of over 4,000 (HealthGrades), the company strives to improve the health of all people in the Berkshires and surrounding communities, regardless of their ability to pay.
Pittsfield’s public school system is the largest and most diverse school system in Berkshire County. In 2018, after more than a decade in the making, Pittsfield completed a major investment in its future with the dedication and ribbon cutting for a new $120 million high school. Its 20-member School Building Needs Commission is actively researching the costs for improvements and upgrades to its remaining 11 public school buildings.
Berkshire Community College (BCC), located on a magnificent 180 acre site at the foot of West Mountain in Pittsfield, is the state’s first community college. BCC offers Associate degrees and Certificates in a wide range of professional and academic fields as well as offering educational opportunities to the broader community in Berkshire County and surrounding areas.
Williams College, one of the country’s premier liberal arts colleges, and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), a top ten public liberal arts college according to 2020 rankings from U.S. News & World Report, are both located in Berkshire County, north of Pittsfield.
Many visitors, drawn by the quality of life, come to the Berkshires or return as second home owners or retirees. For 2019, Pittsfield’s median household income was about $49k annually, while the national average was about $64k. Its residents face struggles similar to those in other urban centers. Around 15% of the population lives below the poverty line and the unemployment rate hovers around 3-5%, in line with the national average. Not surprisingly, our community deals with higher than normal rates of substance abuse.
St. Stephen’s succeeds at finding many ways to serve the under-served and we see ever-increasing opportunity to explore and fine-tune our mission to live out our ministry to be the heart and hands of Christ.
In 2012, the Massachusetts Cultural Council proclaimed Pittsfield’s “Upstreet” one of the first five Cultural Districts in the state. This cultural district is a compact, walkable area with a concentration of cultural facilities, activities, and assets. It is home to dozens of artists, cultural institutions, restaurants, wine bars, and cafes. For a city of its size, Pittsfield boasts an outstanding array of cultural attractions, including:
Albany Berkshire Ballet – Classical and contemporary ballet performances 15 weeks a year.
Arrowhead – Home of Herman Melville when he wrote Moby Dick.
Artscape – A self-guided, outdoor walking tour of artwork in downtown Pittsfield.
Barrington Stage Co. – Creating dynamic live theater experiences that engage and excite.
Beacon Cinema – A renovated historic building modernized as a six-theater cinema.
Berkshire Artisans – A thriving municipal arts center.
Berkshire Lyric Theatre – Classic choral repertoire, adult oratoria chorus and children’s chorus.
Berkshire Museum – The region’s only museum of art, science, and history.
Berkshire Music School – Quality music education activities and performance opportunities.
Berkshire Opera Co. – Professional opera performances fully staged in Italian.
Colonial Theater – World-class entertainment, community performances, and special events.
Hancock Shaker Village – Explore Shaker life within a working heritage farm.
Lichtenstein Center for the Arts – Community arts center in Pittsfield’s Upstreet Cultural District
South Mountain Concerts – Distinguished chamber music since 1918.
Town Players – The nation’s oldest community theater.
In addition to the many attractions within its own borders, Pittsfield is the geographic and economic center of a region which is home to such national and international treasures as:
Berkshire Botanical Gardens
Berkshire Theatre Festival
Chesterwood (home of Daniel Chester French)
Clark Art Institute
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA)
Shakespeare & Company
Tanglewood Music Center and Tanglewood Learning Institute
The Mount (home of Edith Wharton)
The Norman Rockwell Museum
Williamstown Theater Festival
Berkshire County has always attracted visitors with its unspoiled natural beauty and has always been an unusually appealing place to live. The scenic beauty of the Berkshires’ rolling hills, lakes, and forests is spectacular and is home to several vacation resorts. Fishing and boating on Pittsfield’s Pontoosuc and Onota Lakes are popular pastimes. Pittsfield’s extensive park system of over 600 acres includes playgrounds, athletic fields, tennis courts, a skateboard park, beaches and more. Pittsfield State Forest’s 10,000 acres provide opportunities for both camping and hiking. Winter brings downhill skiing at local Bousquet and nearby Jiminy Peak, and Nordic skiing and snowshoeing in many of the parks and forests. The city hosts a number of wonderful community organizations–including the YMCA and Boys’ & Girls’ Club–which offer a wide variety of recreational opportunities. Nearby, Wahconah Falls State Park, Lenox’s Kennedy Park, numerous golf courses and the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail add to the Berkshire’s recreational pleasures.