William W. Essick, founder of the Pennsylvania Optical Company, was born on March 9, 1857, a quarter century after Governor Hiester's death. From earliest manhood, Essick was a model of civic mindedness. He devoted many years to fighting tuberculosis, and took an active part in prison reform. His relief work in Yugoslavia and Belgium during World War I spawned a deeper interest in the welfare institutions of Berks County.
From 1924 to 1928, Essick paid $78,522 for eight parcels of Bern Township land, most of which was once owned by Governor Hiester. Then on June 23, 1928, he donated this ground to the county. His gift amounted to 713 acres. On October 19, 1940, less than a year before Essick died, a 162-acre tract known as the Isaac Bickel Estate was added to the welfare farm area. That grant expanded the county plot to its 875 acres. The entire tract was thereupon named Essick Acres.
Essick's original gift included not only the 713-acre tract of land, but also trucks, tractors, farm implements, stone crushers, and other personal property of considerable value. Along with his original deed to the county, Essick set forth conditions for the development of a county prison on the land. Construction of the prison was to begin no later than June 1, 1930. The construction of Berks Heim climaxed a long-term program to concentrate all county health and welfare institutions on the Bern Township site known as Essick Acres.
Grand juries from 1940 to 1948 successively recommended that the county home and hospital be moved from its Cumru Township location to the welfare farm in Bern Township. The Cumru site was bought for $16,000 by the county "poor directors" in 1824. At that early date, the institution was known as the "poor house" and, in later years, as the county "almshouse". Plans were finally laid in 1949 for a new home and hospital that would be economically constructed and abreast of the latest thinking on the care of the aged and indigent.
Architects began drawing plans for Berks Heim on May 13, 1949. In the November election that year, voters approved a 2 million dollar bond issue for the project. In April 1950, the county deeded an additional 34 acres in Bern Township to the County Institution District. A few days later, construction crews broke ground for the home and hospital. Later the same year, the Institution District sold a bond issue of $850,000 to meet increasing costs of construction. The corner stone-laying ceremonies were held Sunday, June 24, 1951.