The Town

 by Millie Landis Coyle

Hershey Train Station & Reading RailroadThe critics who could not understand why Milton Snavely Hershey chose to build his factory in a cornfield soon learned that chocolate making was not his only passion.

Hershey knew that he had chosen well. He knew that adjacent dairy lands would provide a high grade of milk for his milk chocolate.  The fact that the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and the Berks and Dauphin Turnpike were within viewing distance certainly did not escape his notice.  He knew, too, that whatever his future employees would need, he could build.  Milton Hershey had already laid out the plans for a town, setting aside 150 acres for a park.  A transit system to transport people to his proposed town had already been chartered in January 1903.

The two dirt roads that intersected just south of the factory site would be the center of his town and would be named Chocolate and Cocoa Avenues.   In time, he would convince the railroad company that building a passenger station and a freight train station within a short distance from the proposed town and factory would be beneficial to both the railroad company and the chocolate industry.

 By 1905, the six-acre factory was completed and mass production of Hershey chocolate began.  The chocolate factory was like a magnet drawing young people from the farms and small towns to make their homes in the small developing town.  Hershey’s plans included accommodations for his employees and he wanted those accommodations to have the same high quality as the chocolate he was making.

Although Milton Hershey met resistance when he approached the government officials for establishing a Post Office, he was persistent in his request. In 1905, a small post office opened in the Cocoa House with Ezra F. Hershey as its first postmaster.  Dr. Martin Hershey replaced Ezra in 1908.  A succession of early postmasters followed.  They were Herbert Newton, George Eppley, John Cope, John Balsbaugh, Thomas Black, Merle Seavers and Daniel Graeff.  

As money flowed in, it was channeled into a construction program that would eventually become the model industrial town that Milton Hershey had envisioned. To that end, the Hershey Improvement Company was organized in 1905.  Many of the existing dwellings and old properties were purchased and renovated to meet the standards established for a home in Hershey.  The first new dwellings built by the Hershey Improvement Company were on Trinidad Avenue and Areba Avenue and could be purchased at reasonable prices.

Well-planned avenues that were lined with rows of shade trees began to appear.  Homes with spacious lawns, surrounded with shrubbery and flowers produced an attractive and pleasing appearance.  Milton Hershey was careful to protect the homeowners from commercial enterprises moving into their residential areas.  Specific restrictions appeared on copies of deeds transferring property from Milton S. Hershey to the buyer.

Under the direction of Hershey's first civil engineer, Harry Neff Herr, utilities and a transportation system were provided with the same high quality that would be expected in a town built by Milton Hershey.

A telephone line was installed as early as July 1903.  By 1912 the Bell Telephone Company that serviced the Hershey area had 250 subscribers.  At the time the exchange was installed in the Hershey Store Building that had been built two years earlier.

In its first twelve years, the town depended on Spring Creek for its water supply. In 1914, a need for a larger and more permanent water supply led Herr’s engineering team to Manada Creek which flowed into nearby Swatara Creek. A dam was built which diverted the water to two large reservoirs on top of what was then known as Pat's Hill and where the Hotel Hershey now stands.  The water system was put in place in 1914 and homeowners were assured that a pure water supply to the town and the factory was guaranteed for several generations.  Although the reservoirs are no longer used for Hershey's water supply, they have been attractively maintained and have become still another monument to Milton Hershey.

The Hershey Transit Company had its first trolley run on October 21, 1904 .  Herr, as chief engineer, designed the trolley’s course.  Then known as the Hummelstown & Campbelltown Street Railway, the name was changed to the Hershey Transit Company on December 13, 1913 .   The transit system, when it was fully developed, provided transportation between Hershey and Lebanon, Elizabethtown, Campbelltown and Hummelstown.  A connection in Hummelstown carried passengers back and forth to Harrisburg.

Architecturally, the community buildings that arose in the little town in its first twenty years represented the spectrum of life that linked together the many stages of the early twentieth century in America.  In most cases, limestone quarried on the premises was used for the buildings.  Stonecutters often worked night and day to accomplish their purpose.

The first community building, the Cocoa House, was erected in 1905.   The three-story limestone building, designed by Lancaster architect C. Emlin Urban, was located a short distance west of the factory on Chocolate Avenue.  The building housed a dormitory for male factory employees, restaurant, bank, general store, barbershop, and small theatre.  

In 1906, a post office branch was designated, giving recognition to the fact that a Hershey, Pennsylvania did exist.  The post office was placed in the Cocoa House.  Eventually, each facility served by the Cocoa House warranted a building of its own, and before long, the cornfield was transformed into an architecturally unique town.  

Another limestone building arose next to the Cocoa House that would accommodate the Hershey Fire Company.  That, too, was of limestone and would, in the course of its life, serve many purposes after the Fire Company relocated to Caracas Avenue .

Along Chocolate Avenue, other service buildings were soon in place.  They included a barbershop, a blacksmith shop, a gas station and a service garage. 

While the building of the town was one of Hershey’s highest priorities, he did not overlook suitable accommodations for his own family.  While his home was being built on a hill east of the factory, he lived with his wife and mother, Fannie Snavely, in the family homestead where he was born on September 13, 1857.   The "Old Homestead" as it came to be known was located within a mile or so south of the factory and the developing town.

In 1908, Milton Hershey and his wife, Catharine, moved into the mansion they called Highpoint.  This magnificent structure was also designed by C. Emlin Urban and built of limestone quarried from the premises.  The site of the mansion provided the advantage of a picturesque surrounding and, as Hershey would have wanted it, a perfect view of the factory and the town.

Fannie Snavely was provided with a modest brick home directly across the street from the chocolate factory where her son was known to visit her every day.

Unable to have children of their own, Milton and Catharine established a home for orphaned boys.  Milton S. Hershey once remarked that because he could not have heirs of his own, he would make orphan boys in the United States his heirs. On November 15, 1909, the Hershey’s signed a Deed of Trust for the establishment of the Hershey Industrial School . One of the main objectives of the school was to train young men to useful trades and occupations that would earn them a livelihood.  The first boys were housed and schooled in the Homestead , Milton Hershey’s birthplace.

Between 1910 and 1920, the town underwent a second stage of growth.  In 1910, the general store in the Cocoa House was moved to the large new Hershey Store building on the southwest corner of Cocoa and Chocolate.  The building was designed to accommodate an inn on the second floor and a department store on the ground floor and basement.

The year 1910 also marked the opening of Hershey’s first elegant dining facility.  The Café was built onto the west end of the chocolate factory.  In 1911, an abattoir was built along West Chocolate Avenue.   A laundry appeared in 1912 on Park Avenue, which was later moved to West Chocolate Avenue.  The farming community could find all that was needed at the large three-story farm implement building which opened at the corner of Mill Street and West Chocolate Avenue in 1912

At the same time, a beautiful Y.W.C.A. was built on the site where Milton S. Hershey had built his garage and horse stable, which was destroyed by fire in early 1911.  The building was located on the north side of the railroad tracks within full view of the town.

In 1912, Milton S. Hershey commissioned his architect, C. Emlin Urban to design a building of beauty and utility to serve the needs of the Hershey Trust Company and the Hershey National Bank.  The building, constructed of Lancaster red brick and Vermont marble, was built on the corner of West Chocolate Avenue and Park Avenue and opened in August 1914.

An architecturally similar three-story brick building was built on the corner of West Chocolate and Park Avenue around 1915. It served as the Hershey Press building until 1920, when it was completely renovated to accommodate the department store that was moved from its original location on Chocolate and Cocoa Avenues.  The building on Chocolate and Cocoa became the Community Inn and later, the Cocoa Inn.

In 1906, Milton Hershey replaced the old Greiner School that stood at the crossroads with the larger McKinley School .  In 1914, the need for a larger school to accommodate the growing population of children became apparent and Milton S. Hershey, true to his ideals, wanted it to be the best.

Milton S. Hershey, the visionary, saw this as a time to close the small rural schools scattered throughout the township and build a large consolidated school to accommodate all the children in Derry Township.  As a result, on October 13, 1914 , the town celebrated the dedication of the M. S. Hershey Consolidated School of Derry Township.  In 1925, an additional three-story brick high school and a vocational building were added to form a semi-circle on the school's location on East Granada Avenue .

On the north side of town, a recreation park was blossoming, and a convention hall was rising.  Mr. Hershey, anxious to draw people to his town, saw this as a drawing card for his industrial experiment.  The Hershey Convention Hall, later to become the Hershey Museum, opened on May 30. 1914.  The Convention Hall would later become the Hershey Ice Palace and the home ice for Hershey's professional hockey team.  Today, it houses the Hershey Museum .

The years between 1910 and 1920 saw not only new buildings but also the transformation of many buildings.  The little Cocoa House, having outgrown its original need, became a first class recreational facility by adding a gymnasium, a large swimming pool and meeting rooms.  For a time it served as a Y.M.C.A building, and later it became the Men’s Club.  A reading room was also located in the building and served for a short time as the Hershey Library.

The 150 acres that had been set aside for a park boasted a spacious park pavilion.  Free vaudeville shows and dances were offered weekly.  A Hershey Band gave concerts in the park on weekends and some summer evenings.  In time, a restaurant was added, followed by a merry-go-round. Boating was a popular past time.

For garden lovers, two greenhouses and a nursery were built at lower Mansion and Derry Roads. The greenhouses sold every variety of plants and landscaping and garden maintenance could be purchased as a service.

It was not Catharine's destiny to enjoy Highpoint for long.  After a long debilitating muscular illness, Catharine died in 1915, seven years after moving into the mansion.  In that short time, she managed to leave a legacy for all of the townspeople and visitors to enjoy.  It was Catharine who designed the magnificent gardens that surrounded Highpoint.  The gardens were open to the public during her lifetime and for at least a decade after her death.

When Milton Hershey's wife died in 1915, he began to spend much of his time away from the town he so desperately sought to enjoy.  He spent much of that time in Havana, Cuba where he was building a second Utopian industrial town.   Throughout the 1920s Hershey poured much of his profit into Cuba, where he built the largest sugar refinery on the island.  There, too, he built houses for his workers, and established an orphanage.  An 80-mile electric railway, the only one on the island, was built to accommodate both the workers and the transportation of the sugar cane to the refinery.

Back in Hershey, construction of houses continued, and with easy credit available, seventy five per cent of the residents owned their own homes.  In 1927, the Hershey Estates took over the services previously provided by the Hershey Improvement Company. All of the Hershey entities, with the exception of the chocolate industry, came under the jurisdiction of the Hershey Estates.

In 1928, at the age of 71, Milton S. Hershey gave up his home of twenty years.  Highpoint was converted into a Country Club.  Hershey kept only a sitting room and a bedroom on the second floor.

The depression years which threw the country in a state of decline proved to be a boon to the model town that seemed to lack for nothing.  Milton S. Hershey decided it was time to build on an even more grandiose scale.  He reportedly remarked  "It's now that a man with money should do something for the people." 

During this period, employees of the Hershey Lumber Company who were hired to build wooden shipping crates for the factory became jobless when a change in the method of shipping chocolate no longer required the wooden crates.  The men were put to work on the construction teams of the multi-million dollar buildings that would rise in Hershey from 1929 to 1936.

The three million dollar community building, begun in 1929 was dedicated in 1933.  The building held a 58 bed hospital, dormitories for men, a large swimming pool, recreational facilities, classrooms for the Hershey Industrial boys, a cafeteria, a public library and two theatres.

As was often the case, the appearance of a new building often facilitated moves throughout the town.  The Men's Club, which had replaced the Cocoa House, was moved to the new Community Building.  The dormitories in the Men’s Club were turned over to the women who had been housed in the Y.W.C.A. building. The recreational facilities were opened to all women and the building became known as the Women's Club.

The Y.W.C.A. building was remodeled and made into an attractive apartment complex.

The beautiful Spanish style Hotel Hershey, built in 1934, had always been one of Milton Hershey’s dreams.  Standing on top of a hill overlooking the town, the beautiful Hotel Hershey stands as a monument to the man who kept many families alive and well at the height of the depression years.

The 1.5 million dollar school for Milton Hershey's orphan boys was completed in 1934.  When the boys moved into the Senior High School, the classrooms on the second floor of the community building became available to accommodate a Junior College that would be tuition free for Derry Township residents. The move reflected Milton Hershey's concern for the high school graduates who could not find employment during the stagnant economic era.  In 1936, the Hershey Sports Arena, the largest span monolithic concrete structure in the United States had become a reality.  It was built by Hershey's labor force in a matter of eight months.

By the end of the depression years, the town of Hershey could boast, in addition to these large buildings, a ten-acre stadium, an amusement area of about 1,000 acres, which included a ballroom, four golf courses, the state's largest swimming pool, and the country's largest zoo.

Even during Hershey lifetime the town was called the "Golf Capital of Pennsylvania."  Though Milton Hershey was only an occasional golfer, he felt that the residents of the community should not have to travel out of Hershey to enjoy a game of golf.  To that end, he employed a golf architect of national acclaim to design the town's golf courses.  True to his straight-laced upbringing, he made two stipulations.  One was that golf courses needed to be built for the community where the average wage earner could enjoy golf at a reasonable fee. The other was that golf courses be placed only on land that was not good for farming. At the time of his death, there were four first-rate golf courses in Hershey.

Hershey is often referred to as "the town built on chocolate."  It can also be said that it is a town built from the heart and soul of one man, who cared about people and their quality of life.   A typical example of his benevolence was his concern about the indebtedness’s of the five churches in the community resulting from the depression.  Though not affiliated with any particular denomination, in 1935 Milton Hershey gave each of the churches a gift of $20,000.

Milton S. Hershey death in October 1945 at the age of 88 had a profound effect on his townspeople.  Although they felt a deep sense of loss, many knew that they had been well provided for, and life would always be good in Hershey.