The unofficial nickname for Hershey, Pennsylvania is 'Chocolatetown USA' and driving through its downtown you can quickly see why.
- The town square is at the intersection of Chocolate and Cocoa avenues;
- The streelights along Chocolate Avenue are shaped like Hershey's Kisses;
- The smell of chocolate fills the air, especially right before a rainstorm; and
- The town is home to the Milton S. Hershey's first chocolate factory which is located on the east end of town.
MS Hershey's touch can be found everywhere in this unincorporated village1 in the Township of Derry, about 10 miles east of Harrisburg.
In looking for a site to locate his chocolate factory, Hershey turned to his roots. He was born and raised on the family homestead just south of the location where his factory would eventually be built. The rural community had access to fresh water and milk, a railroad line and plenty of inexpensive land. Hershey purchased 1,200 acres of cornfields and pastures in 1902 and began planning his factory and town while he retreated to the family barn to work on perfecting his recipie for mass-produced milk chocolate.
On 2 March 1903, MS Hershey broke ground for what was to be the largest chocolate factory in the world. He is said to have been involved in every detail of the planning - personally laying out the factory's floor plans and the grid of the streets in the town. He named the main roads through town Chocolate Avenue and Cocoa Avenue and some of the other streets after varieties of cocoa beans: Caracas, Java, Areba and Granada.
While the factory was being built seven days a week, 14 hours a day under the supervision of engineer Henry Herr, MS Hershey's friend Harry 'Lebbie' Lebkicher was supervising the construction of the houses in town. The first homes were built on Trinidad Avenue and when Hershey saw that they were all the same style he is said to have fired Lebkicher on the spot accusing him of building 'slave quarters' and had the homes torn down.
The majority of the construction in the village was handled by the Hershey Improvement Company2. Quickly demand outstripped the ability of the company to build houses - in the spring of 1906, 60 homes were built.
The Hershey Improvement Company also served as the chief public utility provider to the community. The power plant for his factory sold its excess electricity to the residents of town. The factory's water pump drew water from two nearby springs and distributed freshwater to the town as well. The town's sewage was pumped to the factory's wastewater treatment plant. Excess steam from the factory was used to heat the town's public buildings. Improvement Company workers shoveled the snow and removed garbage.
Excess electricity was also used to power the town's streetcar network. This trolley service started under the name of the Hummelstown and Campbelltown Street Railway Company in 1903. In 1915, a trolley line was built to connect Hershey and Elizabethtown and several lines were consolidated under the name of the Hershey Transit Company.
Hershey planned for more than just housing for his workers. Convinced that urban living was unhealthy, he ordered large yards for each home and tree-lined streets. He also set aside 100 acres on the north side of town for a recreation area. His Hershey Park included a band shell, a baseball diamond and a boathouse3. Hershey's desire for green space in his community also included a zoo, a public garden and five golf courses.
Hershey built the McKinley School on the southeast corner of Chocolate and Cocoa avenues and nine years later he finished construction on the consolidated school which served as a public school for the entire Township of Derry, closing the one-room schoolhouses that dotted the rural countryside.
But still more was needed for Hershey's vision of a complete community. He gave money to the existing churches in town and donated land for additional churches to be built including the Lutheran Church along Cocoa Avenue. And there were commercial enterprises as well. Hershey built a bank, a drug store, a department store, an inn, restaurants and a fire department.
By 1915, the town's population was close to 1,000 and more than 100,000 visitors patronized the Hershey Park's attractions.
At the start of the Great Depression, the town's population was over 2,500 people. And Hershey was worried about the survival of his community. With unemployment and bread lines plaguing the nation, Hershey decided to begin a $10 million building campaign to provide jobs for his town.
It was during this time that the golf courses were built. The factory was expanded and additional office space was constructed. A sports stadium, sports arena and a convention center were built adjacent to Hershey Park. He built the lavish Hershey Hotel atop Pat's Hill north of Hershey Park. And in the center of town Hershey built the magnificent Community Building which included a recreation center, a library and a theatre.
After Hershey's death in 1945, his companies continued to look after 'his' town but the relationship between town and chocolate slowly drifted apart. At first the Hershey Estates, which is what the Hershey Improvement Company was called after 1927, stopped collecting trash, shoveling snow and providing electricity.
In 1963 the Hershey Junior College was closed. At the time, many townspeople complained that the money supplied for the construction of the Hershey Medical Center should have been spent to keep the Junior College open.
In the early 1970s, the Cocoa Inn was razed during this time period. Hershey Park was enclosed behind chain link fences and reopened as a theme park where admission was charged. Tours of the chocolate factory were discontinued and visitors were sent to Chocolate World which houses a simulation of the factory tour. However, a new hotel, the Hershey Motor Lodge4, was constructed at this time.
In 1980, the Community Building closed to the public except for the Hershey Theatre, forcing the public library to relocate and depriving the town of its bowling alley and community meeting rooms.
As Hershey's companies discontinued its services to the community, the municipal government took over many of them. It built a community center and a new public library in 1994. The original village of Hershey has expanded to a population of over 10,000 and today it is bordered to the north by Chocolate Avenue, the south by Governor Road, the west by Hockersville Road and the east by Mansion Road.
The attractions Milton Hershey built for his chocolate facory's workers now attract millions of tourists every year, drawn by the amusement park, golf courses, and the sweet confection which made it all possible. It is a town founded on chocolate by a 'Chocolate King', perhaps it really does live up to its self-promotional nickname 'Chocolatetown USA'.