Much More Than Chocolate: Hershey History Center tells a story of the Township of Derry stretching back almost three centuries.
Lisa Maloy has an affinity for locomotives.
As a volunteer with the Hershey History Center, the popular historical society of the Township of Derry, she relishes the opportunity to put her passion to work.
“You could travel in the day by train and streetcar and just walk around the country,” said Maloy. “And Hershey, Derry Township, is just one stop on it all.”
This year, the Hershey History Center hosted an exhibition of narrow gauge model trains called the “Chocolate Town Special,” which depicts life in Hershey and Derry Township in the 1920s.
Maloy and the rest of the Hershey History Center team jumped at the chance to put on a limited-time exhibit. It shows period locomotives and wagons amid the main buildings of Chocolate Avenue, as well as the rolling countryside of central Pennsylvania, all in one seamless display.
The now 30-year-old Historical Society began as a way to catalog the rich history of the Township of Derry (Hershey was only given its name in 1903, long after the township was incorporated in 1729).
“We started out as most historical societies start – in the living room of someone’s house,” said Maloy.
At the time, they were called the Derry Township Historical Society, before becoming the Hershey-Derry Township Historical Society.
“And here we are today as the Hershey History Center,” said Maloy.
Despite their name, the Hershey History Center covers a lot more than chocolate and despite Maloy’s interests, the center covers a lot more than trains.
The Hershey History Center aims to be a repository for genealogical research, records, land maps and more. However, they also want to represent the voices and stories that reflect the community. It means covering military history, the history of sport and all the other facets that make the Township of Derry what it is today.
The centre’s executive director, Nikki Soliday, is the only full-time employee working to preserve, promote and interpret the history of the Township of Derry. She works alongside a large number of volunteers dedicated to maintaining the center.
“Our story is more based on the voices of the people — those who created the community, lived in the community,” Soliday said.
Since joining the Hershey History Center, Soliday has learned more about the Hershey Bears hockey team than she expected. The center is home to the world’s largest public collection of Hershey Bears artifacts. The Bears, the seventh longest-serving hockey team in all of North America after the original six in the NHL, are the winningest team in the American Hockey League. The centre’s original documentary, “B’ars to Bears,” covers all of this and more.
Then there is the exhibit which discloses the legacy of brown stone making in Hershey.
“We had one of the most extensive brownstone industries on the East Coast,” Soliday said, adding that countless brownstones in Brooklyn, Boston, St. Louis and beyond have Hershey roots.
The “Dick Winters” exhibit on the decorated World War II veteran is an event not to be missed.
“He lived here in town on Elm Avenue,” Soliday said of Winters.
When Winters died, he donated his entire collection to the center. The collection then inspired the book and the HBO miniseries produced by Steven Spielberg, “Band of Brothers”.
As they compete with Entertainment, Amusement, and other organizations with significant foundations, they want to be the historical repository of the community.
The Hershey History Center has an archival library, museum, and event space, and the company runs off-site programs as well. The 24th Annual Preservation Gala will be held at Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc Parish on October 2. This year’s theme, “La Festa Italiana”, pays homage to the rich Italian history of the Hershey region.
And, of course, the center is now gearing up for its most popular feature: the annual Holiday Train Show.
Looking ahead, a few other permanent exhibits are underway, focused on Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Hershey Estates.
Often times the Hershey History Center looks like a hidden gem, but they don’t want to be hidden away.
“We think we’re pretty cool, but we don’t want to be strangers,” Soliday said.
The Hershey History Center is located at 40 Northeast Dr., Hershey. For more information visit www.hersheyhistory.org.
If you like what we do, please support our work. Become a friend of TheBurg!