Hershey, Pennsylvania looks to rediscover its roots
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Generations of Americans have come to know Hershey, Pennsylvania, as an idyllic small town with a chocolate factory and an amusement park. Outside of central Pennsylvania, most people assume Hershey is a municipality with its own government. It is not.
Hershey is a place name for a very small community – less than two square miles -- that was laid out by Milton Hershey in 1903 along the Spring Creek in Derry Township, just one mile from his boyhood home. Until Milton Hershey built his town, the 27 square miles of Derry Township, incorporated in 1729, were covered by farms and woodlands, quarries, and a few crossroads hamlets.
Many Pennsylvania towns formed their own governments as they grew, seceding from the townships in which they were formed, but Hershey did not. Hershey has always been a part of Derry Township and is governed by its board of five supervisors. Likewise, Hershey is part of the Derry Township School District.
From the founding of Hershey until the death of Milton Hershey in 1945, Derry Township comprised two distinct entities: the chocolate-making town, and the surrounding dairy farms, many of which provided milk for the chocolate.
In the decades following Milton Hershey’s death, a different development pattern emerged throughout America, including Derry. New houses, stores and offices were built over a sprawling area of the township, connected only by use of the automobile. Like many main streets across America, Chocolate Avenue lost its preeminence as the vibrant heart of the community. Lovely and productive rural landscapes were whittled away by disjointed subdivisions.
For these and other reasons, concerned residents are rethinking the sustainability of this development pattern. Last year, the supervisors unanimously passed a resolution to update the township’s comprehensive plan using the principles of “Smart Growth” – a term coined in the mid 1990s to describe the traditional planning principles of arranging houses, stores, and offices in close proximity, to encourage people to walk to some of their destinations.
The supervisors named a citizens’ advisory committee to make recommendations on revamping the plan, a process which may take two or three years. To kick off the effort, the supervisors asked Thomas Hylton to make a presentation on Smart Growth for township residents and other interested people. About 100 people attended the Sept. 12, 2011 presentation at the Hershey Public Library.
HERSHEY, PENNSYLVANIA: Smart Growth … continuing the legacy is designed to bring Hylton’s presentation to a wider audience. It suggests ways Derry Township can build on the town-making ideas practiced by Milton Hershey in the early 20th century, which today are more relevant than ever. This newspaper tabloid, distributed as a paid supplement to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, was sponsored and funded by Save Our Land, Save Our Towns Inc. as part of its mission to promote traditional towns. We do so in the hope Derry Township can serve as an inspiration for communities throughout Pennsylvania. This publication has not been authorized or endorsed by Derry Township or any other institution.