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Hidden Collections: Hershey Senior Citizens Writing Project

Hershey’s Y.W.C.A. was located across from the railroad station. Photograph, 1913
Hershey’s Y.W.C.A. was located across from the railroad station. Photograph, 1913

Did you know that the Hershey Community Archives includes records of local businesses and organizations? In addition to caring for the corporate records of Milton Hershey’s businesses, we also seek to preserve the history of the Hershey community and actively collect the records of organizations such as the Hershey Rotary Club, the Volunteer Fire Company, People Mover, Hershey Figure Skating Club, and receive donations from individuals. While these collections are much smaller than our corporate collections, these private collections hold treasures and help us to understand our community’s history.

Hershey’s Mohler Center was originally organized in 1983 as the Senior Citizens’ Center of Derry Township. In 1989, the Center sponsored a reminiscence writing competition. The competition was held again in 1991. The essays were donated to the Archives in 1993.

These essays, written by more than 50 individuals, contain wonderful personal stories about growing in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. While many of the contributors grew up in the Hershey area, there are also  stories of childhoods spent elsewhere in the United States, a reminder that we became a much more mobile population following World War II.

These essays offer a unique perspective on local and national events, public school, recreation, and home life.

There are several essays centered on memories of World War II. One essayist (a Milton Hershey School graduate) wrote:

All the students in grades 6 to 12 gathered in the High School auditorium at noon to hear President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s declaration of war. It was quite a somber time. Principal W. Allen Hammond, normally very talkative, was subdues in his remarks after FDR’s message was finished. He alluded to the fact that, unfortunately, there would be graduates – past and upcoming – who would be killed in action. Mr. Hammond was very prophetic; 37 Homeboys paid the supreme price.

Other essays spoke to businesses that no longer exist, providing a window to the past:

The Bradley Quarries not only quarried their limestones but crushed and baked some for lime. The kilns were on the hill between Old West Chocolate Avenue and [the] Philadelphia & Reading train tack and the main or first quarry. There were three kilns sheltered from the weather on three sides. At night one could see the bright glare in the darkness.

These essays are a great resource for people seeking to understand what life was like in Hershey for those growing up in Hershey. While the Archives holds photographs from these years, the essays help us understand what was happening inside those buildings.

For example, we know that Hershey’s YWCA was located across from the Hershey railroad station (currently the ZooAmerica parking lot). But what went on inside the building? From an essay titled, “Return to Hockersville Road and More,” we learn:

In the middle of the [19]20s I was a Girl Reserve, a YWCA girl group similar to the Girl Scouts, that year at the YW. The second and third floors had rooms and a recreational room (or beauty parlor) for unmarried working women. The northeast end of the building was the gym and in back of the gym was the kitchen.

And in the [19]30s when it was remodeled for an apartment house, my family and I lived in an apartment on the first floor.

Even if you didn’t grow up in Hershey, the town’s amenities attracted visitors from all around. If you lived close by, visiting Hershey could be a regular summertime activity. For a boy growing up in Palmyra, visiting Hershey Park was a popular pastime.

In an essay titled simply, “Childhood Memories,” the author reminisced about the park:

Those were the days when, if I earned the money myself, I was permitted 25 cents to spend at Hershey Park. A 5 cent trolley ride to and a 5 cent trolley ride from the park to Palmyra, left me with 15 cents to spend at the park. What gigantic decisions! Shall I squander my 15 cents on amusement rides?… Souvenirs?… Popcorn?… a Pony Ride?… an Eskimo Pie? After I grew slightly wiser – and older – I WALKED from Palmyra to Hershey and back, thereby allowing myself the ENTIRE quarter (a small fortune, then) to spend in the Park.

Learn more about this collection, the Hershey Senior Citizens Writing Project, and many more by looking at the Archives’ collections online. Hershey Community Archives is open to researchers Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and on the first Saturday of every month, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

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