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SLICES OF AMERICA // The sweet taste of success

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Entering the corporation limits of Hershey, Pa., is an adventure for all the senses.

The sweet smell of chocolate, reminiscent of pudding cooking on the stove, offers the first signal that you have arrived. Following Chocolate Avenue to the heart of this community, you will find Hershey Kiss-shaped streetlights and the words "Hershey Cocoa" sculpted in hedge-like letters in front of the huge factory that dominates downtown.

The laughter of children exploring Hersheypark, filled with roller coasters and oversized Hershey candy bars, fills the air. There are rose petals to touch in a rainbow of colors in Hershey Gardens.

Of course, you can taste all that is Hershey as you leave Chocolate World with a free sample.

And most of this was begun by a man with limitless dreams.

It was in this part of eastern Pennsylvania that young Milton Hershey was born and reared. Learning through apprenticeships and business ventures, Hershey began a successful caramel business in nearby Lancaster. In 1900, he sold that business for a reported $1-million _ in order to concentrate exclusively on his flourishing chocolate business.

He soon built a factory amid the corn fields of Derry Township, where he grew up. In this farm country, he had a constant supply of fresh milk, needed to produce fine chocolate.

Unlike many other manufacturers of that time, Hershey had great compassion for his employees. He created a community for them, built them houses to buy or rent, built stores, recreational facilities and opened a bank. A trolley line was constructed for employees who wanted to commute to work from other communities.

He founded and financed the Milton Hershey School for orphaned boys, providing money for its continuation after his death.

Tourists might want to allow two days for enjoying what Hershey wrought; the best place to begin is at Hershey's Chocolate World Visitor's Center.

This "World" opened in 1973 as the official visitor's center of Hershey Foods Corp., replacing a tour of the chocolate factory that could no longer accommodate the crowds.

Now, visitors can ride through a 12-minute, simulated factory tour, where the process of making chocolate _ from harvesting the cocoa beans to packaging the finished product _ is explained.

Afterward, visitors enter an elaborate gift shop where typical souvenirs as well as every type of candy manufactured by Hershey Foods Corp. is on sale.

Next door are Hersheypark and Hershey Museum.

Hersheypark was established in 1907 for employees. Situated on 90 acres, it offers 50 rides, including four roller coasters, several water rides and a wonderful selection of rides for younger children. Several live shows are presented every day.

Theme areas include Tudor Square, resembling a 17th-century English community; Rhineland, a model of an 18th-century German village; Carousel Circle, home of the park's antique, hand-carved carousel; Minetown, home of the Kissing Tower, offering a spectacular view of the city; and Pioneer Frontier, home of several thrill rides.

Adjacent to Hersheypark is ZooAmerica, featuring animals of North America. Admission is included with a Hersheypark admission. Separate admission can also be purchased.

Several exhibits depicting the life of Milton Hershey and different aspects of early American life in this part of Pennsylvania are on display at Hershey Museum.

Hershey Gardens, located just below The Hotel Hershey, is yet another Milton Hershey legacy. The 23-acre gardens feature seasonal flowering displays, collections of trees and shrubs, and theme gardens. Visitors are given a map of the garden and its estimated 120,000 plants.

The recreational areas are the most noted part of Hershey's legacy, but several more facilities are also open to the public, such as lodgings at Hotel Hershey, The Hershey Lodge & Convention Center or Hershey Highmeadow Camp.

The hotel was completed in 1933. At the height of the Great Depression, Hershey employed more than 600 construction workers and began what is now called the Great Building Campaign. Other projects included the Community Theatre, Stadium and Arena.

Hershey was able to take advantage of cheap material prices as well as keep many of his factory employees working on the projects.

The hotel is styled after a 19th-century grand villa of the Mediterranean. The late Lowell Thomas once described it as a "palace that out-palaces the palaces of the maharajahs of India."

It offers golf, tennis, indoor and outdoor swimming, horseback riding, cycling and lawn bowling; in the winter it has cross-country skiing, sledding and tobogganing

The Hershey Lodge & Convention Center also has a variety of recreational opportunities, including swimming, tennis and cycling, while Highmeadow Camp offers 264 open and shaded campsites on 55 acres.

Marilyn Thorbahn is a freelance writer living in Hebron, Ohio.

If you go

Hershey's Chocolate World, ZooAmerica and Hershey Museum are open all year except for major holidays. Hersheypark is open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day and on selected weekends in May and September. Hershey Gardens are open daily mid-April through October. Admission is charged at all attractions except Hershey's Chocolate World.

For information, call 1-800-HERSHEY, or write: Hershey Information Center, 300 Park Blvd., Hershey, PA 17033.