Lisa Maloy has an affinity for locomotives.
As a volunteer for Hershey History Center, Derry Township’s grassroots historical society, she relishes the opportunity to put her passion to work.
“You could travel back in the day on the train and trolley and just cover the country,” said Maloy. “And Hershey, Derry Township, is just one stop on all that.”
This year, Hershey History Center received a narrow-gauge model train display called “Chocolate Town Special,” which depicts life in Hershey and Derry Township in the 1920s.
Maloy and the rest of the Hershey History Center team leapt at the chance to set up a limited-time exhibit. It shows locomotives and trolleys of the time amid the core buildings on Chocolate Avenue, plus the rolling countryside of central Pennsylvania, all in one seamless display.
The historical society, now 30 years old, started as a way to catalogue the rich history of Derry Township (Hershey didn’t get its name until 1903, long after the township’s 1729 incorporation).
“We started like most historical societies start—in the living room of somebody’s home,” Maloy said.
Back then, they were called the Derry Township Historical Society, eventually evolving to the Hershey-Derry Township Historical Society.
“And here we are today as the Hershey History Center,” Maloy said.
Despite their name, the Hershey History Center covers much more than chocolate—and despite Maloy’s interests, the center covers much more than trains.
The Hershey History Center wants to be a repository for genealogical research, deeds, land maps and the like. However, they also want to represent the voices and stories that reflect the community. That means covering military history, sports history and all the other facets that make Derry Township what it is today.
The center’s executive director, Nikki Soliday, is the only full-time employee working to preserve, promote and interpret the history of Derry Township. She works alongside a slew of volunteers dedicated to keeping the center going.
“Our story is more based on the voices of the people—those who created the community, lived in the community,” said Soliday.
Since joining the Hershey History Center, Soliday has learned more about the Hershey Bears hockey team than she ever thought she would. The center features the largest public collection of Hershey Bears artifacts. The Bears, the seventh oldest hockey team in all of North America after the NHL’s original six, are the most winning team in the American Hockey League. The center’s original documentary, “B’ars to Bears,” covers all that and more.
Then there’s the exhibit that divulges the legacy of brownstone manufacturing in Hershey.
“We had one of the most far-reaching brownstone industries on the East Coast,” said Soliday, adding that innumerable brownstones in Brooklyn, Boston, St. Louis and beyond have Hershey roots.
The “Dick Winters Exhibit” about the decorated World War II veteran is one that can’t be missed.
“He lived right here in town on Elm Avenue,” Soliday said of Winters.
When Winters died, he donated his entire collection to the center. The collection went on to inspire the book and subsequent Steven Spielberg-produced HBO miniseries, “Band of Brothers.”
As they compete with entertainment, amusements and other organizations with hefty foundation endowments, they want to be the community’s historical repository.
The Hershey History Center holds an archive library, museum and event space—and the society holds programming offsite, too. The 24th Annual Preservation Gala is being held at St. Joan of Arc Parish on Oct. 2. This year’s theme, “La Festa Italiana,” honors the rich Italian history found in the Hershey area.
And, of course, the center is now gearing up for its most popular feature—the annual holiday train exhibit.
Looking ahead, a few other permanent exhibits are underway, focusing on the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Hershey Estates.
Often, the Hershey History Center feels like a hidden gem, but they don’t want to be hidden.
“We think we’re pretty cool, but we don’t want to be unknown,” Soliday said.
The Hershey History Center is located at 40 Northeast Dr., Hershey. For more information, visit www.hersheyhistory.org.
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