Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

Created at the bequest of Milton S. Hershey (1857–1945), the Hershey Rose Garden (now Hershey Gardens) began as a 3½-acre floral park for public enjoyment featuring 175 varieties of roses. Hershey had a long-standing interest in gardening and had built several glass conservatories to grow and display plants year-round near his mansion home, High Point, recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1983.

Hershey’s story as one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs and philanthropists is well known. The Pennsylvania Dutch–speaking farm boy from Derry Township, Dauphin County, was apprenticed to a confectioner at age 15 and went on to establish several of his own candy companies. The sale of his Lancaster Caramel Co. for $1 million in 1900 provided funds for him to further develop his penultimate business achievement, the Hershey Chocolate Co.

The centerpiece of the company town that Hershey built was the chocolate factory itself, the largest in the world when it was completed in 1905. In an era when most company-built towns included few amenities and some lacked even running water, Hershey strove to make a community designed for the well-being of his workers. Hershey’s model company town offered comfortable brick homes, tree-lined streets, affordable public transportation, fine public schools, and recreational and cultural opportunities. He opened Hershey Park in 1906 as a picnic ground for Hershey employees. From 1929 to 1939 Hershey undertook a great building campaign to both carry out his vision for the town’s growth and to provide much needed employment for local construction workers during the Great Depression. One of the crowning achievements of that era was the building of the Hotel Hershey in 1933 on a hill overlooking the chocolate factory. Modeled after a Mediterranean hotel where Hershey and his wife Catherine once lodged, its elegant and exotic design owes much to the detailed notes taken by the Hersheys on their travels abroad.

Always seeking ways to improve his town, Hershey was receptive to a rose garden suggestion from J. Horace McFarland (1859–1948), a leader in the City Beautiful movement (with Mira Lloyd Dock) in Harrisburg and a member of the American Rose Society. Hershey enthusiastically embraced the idea of a rose garden for his community. Plans were soon drawn up for the garden and the manmade Swan Lake on some open land near the Hotel Hershey. More than 12,000 rose bushes, most from the Conard-Pyle Co. of West Grove, Chester County, were planted, and the garden opened to the public in 1937, hosting more than 5,000 visitors in the first week. Two years later Hershey was honored by the American Rose Society at their annual meeting held at the Hotel Hershey. Never one to rest on his laurels, Hershey expanded the gardens in 1942 to include stands of trees, evergreens, and beds of tulips, daffodils and perennials.

In the years after Hershey’s death in 1945, Hershey Gardens has continued to grow and find new ways to delight the public. In 2003 a children’s garden was added for hands-on learning opportunities, and in 2010 a new butterfly atrium was completed. Hershey Gardens has been designated as an All-American Garden and remains one of only two public test gardens in the country.

 

Pamela W. Reilly is a historic preservation specialist in the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.