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Hershey Derry Township Historical Society Is More Than Just Chocolate

By Jake Levin

Looking for a way to give back to the community, Susan Mittan decided her love of Hershey, Pa. and history made her a perfect fit at the Hershey Derry Township Historical Society (HDTHS).

In 1991, local supervisors encouraged the formation of a historical society for the Derry Township, which encompasses the Hershey area. Dating back to the early 1700s, the region has an interesting history from long before the chocolate that made it famous, according to Mittan.

"The story of Mr. [Milton] Hershey and chocolate is the best known part from our history, and other Hershey interests, especially the Hershey Foundation, do a good job of promoting that legacy," Mittan said. "HDTHS focuses more on the history of the community apart from that story; early heritage, schools, local sports, civic organizations, families, businesses and more."

The degree of Mittan's commitment to the organization has only grown since she became a part of it 15 years ago. She said she greatly appreciates the efforts of the Society to preserve and promote the past of Derry Township, and is glad for the opportunity to contribute.

There are so many exhibits that Mittan said it's hard to limit which one is her favorite.

"Since I've been involved with creating all of them, it's like asking me say which of my children I like best," she said.

The story of the Brownstone industry is told, which thrived in the Derry Township from the early 1800s until about 1925. Another exhibit details how villages within the area were eventually connected to form modern day Derry Township. Efforts are underway to develop the progression from the one-room schoolhouses to the consolidated school system established by Milton Hershey.

Mittan said the society contains the largest collection of Hershey Bears historical objects on public display. The Bears, an American Hockey League franchise founded in 1938, are currently the top minor league affiliate of the NHL's Washington Capitals.

There's an exhibit detailing the establishment of the Pennsylvania State Police, which was the first organized state police force in the country. Miniature train sets are a common exhibit from November through January, and the trolley system created by Hershey is in the works to have its own exhibit at the HDTHS.

Fundraising is a major part of what keeps the HDTHS afloat, and this year Mittan said the Preservation Gala highlighted the history of Derry Township.

"This year we featured the Hershey Estates, once the overseer of all Mr. Hershey's interests other than chocolate, and there were over 30 of them," Mittan said. "The weekend began with a special evening for high-level sponsors. The gala held the following evening was open to everyone. For this year's event we received permission to tour specific areas in the newly renovated Community Building. This was a rare opportunity that local residents took advantage of."

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