At a time when the nation was caught up in the throes of the Great Depression, Milton S. Hershey had a crazy idea to build a grand hotel in the middle of central Pennsylvania.
However, Hershey’s folly was actually quite a brilliant solution to troubled times. Nearly three decades earlier, having perfected a formula for milk chocolate that made him a very wealthy man, Hershey planned the town that bears his name, and by 1930 he had constructed a chocolate factory, homes for his employees and a school for orphaned boys. He realized that if he didn’t continue to provide work for his town he would have to provide in other ways. “We have about 600 construction workers in this town,” Hershey remarked. “If I don’t provide work for them, I’ll have to feed them. And since building materials are now at their lowest cost levels, I’m going to build and give them jobs.” Suddenly it made sense to resurrect plans from an earlier time.
A driving force behind the original vision for a hotel was Hershey’s wife Catherine, whom he called “Kitty.” The couple had once dreamed of building something similar to the Heliopolis Palace Hotel they visited in Egypt. But after Hershey learned that re-creating the Heliopolis would cost almost $5 million, he scrapped the idea. The couple put their hotel plans on hold, and Kitty died in 1915.
This time around Hershey’s ideas for a hotel were a bit more modest. He directed his architect-builder, D. Paul Witmer, to design a hotel based on a small Mediterranean property where he had once stayed. The end result was a $2 million, 170-room hotel with Mediterranean flair that employed as many as 800 steelworkers, masons, carpenters and other craftsmen during the year and a half it took to build.
The Hotel’s Fountain Lobby was inspired by Hershey’s love of Cuba, a country where he owned sugar plantations and mills and where he created a model sugar-mill town called Central Hershey – much like the town he was developing in Pennsylvania. And Hershey’s own desire for a grand dining room without any corners – he reportedly once said, “In some places if you don’t tip well they put you in a corner.” – resulted in the hotel’s Circular Dining Room.
It was in that dining room that Hershey addressed his first guests at a celebratory dinner on May 26, 1933. “I am but a simple farmer. I like to utilize nature’s beauty for the pleasure of men. This hotel where you are assembled has been a dream of mine for many years,” he is reported to have said. “When we farmers go to the city, we are impressed by the fine hotels we see there. So I thought I’d impress the city folks by building a fine hotel on one of our farms. I am of the opinion that there will be a need for this hotel someday, although the prospects do not look very encouraging at the present time.”
For many years the prospect was indeed grim. Yet the hotel – like the country – soldiered on and today it’s a modern hotel with over 75 years of tradition and history under its belt. As well as being the perfect respite from a hectic weekend at Hershey Park, The Hotel Hershey remains a full-blown destination resort in its own right, with a chocolate-inspired spa, formal gardens, farm-to-table restaurants, aquatic facilities and four distinct golf courses – unexpectedly nestled in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.