When you arrive in Tram Circle adjacent to Chocolate World and the entrance of Hersheypark, you’ll see a sign welcoming you to Hersheypark. Below the name Hersheypark, it says Established 1907. The specific date the park opened, which is found in Charles Jacques, Jr.’s Hersheypark Sweetness of Success, among other sources, has been said to be April 24, 1907, a Wednesday. The opening day event was said to be a “baseball game played on the new athletic field.”
However, upon doing further research into the first years of the park, it turns out the April 24, 1907 date is erroneous.
Hersheypark opened in 1906
The image below is a newspaper article from May 25, 1906, in the Hummelstown Sun. Titled, “The Opening of Hershey Park,” it is announcing the formal opening of Hersheypark on Memorial Day – which was May 30 (until 1971 when Memorial Day was shifted to the last Monday in May).
This establishes the dedicated purpose of the park: “The Park will be dedicated to the use of anyone who may desire to avail themselves of the pleasure it offers.” It also states that the park has the following: “Green fields and spreading shade trees, the finest pure spring water in abundance, dancing pavilion, tennis courts, band stand and baseball grounds.”
The baseball game that was played that day was between Hershey and the Crescent Club of Harrisburg. Hershey easily defeated the Crescents.
Opening Hershey Park Ballfield
Hershey Park Ballfield was not new in 1907; it was built in the spring of 1906. The ballfield was fairly new when Hershey hosted the Crescents. However, the Memorial Day game was not the first game played on the ballfield.
The first open-air event in Hershey’s history was when Hershey Park Ballfield opened on May 5, 1906. The Hershey club played against the Felton Athletic Club of Steelton. The grand stand and baseball diamond were brand new, and the baseball game was the first open air event in the history of Hershey. The new band was scheduled to play, and a pig-race was rumored. Turnout was expected to be high as this was the first major event in Hersheypark. (Felton A.C. won this game, sadly, 4-0.)
The Hershey Story
Beginning in the 1930s, Joseph R. Snavely published a series of biographies on Milton S. Hershey. Each book he published was an expansion of the prior edition. This led to the publication of a book titled The Hershey Story, in 1950.
Snavely wrote about coming to Hershey and what it was like seeing the town being built. On page 40-41, he discussed the Hershey baseball club organizing for the 1906 season. They had a meeting in February 1906, trying to figure out where to build a permanent ballfield, further removed from any homes or buildings as so not to damage any windows.
He described the meeting, and then they went out and staked out a place to build the field. Snavely wrote that on Memorial Day, Hershey Park opened. He erroneously said Hershey played Palmyra, but he correctly said that Hershey won handily over the competition. In fact, Hershey played Palmyra on Memorial Day 1907, but Palmyra won that game.
Furthermore, following the 1906 season, Harry Lebkichker recruited Snavely to manage Hersheypark for the 1907 season. Lebkichker explained to Snavely that the Hershey Band which was playing at the park on Labor Day ran the concession stand in the park. It turned out some of the band members had “sticky fingers,” and not all of the money was accounted for. Lebkichker wanted a proper manager in charge of the park.
Snavely couldn’t refuse, so he became Hersheypark’s first general manager in 1907.
As a result of researching Hersheypark in 1906 and Snavely’s The Hershey Story, it’s quite clear that Hersheypark officially opened on May 30, 1906. There is actually no supporting evidence that Hersheypark opened on April 24, 1907 – even the baseball season didn’t start until May 1907 that year.
This April 24, 1907 date appears to have come from word of mouth and was then repeated in news reports and other official publications even though it was never properly backed up by evidence.
I have a wide variety of interests, from sports to politics, music to Star Trek. I write about the history of amusement parks on my website, The Amusement Parkives, which I founded in 2016.