One hundred and ten years ago, Hersheypark opened for its third season of operations on May 30, 1908. This season was the year Hersheypark added its first amusement park attractions.
On the evening of May 19, 1908, the Patriotic Order Sons of America (P.O.S. of A.) Hall, built by Milton S. Hershey for the Camp 705 branch of the organization in Hersheypark, was dedicated. Quite a few men in Hershey were members of the P.O.S. of A. This was a multi-story hall, and within a few short years, the basement level would house a bowling alley – the origin of the name “Bowling Alley Hill” for the theme region in Hersheypark, “Kissing Tower Hill.”
Memorial Day opening
The park opened on May 30, 1908, with a Memorial Day celebration. This Memorial Day featured the first amusement ride the park ever offered – a set of seven steel row boats manufactured by the Michigan Steel Boat Company of Detroit, Michigan. People were still allowed to bring their own boats to the park. In the prior two seasons, the park didn’t have their own boats on Spring Creek. Two new tennis courts also opened, replacing the original tennis courts which opened in 1906. By mid-June, a pool which had been under construction since the summer of 1907, was ready for service.
In the same month, James K. Putt began to construct a new structure, which he designed, near Hershey Park Ballfield. Excitement grew as people learned it was to house a new amusement ride. Park management purchased a used Herschell-Spillman carousel. This carousel, often called Merry-Go-Round, opened on July 3, 1908. It is unknown where this Herschell-Spillman previously operated.
On June 29, the second season of vaudeville began at the park. The first night included acts performed by Fred Farrell, Al White’s Four Dancing Velles, James Dilks, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hyde. Moving pictures and illustrated songs were also shown.
July and August was also the peak of the picnic season for the park. Various picnic groups included Kaufman’s Underselling Store, Men’s Bible Class of Christ Lutheran Church, the Epworth League of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, various Sunday schools, a group from Highspire, amongst others.
The Flood of 1908
However, on July 23 at 10:30pm, a severe thunderstorm passed through Hershey, causing significant damage. Reports said that Spring Creek rose to a level of 25 feet, from it’s normal 3.5 feet. The walls of the swimming pool and boating area were broken down, with the boats being carried two miles down Spring Creek and Swatara Creek. Most of the bridges over Spring Creek collapsed and had to be rebuilt. This was the first known flood in the history of the park.
The park didn’t close on July 24, however, since parts of the park not along the banks of Spring Creek were not severely impacted. Swimming was suspended for the season since the pool wall was destroyed. Boating was able to resume once the boats were collected and inspected for damage.
August, in the park
At the beginning of August, a new building was under construction near the Carrousel pavilion. This was a “large and up-to-date” shooting gallery building. This was located approximately where the Fender Bender building is in the park today.
The most significant picnic group to attend Hersheypark in 1908 was the Harrisburg Retail Grocers’ Association. Their picnic was held on August 27, and Milton S. Hershey personally met with the leaders of the group when they arrived in Hershey. By the end of the day, the association declared the picnic to be their First Annual, and that they would return to the park in 1909. The Grocers Picnic did return in 1909, and they returned to Hersheypark on an annual basis for decades. They still meet in Hershey, though at The Hotel Hershey instead of the park.
Late in the 1908 season, a new structure was constructed near the main entrance of Hersheypark. This was a multi-purpose building which was mainly intended to house a printing press. This building was known as the original Hershey Press Building. It burned down in a fire several years later, leading to the construction of the current Hershey Press Building.
The park’s season ended on Labor Day, September 7, 1908. The auditorium in Hersheypark was used for various shows in the fall while amusement attractions were closed.
This was an overview of the 1908 season in Hersheypark. To see a timeline of Hersheypark, click here. The featured photo (seen on links from Facebook or Twitter) is courtesy of Hershey-Derry Township Historical Society.
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.