The Homestead is the birthplace of Milton S. Hershey. Isaac and Anna Hershey, the great grandparents of Milton, purchased the tract of land and built a field-stone farmhouse known as The Homestead in the year 1826. Only the stone portion was built at that time. The framed wings on each side of the original stone portion were added between 1867 and 1896 during which time The Homestead had been sold by the Hersheys and owned by the Gingrich family.
Above the porch at the front of the home in the original stone portion is carved, "Gebaut von Issac und Anna Hershey 1826" - "Built by Isaac and Anna Hershey 1826." Mr. Hershey's ancestors had come to America from Switzerland where German was their mother tongue.
Milton Hershey's father, Henry, also was born at The Homestead. On September 13, 1857, Milton was born there in a room on the first floor. This room is so designated by a bronze plaque on the wall. Milton not only began his life at The Homestead on that date, but he also chose to return there on his 88th birthday, September 13, 1945, for his final birthday party prior to his death on October 13, 1945.
Biographers have familiarized us with events in Milton's life. The family remained in this area until 1866. When Milton was nine years old, they moved to a farm in Lancaster County near Nine Points. By the time Milton was thirteen years of age and living in Lancaster County, he had attended seven schools beginning with his attendance at Derry Church School and Rock Ridge and then several schools near his home of Nine Points.
At the age of thirteen, Milton was apprenticed to a printer, Sam Ernst. This did not prove to be a successful vocational interest for Milton and his mother made arrangements to have him apprenticed to a confectioner in Lancaster, Joseph Royer.
Milton enjoyed his work with Mr. Royer and decided at the age of nineteen to set up his own candy business in Philadelphia. He worked hard at that business but was unable to make a success of it. At the age of twenty-five, his Philadelphia venture failed and he followed his father to Colorado, Chicago, and New Orleans, returning East at the age of twenty-seven to set up another candy business in New York City. This venture also failed and at the age of twenty-eight (1885), he returned to Lancaster to begin a caramel business which ultimately proved to be very successful and he sold it in the year 1900 at the age of forty-three for one million dollars.
In 1896, while very successful in Lancaster in the caramel business, Milton decided to purchase The Homestead for his very own. In 1898 he was married and, since he and his wife Catherine continued to live in Lancaster, he made The Homestead available to his father, Henry, who resided there until 1904 when he died.
After the death of Milton's father, Milton and his wife Catherine, moved into The Homestead from 1905 until 1908 when The Mansion was completed at High Point.
It was also at The Homestead in the early 1900's that Mr. Hershey perfected his chocolate formula. It was at The Homestead in 1910 that the first boys were enrolled in the Milton Hershey School®, then called the Hershey Industrial School, which was established with the signing of the Deed of Trust on November 15, 1909.
In those early days of the School, The Homestead served as the school and the home for boys who were in need of the care which Mr. and Mrs. Hershey wanted so very much to provide. Since 1910, The Homestead has continued to play a significant role in the life of Milton Hershey School. Soon The Homestead was not large enough to accommodate the housing and educational needs of the students. The number of students continued to increase until in 1912, a kindergarten was organized at the corner of Meadow Lane and Horseshoe Pike, later to be known as Kinderhaus. Across the Horseshoe Pike from The Homestead, the Gingrich home was converted into a primary department.
Even though The Homestead was no longer suitable for the number of students enrolled in the School, it continued to serve as the central office and residence of key administrators: the first superintendent George Copenhaver and his wife Prudence resided there until their deaths. (George - 1938; Prudence - 1949)
In 1952, The Homestead was no longer used as the central business office of the School and was converted into a duplex residence facility. In 1960, it became the residence of the School's chief administrator with John and Lucille Hershey living there until their retirement in 1981, when John and Shirley Aichele became its residents. In July 1985, President of Milton Hershey School William R. Fisher and his wife Grace became the residents of The Homestead. Today the Homestead serves as a special place for visiting alumni and their families.