Hershey: the abandoned American town in the heart of Cuba

Posted: 13-Jul-15 13:33

With the focus on the eased restrictions on travel to Cuba for Americans, many worry about the island becoming "Americanised". However, the island was once home to many Americans and the famous American Hershey chocolate brand started here, in a suburb just 30 kilometres away from the capital Havana.

Hershey: the abandoned American town in the heart of Cuba

After the recent announcement made by President Obama that diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba would once again resume following more than 50 years of hostilities, the focus has been on Cuba becoming "Americanised".

However, before the travel and trade embargo was enforced five decades ago, Cuba was home to Americans and businesses, but what has become of the American culture and community that was left behind in the last century?

America's famous Hershey chocolate brand was started by Milton Hershey in 1894 and in 1916, he established a community and factory in a suburb located 30 kilometres outside of the capital city Havana.

The suburb was soon known as Hershey, pronounced "air-say" by locals, and Milton Hershey offered its factory workers company-built housing and luxuries such as a golf course, baseball field, cinema, social club, and an electric railroad.

When Mr Hershey dies in 1945, the town's assets were bought by Julio Lobo, a sugar tycoon, and in 1959, they were nationalised along with the rest of Cuba.

Since then, the town of Hershey has practically been abandoned, and the factory and cinema have closed down. Laura Evans, a writer at the Gothamist says the modern-day Hershey town is "unsettling." She also commented:

"Something as familiar (and at least to me, inherently disquieting) as an American suburb, dropped in the middle of the Caribbean."

Evans asked an existing resident of the neighbourhood, Juan Carlos Gonzalez, if Hershey still felt "especially American." He explained:

"No. It's been too many years-maybe in the '40s and '50s. However, it doesn't take an architect to see that it's different from everywhere else."

Cuba is already experiencing an increase in American tourists, many of whom have taken advantage of the new people to people programmes offered by U.S tour operators that help Americans engage with Cubans through various activities and itineraries.

General tourism and sun holidays to Cuba are still restricted but U.S travellers can travel to the island through people to people programmes and trips in 12 categories organised by tour operators and charter companies in the U.S.


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