Chester Local History and Buildings


WELCOME TO THE BOROUGH OF CHESTER !

We are pleased to present the second annual Borough Calendar for your use. This calendar provides a public information tool for our residents, for keeping in touch with our elected officials and keeping up to date on meetings and activities of our community. The calendar is also produced as a public relations tool, for promoting the history and benefits of our full-service community.

The Borough of Chester is located in southwestern Morris County, at the intersection of State Highway 24 and U.S. Highway 206. The Borough enjoys a flourishing commercial area while most of the land area in the 1.45 square miles of our community is devoted to single family housing. Chester was first surveyed and mapped in 1713. The Lawrence Line, dividing East and West Jersey in colonial times, went directly through Chester. After 1730, settlers began arriving in the area, primarily farmers relocating from Long Island. The opening of the Washington Turnpike in 1806 brought a steady stream of travelers through Chester, and spurred the development of taverns and inns. The early name ÒBlack RiverÓ is still carried by the tributary of the Raritan which flows through Chester Township. One of the attractions of ÒBlack RiverÓ to early settlers was the presence of easily mined and worked iron ore. During the time period of the Civil War, large iron ore deposits were discovered, and ChesterÕs legendary iron boom exploded in 1867. The Chester Railroad was opened in 1869 to haul the ore to market. Miners, many from England, Wales and Hungary, came pouring into Chester to work the mines. Fortunes were made and lost in iron back then, but little evidence remains today of ChesterÕs illustrious mining history. The railroads are gone, the mines filled in, and many mining-related structures are long gone. A legacy of the mining era survives in some of the architecture of Chester, especially in the Main Street commercial area.

Chester itself was established as a separate political entity in 1799, at which time ÒChesterÓ meant the area of both the Township and the downtown Village area which came to be the Borough. The Borough of Chester was incorporated in 1930, and is today a separate municipality surrounded by Chester Township. After World War II, the open, rolling fields began to be transformed into housing developments as suburban growth came to the area. Today, the Borough of Chester is a community where people know each other. The quaint village charm of Chester Borough is supported by houses of worship, fine schools, parks and public services. We are a self-contained commercial center providing a variety of shop, stores and attractions. Taken as a whole, Chester Borough is a place where people want to live, work and shop. Welcome to our community!

(The above historic overview is taken in part from the Morris County Historic Sites Survey, 1986/87, and from the Chester Borough Master Plan, 1988. For more information about the history of our community, contact the Chester Historical Society, P.O. Box 376, Chester, N.J. 07930!)



LOCAL HISTORY

Chester Borough is located in southwest Morris County, New Jersey, in an area of wooded rolling hills. The Borough is a 1.45 square mile community and is located at the crossroads of two major roadways: State Highway 24 and U.S. Highway 206.

In the early 1700's Lenni-Lenapi Indians inhabited Chester, once known as Black River. The first permanent settlers arrived in the 1730's and began farming. Later that century, activities centered around mills, mining, inn- taverns and the simple agricultural life.

Chester was first surveyed and mapped in 1713 by proprietors for the provinces of East and West Jersey. The Lawrence line, dividing East and West Jersey in colonial times, went directly through Chester. The early name " Black River " is still carried by the tributary of the Raritan which flows through Chester Township. After 1730, settlers began arriving in the area, primarily farmers relocating from Long Island. Their numbers included Presbyterians and Congregationalists, and their single community grew up around church, farm and tavern.

From 1799, when it was set off from Roxbury, to 1930, when the Borough was incorporated, " Chester " meant all of the present-day township and its village center, now the heart of the Borough.

During the early 1800's, Chester was a stage stop where travelers sought overnight accomodations at the Public House.

In the latter half of the 1800's, iron ore transformed Chester into a boomtown bringing in hundreds of miners who lived in " Patch Houses ", not far from Main Street, still currently residences. Mining accounted for Chester's heyday during the 1800's. However, near the end of the century, mining dwindled, the miners left the area and Chester returned to its agricultural roots.

Chester Borough boasts a rich historic heritage which is obvious in the architecture of the remaining older structures in the Borough, Many of the buildings, being built in the 1800's, today serve both residential and commercial uses. This heritage is also obvious in the street pattern which, for the most part, was established 50 to 100 years ago.

The quiet Village life, barely changed by time, continued until the mid-1900's when sububia filtered into Chester. Fortunately, Chester has been able to retain much of its charateristic charm of an earlier time while accomodating the growth associated with a modern suburban Community.

Chester Borough maintains a quaint village charm that identifies it as something special. It is a village where people know each other. It is a small town where one can walk from place to place. It is a single family residential community supported by houses of worship, fine schools, parks and services. It is a self-contained commercial center providing a wide variety of shops, stores and attractions. Chester Borough is all these things which combine to make it a place where people want to live, work and shop.



HISTORICAL BUILDINGS

The First Congregational Church, located on Hillside Road in Chester, was founded by descendants of the English Puritans in 1740. The present church site was built in 1856 and is the oldest Congregational Church west of the Hudson River. The interior is decorated in the "tromp l'oeil" style. The 1872 Tracker organ is still used for services.

The Community Presbyterian Church, located at 220 Main Street in Chester, was built in 1851 and the chapel was built in 1869. Its Greek Revival style features two Ionic columns.

The Brick Hotel, now known as the Publick House, was erected around 1810 by Zephaniah Drake and Jacob Drake, Jr. The Inn was a stagecoach stop on the Washington Turnpike that ran from Jersey City to Easton.

Historic Main Street, Chester was settled by thee Lenni-Lenape Indians who arrived from eastern Long Island in the 1730's. The first settlers were mainly farmers, which led to the establishment of mills, blacksmith shops, tanneries, cabinet shops churches and inns. In the 1800's they turned to mining iron ore. In the mid 1900's suburbia filtered into Chester. Many of the lovely historic buildings have been restored and are used today as restaurants, galleries, and shops of every nature.

Larison's Turkey Farm, was built in c. 1800 by Isaac Corwin. The home and restaurant have been in the Larison family for seven generations. Home-style turkey dinners are served to customers who return year after year.

The Cooper Grist Mill, on Route 24 West of Chester was erected in 1826 on the site of an earlier mill. In the 19970's the Morris County Park Commission restored the site, including the waterwheel. It is one of the few water-powered mills still operating in New Jersey.

Chubb Park, was donated to Chester by the Chubb family. It is the annual site of the Chester Carnival, the Turtle Race and formerly the Rotary Horse Show. Chubb Park also offers community tennis courts, ice-skating pond and an exercise trail.

The Gazebo, was built by the Chester Garden Club and is used annually for the Christmas Tree lighting, band concerts and even weddings.

     

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