Chester At The Crossroads

Like many Skylands communities, Chester's roots pre-date Colonial times. The native Lenni-Lenape paths along the Black River were the initial generation of trails along which white settlers later established farms, mills, blacksmith shops and cabinet shops.
The place where two of these "great roads" crossed was by 1740 known as Black River, home to a population dedicated mainly to agriculture. By 1771 a weekly stage wagon route extended from Jersey City to the Crossroads. In the early 1800s the new and improved Washington Turnpike (now Route 24) was chartered to run through what had become known as Chester, and the town soon became home to the "Brick Hotel", a succession of taverns and an expanding Main Street economy.

This embryonic tourist trade was profitable until the 1830s when overland roads were improved to the extent that fewer stopovers during long journeys were required, and much of the era's commercial freight had begun to float along the Morris Canal.

In 1867, when a "limitless" line of iron ore was discovered along the north side of Main Street, Chester became a boom town. Iron brought a furnace, railroads, dandy personalities and a Golden Age of carriages and servants to a generation of Chesterites. The town joined many of its neighbors in making Morris County the third largest producer of iron ore in the nation by 1880. But the bust side of the boom raised an ominous shadow when the infinite ore vein disappeared, and Chester entered the final "ghost town" phase of the mineral rush cycle a mere 25 years after it began.

A relatively sluggish Chester emerged at the turn of the Century; one with memories of opulence fading back to the tranquil economy of the countryside. The deserted village still held a core of tenacious business people who succeeded in attracting a few manufacturers to town. But the town's celebrity began to blur in the face of encroaching suburbanization.

71 Main St: Now the Emporium, the shop was one of the very first to realize the potential of Chester as a visitor attraction. Master cabinet maker James Topping lived here for first quarter of 19th C. before buying what later became Larison's Turkey Farm and 53 acres for $1400. After 1918 Billie Dee's Store selling nespapers, candy and hot roasted peanuts. Billy Dee lived his whole life on Main St, was a Morris County Freeholder and a baseball pitcher and is credited with inventing the curve ball when his finger caught in the covering of the ball.
Centennial Building. 1876 by Old Charlie Hall for William J. Northrup. Paul Apgar bought building in 1945 and operated hardware store at end until late 1993

The sparks that turned Chester back to doing serious business with visitors began in the 1950s and 60s. The Crossroads had been moved west a quarter of a mile or so with the cutting of Route 206. From that intersection the owners of Larison's Turkey Farm Inn had undertaken an advertising campaign in nearly every ethnic newspaper in the metropolitan area to bring travelers to dine in one of the oldest buildings in Chester. Come they did; and return they did. The Brick Hotel on Main Street had become the Chester House, attracting hundreds of travelers from New York and Philadelphia each Sunday for duck dinners. In 1969 the Chester Lions Club opened a flea market in town; one whose phenomenol growth would continue to the present day. The Crossroads was alive and well.

In the early 1970's the first "shops for visitors" opened- The Emporium, Academy Awards, and Taylor's Ice Cream Parlor. Chester's shopping environment- streets lined with buildings representing phases of history from the early 1700's- couldn't have been better planned by Disney himself. And the gracious fact that these glorious remnants still stood was almost as earth-shattering as the discovery of a vein of ore.

The visitor is vital, interesting, refreshing and valuable to Chester's shop-keepers. And they know that the visitor is interested in more than 200 year-old headboards. You can get about anything you want in Chester from gourmet coffee to state-of-the-art stereo.

In Chester's case economic pressures have kept history alive. The buildings on Main Street are a large part of what brings visitors to discover a great contemporary shopping experience.

For information about Chester, contact theHistoric Chester Business Association (HCBA), local merchants who are committed to the quality of the community and who are a major force in the structuring of events that take place in Chester throughout the year. The Association's members cover all types of retail, dining and service related businesses. The HCBA publishes an annual Shopping and Dining Guide listing valuable information about its member shops and annual events.

To acquaint visitors, the Chester Historical Society has published several interesting reference books: Chester, NJ A Scrapbook of History by Frances Greenidge based on research by long time resident Edwin Collis and her own interviews. Chester's Iron Heyday, by Larry Lowenthal, is an authoritative study of the 20 years when iron was being mined along Main Street and in the Hacklebarney area. There is a walking tour guide, A Stroll Through The Old Village of Chester and a one-hour video of the same title. Most recently, the Society has published an auto tour guide.

Upcoming Events in Chester

  • June 3-June 4 • SPRING CRAFT SHOW. A wide variety of handmade items including traditional & country crafts. 10am - 5pm. $4.
  • September 9-September 10 • 44TH ANNUAL FALL ARTS & CRAFTS FESTIVAL. The most talented artisans on the East Coast will exhibit and sell their unique hand-crafted creations at the this nationally-recognized community tradition and one of the largest craft shows in the state. Sunshine Artist, respected magazine of American arts and crafts, has rated it among the Top 50 “Best Craft Shows in the Nation” and #1 in New Jersey. Artisans from across the East Coast, representing a wide range of craft-working disciplines, will exhibit over the weekend. Prior Shows have broken attendance records, the town receiving thousands of craft-enthusiasts who come to share their passion. Visitors will enjoy creations in home furnishing and decor, jewelry, clothing, wood and metalworking, ornaments and more. These masterfully-done, handmade wares are of highest quality, and the artists will partake in a juried contest. 10am - 5pm. $5, under 12 free. .
  • October 14-October 15 • CHESTER'S 34TH ANNUAL HARVEST CELEBRATION. Enjoy this free two-day event with live entertainment, games, pumpkin carving, antique car show, apple press. Don’t miss the Soup and Chili chef competition on Saturday! 11 - 5. Free.

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Drakesville Historic District
  • Just off the old, now-vanished, Ledgewood Circle, a stone's throw from the mall, the Drakesville Historic Park pays tribute to Morris County's pedigree of innovative pioneers.

    , ,

  • Lake Hopatcong Golf Club
  • Putt through Lake Hopatcong history at this lakeside minigolf course. Perfect for your next party!

    37 Nolans Point Park Rd., Lake Hopatcong 07849, 973/663-0451

  • The Theatre at RVCC
  • The Theatre at Raritan Valley Community College, which offers a full season of professional music, theatre, dance, cultural events and children's programs is conveniently located near the border between Somerset and Hunterdon counties. Box Office Hours: 11am-4pm, Monday - Friday

    Rt. 28 and Lamington Road, North Branch 08876, 908/725-3420

  • Farmstead Arts Center
  • Farmstead Arts, in Basking Ridge, is a vibrant arts center and serves as a model for adaptive reuse of an historic treasure.

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  • Hutcheson Memorial Forest
  • , Franklin Twp. ,


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23 Apr 2012, 15:56
How I miss Chester, NJ! I lived in the area 1972 - 1982 and still miss it - the used book store, the ice cream shop, Publick House where I went with my parents when I was in high school and then later brought my college friends. There was a wonderful arts festival where I bought tiny little ceramic jack o lanterns that I still display in October!
pearl dyce
29 Aug 2010, 11:18
i found a plastic holder with a half dollar in had your name in it wanted to see if you still are in bussinise
31 Aug 2009, 07:39
I lived in Chester for just over 3 years in the early 1970s. The Emporium got its start below our apartment at 32 Grove Street a couple of years before moving out to Main Street. I have a question to ask if anyone remembers - what was the name of the little French restaurant that was at the corner of Grove and Main in the 1970s? I'd love to hear from anyone who knows.
24 Jun 2009, 18:14
WHERE can I find info on the classic car rally on 06/29?? Seems to be a well kept secret.
14 Jul 2008, 05:37
When is the next car show?
al battaglino
24 Jun 2008, 11:09
is the car show this sunday 6/29
Ronald .J. Raymond
17 Jun 2008, 19:58
When is the classic car show in Chester?
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