The Chester Historical Society has granted permission for this Web version of their publication, "An Auto Tour Through The Village of Chester, N.J." The publication may be purchased from the Society (P.O. Box 376, Chester, NJ07930) or borrowed from the Chester Library.
The overall length of the main tour is approximately 8 miles. We suggest you read through the tour before beginning to drive the route, to note places to pull off for parking or to turn around. Also, please be alert to the heavy highway traffic on Route 24 and Route 206. During the downtown Main Street portion of the tour, it will be easier to see the buildings if you park in one of the Municipal Parking Lots, either behind the Sunflower (71 Main Street) or off Perry Street behind the Centennial Building (12 Main Street).
The following KEY is used to identify significant buildings:
Morris County Heritage Commission marker
Historical American Buildings Survey; details listed in the Library of Congress
National Register of Historic Places listing
New Jersey Register of Historic Places listing
As you leave MendhamTownship westbound on Washington Turnpike (Route 24), passing John Ralston's General Store on the right, you begin the Chester tour at Burnett Brook, marked by the Nesbitt Mill on the left and Sammy's Old Cider Mill Restaurant on the right.
Travel 0.9 mile from this point.
1. On the right is a red brick farm house of the village settlement period, with a date stonemarked "HC 1807." This is one of the few early brick houses in the county still in its original unpainted condition. It was built by Henry Cooper, Jr., of brick from the family brickyard near Cooper Lane and close to the site of the first Cooper house, since destroyed, which was probably built around 1740 when the family arrived from East Hampton, Long Island.
Proceed 0.8 mile on Route 24.
2. On the right is a large and elegant brick home (MCHC, NR, NJR) built in 1860 byGeneral Nathan A. Cooper, a non-fighting general of the state militia, whose holdings included the grist mill at the end of this tour, an iron mine north of Oakdale Road, and a large farm and brickyard off Cooper Lane. This colorful figure still dominates the community with the largest monument in Pleasant HillCemetery [see Detour stop C] and a stone marked simply "General."
Continue west on Route 24.
3. Glenlora Nursing home is housed in a stone barn built by Henry Seward in 1878. Hiscousin, William Henry Seward, was Secretary of State in Lincoln's Cabinet, and was responsible for "Seward's Folly," the purchase of Alaska.
4. Within 0.6 mile, observe on the right, nestled in the base of Seward's Hill, a frame house (#251 Route 24) with fieldstone foundation, eyebrow windows, and large fireplaces,typical of the early farms. The barns for this shingled house lay across the road, and the fields beyond, once cultivated, are now the site of the Chester Township Dickerson and Bragg elementary schools.
5. Seward's Hill, named for the Chester branch of that family so well-known in national affairs of the Civil War period, is the site of Bell Telephone Laboratories' Chester Field Test Facilities. The hill is 975 feet above sea level and very windy. A portion of the grounds used for testing wood preservation techniques is known as "the pole farm." The large hilltop structure is the skeleton of a cable-laying ship, called by the men "the S.S. Fantastic," used to test storage facilities and submarine cable-laying techniques.
6. Beyond the hill, on the right, is the Seward House. The portion on the left of the entrancewas built by Obadiah Seward who came from Southold, SuffolkCounty, Long Island, and bought land in Chester in 1737. Henry Seward, his great-grandson, returned to Chester and enlarged the house, calling it "Welcome Home Farm." Henry married Beulah Cooper, the General's sister.
At this point you may wish to detour a bit.
Detour: turn right onto North Road (Route 513) at the Cross Roads traffic light.
A. The first house on the left is the Stone School House built in 1830 as both school andchurch meeting house. The North and South Road area, once known as HortonTown with its own stop on the Delaware-Lackawanna and Western Railroad, was settled in 1748 by Caleb Horton, also of Southold, Long Island. The large house adjacent to Black RiverSchool was a Horton farm house.
In passing the Bell Laboratories area (on your right) you will see "the pole farm where they "grow telephone poles"
B. At the first bend in the road, on the left is the ForestHillSchool with the schoolhousebell over the entrance.
Continue around the second curve to the State Game Lands parking lot on the left. Turn around here and return to the tour at the Cross Roads traffic light on Route 24.Turn right at the Cross Roads traffic light onto Oakdale Road. [If you did not take the detour, you would continue straight through the traffic light instead.]
8. The white brick building at the corner on the right was built about 1810 by William Mingwho had married Adah Brown of the Hull-Brown hostelry family down the road. By 1825, it was the home of Benjamin McCourry, whose interests extended beyond the village to the operation of a stage line on Washington Turnpike and election to a seat on the Board of Freeholders of Morris County. On July 14, 1825, Colonel McCourry and Nathan Cooper were involved with the welcome and banquet tendered to General LaFayette in Morristown.
The road bears to the left through light woods. About 9.5 miles from the Cross Roads, you will cross the abandoned right-of-way of the mining railroad spur to Cooper Mine and others, which lie up the hill to the right. Continue for 0.3 mile.
9. On the right is Riamede Farm. The small stone part on the right was built by JohnSweazy, also from Southold, Long Island, about 1740. The new brick portion dates from the 1790s. This was a general farm until Ria and Lowry Mead bought it in 1952 and planted 1,000 apple and 2,000 peach trees. The apple trees still bear for pick-it-yourself fun.
10. The next house on the right is the Oakdale Farm which gave its name to the road.Small though it may appear, at one time it housed a family with thirteen children!
11. In 1853, the owner, Elijah Dickerson, built a cider mill and distillery in the hillside at ashort distance down the road. Here, and at eight other distilleries, the apple crop of Chester was processed into cider and "Jersey Lightning." This fieldstone building is now a home.
At this point you may wish to detour again.
Detour: Turn right onto Pleasant Hill Road.
C. Immediately on the right is the 1740 Budd farm. Only the barn is of an early date. Asyou approach the Black River crossing, "Bethlehem," a religious community, is on a portion of the farm. The abandoned railroad right-of-way is now a portion of Patriots' Path. You will pass Pleasant HillCemetery where General Cooper's monument rises well above the surrounding wall.
D.-E. Beyond are the Welkind Facility of Kessler Rehabilitation Hospital and the StateGameLands.
Now return to the main tour: Return to the intersection of Oakdale Road and Pleasant Hill Road.
12. A right turn onto Oakdale Road leads to an area called "Muskrat." Here were locatedthe depot of the Chester Branch of the DL&W Railroad, its turntable, the Sturzennegger Lace Factory (Cooperative Industries has closed its doors) and the Hillside Lounge, once called "The Muskrat" but originally theAnthracite Hotel.
Return to the intersection of Oakdale Road and Pleasant Hill Road. Turn up the hill, to the right on Pleasant Hill Road.
13. The center hall colonial house on the right at the intersection of Furnace Road withPleasant Hill Road was one of Chester's first taverns. It was originally operated by Trustum Hull of Piscataway. Each of Hull's daughters married a son of David Brown. One of the couples continued to operate the tavern and may have joined Hull's original home to the tavern to make the present building. The early right-hand portion has a tremendous kitchen fireplace. The larger portion still has a barroom wicket and the original front door hardware.
Continue up Pleasant Hill Road to the point where it joins Hillside Road.
14. The small house on the right, an East Jersey Cottage, was owned by the Ming family - related to the Browns and the McCourrys, whose homes you have already seen.
Continue up the hill to the left on Hillside Road.
15. You will pass ChesterCemetery, resting place of many colonial settlers. Just beyond is the Congregational Church, established in 1747. The present building, the third, was erected in 1856 [HABS, MCHC, NR, NJR]. The Greek revival style features four Doric columns. The interior of the church features excellent examples of trompe l'oeil decoration. The beautifully decorated tracker organ, installed in 1873, is in fine condition and is used for services. The Chapel, built in 1873 to house the SabbathSchool and weekly meeting, is on the left. The first Christian Endeavor in New Jersey was organized there on April 11, 1882. The carriage sheds are behind the church.
16. Across Hillside Road from the church is the Hedges house. The original house was probably the small center section with the kitchen wing added. Dr. Woodhull Hedges probably added the larger right hand section when he purchased the house in 1821. Two of his nine children were doctors. One son, Dr. Smith Hedges, was active in the commercial development of the village and also had an iron mine in his front yard.
In proceeding to the corner you will cross over the site of the mining railroad spur that led from the mine beyond Oakdale Road to the High Bridge-Chester Railroad (CRR of NJ) terminal on the site of the Chester Mall.
Two hundred feet or so below ground are the water-filled mine workings that extended all along the railroad spur and behind the houses on the north side of Main Street. When they were in operation, water was pumped out of the mines and flowed across Main Street.
17. At the intersection of Hillside Road and Main Street is the Zephaniah Drake BrickHotel, now the Black River and Raritan Publick House. Main Street from Cross Roads to this intersection with Budd Avenue had been opened up as Washington Turnpike by Isaiah Fairclo, a Tory who returned from Canada after the Revolution to inherit much of the land in the center of the village. Jacob Drake, Jr., of the Cross Roads tavern, and his son Zephaniah, who operated two taverns in the village center, built the all-brick building to accommodate travelers. Zephaniah also operated a stage line. This building served as a tavern and stage stop, a school from 1854-1862, and then as a hotel and restaurant. The original brick portion is classic center-hall Federal style with 12 rooms and 12 fireplaces. An original door off the old barroom and several fireplace mantels are elaborately hand-carved with a sunburst motif [HABS, MCHC, NR, NJR].
Proceed straight across Main Street onto Grove Street.
On your right at the intersection with Maple Avenue is a three-story building that was a miners' boarding house. During the height of the iron mining boom the roomers slept in shifts!
18. Black River Playhouse on the right at the end of Maple Avenue was moved fromBedminster in 1880 to serve as a MethodistChurch.
Turn left onto Cherry Street at the next corner.
19. On the left at the corner of Budd Avenue and Cherry Street is a circa 1780 house. During recent alterations a sea captain's diary was found which describes his Arctic whaling operations in 1845. Captain Leek is buried in ChesterCemetery with an anchor on his tombstone. Directly across the street is an early 19th century dwelling built as a two-family house. It was probably a tenant house for workers at the adjacent livery stable.
Turn right onto Budd Avenue. This is the Old Road which led from the Cross Roads to the village before the Washington Turnpike (Main Street) was opened in 1806.
20. Up the hill at the corner of Orange Street is an example of the mining company house."A mining patch house" was a two-story double house 30 feet long and 12 feet wide with a partition through the center. Each end had a small parlor with staircase against the center wall, a lean-to kitchen at the back, and 2-3 bedrooms upstairs. Each half rented for $3.00 a month. Many houses of this style were built to house the mine workers. Fifteen remain, several on Maple Avenue. Some have been moved to other sites; all have been altered in some way but are still recognizable.
21. At the end of Budd Avenue where it meets Fairmount Avenue is an early farm building,at one time used as a mining office for the Budd interests. Turn left to see the stone building behind it which was the first blacksmith shop in MorrisCounty. It was a designated strong house in case of Indian attacks and during the Revolutionary War.
Return on Budd Avenue to Church Street. Turn right onto Church Street.
22. On the right side of Church Street, facing Budd Avenue is Japrap Farm, a "bankhouse" built into the hillside. The kitchen is on the lower level. Under the porch is a functional well.
23. On the left, facing Main Street, is the Presbyterian Church, built in 1852. The GreekRevival building and the adjacent Chapel are joined by a modern addition that reflects the Greek columns of the church and the Victorian windows of the Chapel.
Continue on Church Street to its intersection with Main Street and turn left.
This was the Washington Turnpike right-of-way given by Isaiah Fairclo in 1806 to straighten the route. He promptly sold building lots along its length for early homes which were enlarged during the prosperous mining period.
24. On the right, across from the Presbyterian minister's home is the Collis House (BartleyInsurance Office). It is a Second Empire style town house recently restored. Returned to its original siding, it has been beautifully painted to highlight its architectural features.
25 The Sprint Telephone Company building occupies the site of John Van Arsdale's liverystable. Mr. Van Arsdale lived at 142 Main Street in the John Drake house (Weichert Real Estate). This house was built in 1830 by a member of the Drake family that built the brick hotel. The Greek Revival style facade and the brick oven on the west side have been preserved [HABS].
Continue west on Main Street (Route 24) to the intersection of Main, Hillside and Budd Avenue. At this point, it is advisable to continue the tour in the downtown area on foot. Park in the Municipal Parking Lot on the right in mid-block.
26. On the southeast corner of the intersection of Main Street and Grove Street is PegasusAntiques. This building was a drovers' tavern with the lot behind it used to turn out the stock. The original tap room in the cellar was reached by the stone steps at the corner, where "W.T.B. May 27, 1802" is cut into the wall.
27. This corner of Main and Grove was the intersection of the "Great Roads" of NewJersey, the "Landing" or "Brunswick" Road which led up to Sussex County, and one running through Morristown and up into Pennsylvania. The road between the war memorial and Pegasus Antiques building is the "old road." The Liberty Pole and town pump were in this open plot.
28-29. In the 1740s there was a tavern operated by Benjamin Luse on the northwest cornerof this intersection. Then for over a century and a half it was a general store. One of the store owners was Dr. Smith Hedges. He built an elegant three-story building with a mansard roof at 87 East Main Street, to house adrug store in town. The telephone exchange was in this building.
30. On the left just beyond the fire house, at 76 East Main Street, is the Old Factory wherethreshing machines were built by the Van Doren brothers from 1844-1861. In 1857 the brothers "introduced the first steam engine into MorrisCounty."
31. On Main Street, most of the buildings have stood since Chester's heyday, a hundredyears ago or more. On the north side, 71 East Main Street (Sunflower's) was once the home of Billy Dee. He had been postmaster, shopkeeper, and CountyFreeholder from 1913-1916. He is best remembered, however, for his ball-playing. He is is reported by the Newark News newspaper in 1881 to have pitched the very first "curve ball" in the history of baseball.
32. At the three-story building with mansard roof at 38 East Main , Charles Tippettbottled beer and soda in the years after 1888. Tippett bottles dug locally are collectors' items, highly prized.
33. At 35 East Main Street (Academy Engravings) is a colonial period home that belongedto John Gardner, first schoolmaster of the Academy and also Chester's first postmaster.
34. Across the street at the southwest corner of Perry Street and Main Street is the long,white CentennialBuilding, built in 1876 as a store and apartment building.
Now return to your vehicle and resume the auto portion of the tour. At the traffic light on Route 206 (cut through in 1929), continue west on Route 24.
35. On the right at the Route 206 intersection is the Isaac Corwin House (Larison's TurkeyFarm Inn) built about 1800 on the site of the earlier Benjamin Luce Farm House [HABS]. It was once the home of James Topping, a successful cabinet maker. A very fine clock case built by him is still in the Hedges family.
36. Set back on the lovely tree-shaded hillside next to the farm is "Sunny Side," built byJames Topping for his daughter-in-law, Nellie E. Topping. Her daughter Leila became a concert pianist, traveled in Russia, and eventually inherited both homes. The Topping mine, worked between 1873 and 1883, was behind these buildings. The Larisons, whose Chester roots go back nine generations, purchased the farm and developed the Turkey Farm Inn.
The Chester Mall on the left was a lumber yard and the freight station for the High Bridge-Chester railroad (CRR of NJ) which ran through LongValley.
Continue 0.4 mile on Route 24 from the intersection with Route 206.
37. On the right there is a gambrel-roofed colonial dwelling hidden amongst latermodifications and additions, now the Lamplighter Inn at 128 West Main Street. Joseph Hedges of East Hempstead, Long Island, first of the family of Chester doctors, lived in the small, low portion of the building at the east end of the present structure. This was first owned by Thomas Topping who came from Southhampton around 1750 and died in 1777.
Continue 0.9 mile on Route 24.
38. This is Milltown, also known as Milldale and Hacklebarney. The landmark on the left is the General Cooper grist mill, now restored as a working mill by the Morris County Park Commission. The first mill was the center of an early industrial community with thirteen water-powered industries, including a sawmill, woolen and shoddy mill, blacksmith, Hacklebarney Forge, and ice houses. The Gulick-Hacklebarney mine ran through this area and was producing iron before and during the Revolution.
At this point you may wish to detour again.
Detour: the entrance to HacklebarneyState Park is off State Park Road, 1.9 mile south of the mill site.
F. On your way there you will see the Pitney House and Cider Mill. Across the road is the1776 Hilderbrandt House. The State Park is 0.8 mile past the Cider Mill.
Return to Route 24 to resume the main tour. Cross the river and bear to the right on Route 24.
39. The site of Mountain Spring Distillery is on your left, between Parker Road and Route 24. Not visible from the road, behind the farm house, is a small stone building with iron barred windows, the "Lincoln House," where bonded brandy was kept under lock and key during the period of aging. The bottle seals had Lincoln's picture on them, hence the building name. The cider mill and distillery, now a home, had an interior mill wheel for year-round operation. The Episcopal Church of the Messiah complex has been developed in the barn area. The original small field stone barn is adjacent to the meeting room in the lower level of the larger barn. The church proper is an extension of the upper level.
Continue on Route 24 west to Furnace Road.
40. Furnace Road leads, on the right, to the site of the Chester Furnace, built in 1878. It was a blast furnace, rebuilt to 60 feet in height; one hundred men were employed. Railroad spurs joined it to the High Bridge-Chester railroad and to the Chester Railroad (DL&W) at Muskrat. All buildings are gone but slag piles and other evidence remains of the successful 10-year operation. Evidence of the railroad is the fieldstone overpass wall on your right.
This is the end of the auto tour
Afterward to the Historical Society Pamphlet:
The Chester Historical Society has prepared this sampling of the sites of historic value in the Chesters in the hope that you will agree that much of the spirit, style and color of bygone eras still exist in this area today. An inventory of buildings still standing that are shown on the 1868 map contains 237 items. Main Street is thriving with shops that reflect the charm of the old buildings that house them.
This tour is based on Chester, A Scrapbook of History by Frances Greenidge (Chester Historical Society, 1974), the collected notes of the late Edwin Collis of Chester, recorded oral history of many of Chester's longtime residents, and the ongoing historic sites research of the authors: Jean Dabrowski, Lynne and Thomas O'Connell, Carmen and Robert Smith. For this tour version, Leonard Taylor provided the updated maps and Claire Smith Hanson re-typed the text in electronic form for publication.
Chester Historical Society PO Box 376 ~ Chester, NJ07930