Sworn in April of 2003, I work to:
- Document Chester’s historical assets.
- Assist people in their research concerning Chester.
- Document potential archaeological sites in Chester.
- Assist in placing items of historical interest into appropriate archives.
- Prepare nominations to the State and National Register of Historic Places.
- Promote Chester and its history through publications and public presentations.
Chester’s history began long before there was a Chester, New York. Sugar Loaf Mountain, which rises 1140 feet above sea level, is perhaps the most prominent evidence of the processes that occurred eons ago that formed our little place of this earth.
As the last glaciers receded nearly twelve and half thousand years ago. People came here and have populated what we call Chester ever since. Dutchess Quarry Caves, just a few miles west in the Town of Goshen, were used for shelter and hunting camps from the early post glacial period up into colonial times.
At the other end of town, near the border with the Town of Monroe, in Goosepond State Park is the Greycourt Rock Shelter which has been used for at least 5,000 years. It was reputed to be one of Claudius Smith’s hideouts during the Revolutionary war.
Even before the first European settlers reached Orange County, the native people then living here, the Lenape (meaning “The People”) had been decimated by diseases introduced to North America by the earliest European explorers. It is estimated that roughly ninety percent of the native population succumbed before the European settlers ventured inland from their sea side outposts.
Many mastodons and other ice age fauna have been excavated from the black dirt region which runs through Chester and down into northern New Jersey. Before it was drained in mid-nineteenth century, this swamp accumulated thousands of years of organic sediment including creatures – both large and small. The absence of oxygen below the water table thus preserved every thing from pollen to mastodon skeletons!
Our area was first settled by Europeans in the 1700’s. Sugar Loaf was an active hamlet of craftsmen, serving the surrounding farms by the 1740’s. John Yelverton built his home and Inn about 1755 which still stands on Main Street near Academy Avenue where the two major roads crossed in southern New York: the Nyack-Goshen Road and the King’s Highway (Trenton, N. J. to Elizabeth Ann Reilly, Chester Town Clerk swears in new Town Historian, Clif Patrick. Witnesses: Rita Bahren, Bill Tully, Chester Town Supervisor, and Susan Bahren, Mayor, Village of Chester. April 16, 2003. Town of Chester Historian Clifton Patrick Newburgh). Many travelers stayed at the Yelverton Inn including General George Washington. The Waywayanda–Cheesecocks Patent Trial, which decided the basis of local land ownership, was argued here by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in 1775.
In mid-nineteenth century, the Chester Meadows were drained to become the fertile black dirt supplying fabulous vegetables to the region and, because they were less perishable, onions to the Civil War troops, perhaps even some of Chester’s boys serving with the 124th New York State volunteers – “Orange Blossoms.” Today, but a few farmers continue to supply the local and New York City fresh markets and onions worldwide.
In 1841 the Erie Railroad was completed through Chester and station agent Thaddeus Selleck convinced local farmer Phil Gregory to ship 240 quarts of fresh milk to New York City earning the railroad $1.20 in freight charges, thus spawning the dairy farming industry. Within a few years that business grew to 300,000 quarts per day, earning over $1,000 a day for the Erie RR! The Erie Main Line carried the last train through Chester in the Spring of 1984. The following year the tracks were taken up.
Hambletonian, “The Father of Harness Racers” owned by entrepreneur Wm Rysdyck. Rysdyck’s horses “Long Island Black Hawk” and “New York Black Hawk” and finally Hambletonian did much to foster Goshen’s Historic Track as the “Birthplace of the Trotter.” Hambletonian was the most famous trotter in history. Foaled on Seely Farm near Sugar Loaf on March 5, 1849, he died March 1876. In 1893 a monument was erected over his grave, of Red Granite, 26 feet 10 inches in hight and 6 feet square at the base.
In the late 1800’s, both C. H. Green and Wm. A. Lawrence were making and selling Cream Cheese in Chester. In 1928 the Kraft Cheese Company acquired the rights to Lawrence’s operation. The cream cheese that was originally developed here in Chester is still being produced! Kraft sells it under the brand: Philadelphia Brand cream cheese.
These are but a few of the stories from Chester’s rich history!
Chester Cemeteries Protection Law was enacted “to protect the cemeteries and burial sites.” Cemeteries and burial grounds continue to be discovered.
Additional sources of Chester information:
• The Town Clerk, Linda Zappala, 845 469-7000 Ext. 4, keeper of Chester vital records. Note: A disastrous fire in July of 1876 destroyed most of the town’s records along with downtown Chester. Very few older records survived.
• The Chester Village Clerk is Rebecca Rivera, 47 Main Street, Chester, NY 10918, phone: 845-469-2388.
• The Chester Village Historian is Lorraine Hom, 47 Main Street, Chester, NY 10918, phone: 845-469-2388.
• The Chester Historical Society maintains an archive of items related to the Chester community and operates the 1915 Erie Station, Chester’s Local History Museum at 19 Winkler Place, in downtown Chester. The Society, in cooperation with this office, contributes items to the Hudson River Valley Digital Heritage Project.
• Sugar Loaf Historical Society hosts a website about Sugar Loaf.
• Orange County Genealogical Society, 1841 Courthouse, 101 Main St, Goshen, New York 10924, has a tremendous amount of genealogical material.
• The New York State Office for Historic Preservation tracks survey data on more than 250,000 properties in the state including Chester.