A History of Chester, South Carolina

Chester County Court House - Chester, SC (2008)

The city of Chester grew as the county seat of government and was founded soon after 1785, when the county was created. Chester developed as a leading trade center for the surrounding farm communities and grew rapidly after the development of the first railroad in the area in 1851.

Chester is the county seat of Chester County and is situated in the Piedmont section of South Carolina about 180 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and South Carolina's beautiful beaches. To the northwest, approximately two hours drive by car, lie the Blue Ridge Mountains filled with scenic beauty and having the highest peaks east of the Rocky Mountains.

The city came into existence as a governmental center about 1785 when a state commission seeking a location for the court house for the Chester judicial circuit chose the site for its first court house. Shortly after 1800, the town was described as having grown to contain about thirty houses. By 1825, the town had about sixty houses.

The Columbia-Chester railroad line was completed in 1851 and provided impetus to the growth of the town. Following the American Civil War, Chester became the hub of a radiating network of railroads. With the expansion of agricultural activities and the development of the textile industry in the area, Chester became a thriving commercial center.

The hilltop occupied by the court house and served by the six radiating roads functioned as the heart of development for the fifty years from about 1870 to 1920. From about 1920 until after the second world war, Chester remained relatively stable. In the 1950s, development began to spread outward with shopping centers and subdivisions.

Throughout its history since incorporation as a municipality in 1840, the city limits have remained virtually unchanged from the one mile radius from the center of town.

Since the city was originally chartered in 1840, the downtown area has faced some hardships, including four major fires and a disastrous tornado in 1884. The post World War II economic boom and the growth in suburbia probably had the most negative effect on downtown, though.

For about twenty years - from the late 1960s until the 1980s - a number of downtown buildings became vacant and fell into a state of disrepair, due largely to the growth in popularity of air-conditioned malls and other shopping centers.

A number of downtown improvement projects - many by individual merchants - have been completed since the mid-1980s. Business owners have always taken the lead by investing their own money to revitalize downtown properties.

But the significant downtown improvement project was the city-sponsored streetscape project of 1996. Completed with the help of substantial grant awards, this project cost roughly $1.8 million.

As part of this project, utility lines were buried, streets and sidewalks were paved, decorative streetlights were added, the traffic pattern was rerouted, and a new park area was completed. This park area is called Monument Square and features a Confederate monument, a Civil War cannon, the Aaron Burr Rock, and a nineteenth century cistern.

The renovated downtown area project has been so successful that groups of visitors from other towns in the Carolinas have come here to get inspiration for downtown projects of their own. The downtown continues to be a popular spot for community events, like the festivals HILLarity and Flowers! Flowers!, and annual parades. The rehabilitation of old buildings is also continuing in the city of Chester, honored last year as the Best Hometown in the state.

Chester City Hall

As Chester Court House, the town was granted a U.S. Post Office on April 1, 1795, and its first Postmaster was Mr. Samuel Lacey. On April 27, 1886, the U.S. Post Office Department officially changed its name to Chester. Its Post Office has been in continuous operation ever since inception.

Click Here to view / download a 2017 map of Chester, SC. Adobe PDF file. Fairly large.

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