Created by an Act of the State Legislature on March 15, 1738 separating it from Hunterdon County, the county derived its name from Colonel Lewis Morris, then Governor of the Province of NJ. The county is known as the "Military Capital of the Revolution", and each of its 39 municipalities played some part in the war effort and contains something of historical importance to this day. Preserving this proud heritage falls to the Morris County Heritage Commission, Historical Society and numerous other groups.
Chester is in southwestern Morris County. 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 itself was established as a separate entity in 1799, at which time "Chester" 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.
The earliest settlers in Chester came in 1640 when "Black River" established itself as a settlement primarily because of the intersection of two Lenape Indian trails. These old trails, used for hundreds of years by the native Americans were traversed by the early settlers to go to all regions of New Jersey.
In the years leading to the Revolution and on into the early 1800s, Chester Township was an important stagecoach stop on the trip from New York, New Brunswick, and Morristown to Phillipsburg. In 1799, Chester Township with 30 square miles, incorporated and separated from Roxbury Township. The Publik House was built in 1810 as a place of "fancy" public accommodations, although there were still many Inns and Taverns that took in drovers and itinerants. Main Street grew around these village Inns, and businesses were established.
Mechanical devices were required to process and transport the local peach crops to distant markets. The Van Doren brothers opened a threshing machine manufacturing business in the village and introduced the first steam engine into Morris County. There were blacksmiths making hardware and nails and repairing wagons and carriages. There was a brick yard near Cooper Lane. Distilleries were everywhere. Gristmills appeared on "every corner." At one time there were seven water powered mills on the Black River between the Cooper Mill and the lower Hacklebarney Mill. The Civil War was brewing, and it would begin a profound change in Chester Township from agriculture to mining and manufacturing.
While Chester Township hosted no fighting during the Civil War, it did provide a stop on the Underground Railroad used by freed or escaping slaves. Before the War, slaves were common in Chester Township. The barred cellar windows in the Publik House and in the Nathan Cooper Mansion are testimony to this. In 1875, iron ore in huge quantities was discovered behind a house on Main Street by a man digging for an ice house foundation.
In the village area of Chester Township, sounds of separation were heard for the first time in the 1920s. Development had led to water supply problems that made the need for a public water system popular, a project not appealing to the surrounding farmers whose tax dollars would help pay for it. In 1930, the Borough of Chester incorporated as a separate municipality with its own water system. The Great Depression helped close what was left of the railroads, aided by faster more comfortable automobiles. The Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps affected many Chester lives during the 1930s. Hacklebarney State Park was a depression era project and thousands of evergreen trees were planted in Chester Township just prior to World War II.
Chester Township and Chester Borough remains an attractive community offering a "country" atmosphere together with good schools, excellent services, a downtown village business area, and large parks, rreational facilities, and easy access to cultural centers.