TOWN OF CHESTER
Some years before the Legislature of the State of New York had set off the Town of Chester on March 25, 1799, the area was being considered for expansion. Ideally located between two rivers, the East and West branches of the Hudson, it was possible to enter the virgin territory by the pioneers easiest method of transportation, boat. Settlement of the area had started about ten years before. The main settlement, which took form about the second decade of the nineteenth century, was known as Chester Four Corners or simply Four Corners. Two log taverns, both on property owned by B. Eaton, were the earliest buildings at the Corners. Later when the post office was established this settlement became known as Chestertown to distinguish it from Chester in Orange County.
Much of the wilderness was already familiar to men who had fought in the colonial wars and some of the families who first moved into the Gore actually had already been given colonial grants prior to the Revolution. After the Revolution, many of the soldiers of this war were given several hundred acres as payment for their services. At first all were farmers, although on some farms were men with special skills -- millers, blacksmiths, carriage makers, tinsmiths, and shoemakers. Clearing the virgin forest which these pioneers found brought in the first money crop and made the land suitable for cultivation. To clear the forests, trees were cut and much of the hardwood was used in making of potash. Sheep raising was tried to feed and clothe their families. In like manner they kept bees, raised flax, and the home was the center of most of the manufacturing. Carding mills and tanneries were developed as the first manufacturing outside of the homes.
In 1805, new and rudimentary roads had been opened about where they now lie. The main travel was up the Schroon River. The land was thickly covered with maple, spruce, beech, pine, and some oak timber, which was soon after utilized by the pioneer lumbermen. As is usual, in the entire Adirondack region, the custom was to float the logs down the rivers to the lumber marts below.
There were no distilleries about here in 1805. Potash was made here in considerable quantities. Two small tanneries were built in this period - one "hand-tannery," situated about a quarter of a mile north of the village. There were only two buildings, one the site of Rising's Hotel, the dwelling place of Joshua Eaton which presently make up the village of Chestertown. The only clearings here were around these houses. But within a year or two immigration directed its current to the spot, and before 1820 the wilderness had been broken and a thriving settlement had taken up its abode here.
The War of 1812 strongly interested the sympathies of the settlers here, and quite a number voluntarily bore arms in that struggle. A few were drafted.
In the 1840's the Anti-Slavery Party had many adherents in the area, and the Leggett Homestead south of the village of Chestertown served as a way station on the Underground Railway.
The town of Chester in 1845 had a population of 1608.
Production in this year:
- 50,036 lbs butter
- 11,990 lbs cheese
- 31,176 bushels of potatoes
- 20,372 yards fulled cloth
- 4 Churches and 9 Clergymen who were paid cash,
- use real estate - etc - $1,250.00
- 16 Common Schools
- Cost of buildings - $1,710.00
Prior to the Revolution coins of almost every European country circulated in the American colonies with the Spanish dollar predominating. Because of the scarcity of coins the colonists often used various primitive mediums of exchange, such as bullets, tobacco, and skins. Many of the colonies issued paper money which circulated at various rates of exchange. The first unified currency consisted of notes issued by the Continental Congress to finance the Revolution. Although these notes were originally declared redeemable in gold or silver coins, such redemption was found impossible after the Revolution because of the excess of printed matter over metal reserves. The notes depreciated rapidly leading to the phrase, "not worth a Continental."
West of Mt. Moxon there is a cave of considerable proportions. It was known as early as 1813, and was rediscovered in 1887 by the parents of E.J. West. Its length is thirteen rods. It is passable, although in places one has to stoop to get through. There is a spring at the end of the cave. In April the drippings of water from the ceiling freeze, leaving an immense icicle twelve to fifteen feet in circumference. The ice remains into July and August. The Stone Bridge is a great natural curiosity and gives its name to the stream passing beneath it. This stream enters Chester from Essex county, about thirty rods above the bridge, where it falls over a rocky ledge into a natural basin, whence turning east it seeks a subterranean passage by two branches, the north one passing under an arch of massive granite forty feet high, and about eighty feet chord, diminishing in capacity as the stream descends -- which may be followed 156 feet from the entrance. The southern and greater branch has a passage which may be explored with much difficulty, being in some places much confined, in others opening into caverns thirty or forty feet high, which terminates the bridge. The arch on this side is about five feet high and ten wide. The creek enters the river about three-fourths of a mile below the outlet of Schroon Lake.
Visit the Natural Stone Bridge & Caves. It is an educational, self-guided tour which leads you to caves, grottos, potholes, and geological wonders formed during the glacial age thousands of years ago. The massive Natural Stone Bridge is one of the oldest rock formations in the U.S. containing marble rock over one billion years old. Plan to visit more than once as each season offers its own delights . . . Spring Wildflowers, A Cool Retreat on Summer Days, and Spectacular Fall Foliage. It is Fun For All Ages with gemstone mining, sensational gift and rock shops, wooded picnic settings, trout fishing, children's play area, snack bar, coffee shop, and soft ice cream.
The early chronicles of the county relate how travelers arriving at Riverside by train, were met by the stage and transported to Pottersville where the Wells House offered the best "in Adirondack Hospitality." Built in 1845 by Joseph Hotchkiss and Joshua Collar, it was first known as Pottersville Hotel. Hiram Towsley was one of the earliest proprietors, another being Isaac Beebe. Marcus Downs, who enlarged it, kept the hotel from 1860 to 1869. He later owned the Leland House. Lorenzo R. Locke came into ownership in 1869 keeping it until his father took ownership. The House was nicely kept and enjoyed prosperity in providing dinners for travelers bound for Schroon Lake. Here the traveler breakfasted on fresh fish from Schroon Lake or dined on Venison from the surrounding forest. It was a typical Adirondack hotel, with many rooms, a vast dining room and a porch extending on three sides of the building where there were plenty of rocking chairs for the guests to relax and enjoy the North country scenery. The hotel did a thriving business as it was a stopping place for the salesmen, or drummers as they were more often called back then. It was also a stop over for the Summer folks as local people called them. A person could come from only as far away as Albany or Glens Falls and still be singled out as "Summer Folks." The summer folks took the train to Riverside where they were met by a stage that brought them up to Pottersville where they stopped at the Wells House to freshen up and have lunch. Later on they would be taken where they would board the Steamer Evelyn. At this time a steamer ran from the foot of the Lake at Pottersville, up the Lake daily, stopping at other hotels, principally Taylors on the Schroon. There was also another steamer called the Effingham. It was John B. Wells and his wife Alida M. Bibby who impressed their name on the Hotel in Pottersville, changing its name to the Wells House. Chugging along up the Lake, the Evelyn carried its passengers to the various summer homes or hotels where they would spend their extended vacations. Back to the Wells House where a group of hunters or fishermen sit around the dark oak bar telling tales of the days hunt or bragging about the trout that got away, while the local farmer sits over a mug of beer with a knowing smile on his face. Long shadows from the bracket lamps search out the dapper salesman alone at a table, half listening as he thinks about the days business. It is with pride and heritage that the Wells House once more takes its rightful place in Chester's rural community, as its new owners, Paul and Shirley Bubar work at renovation for an August 2005 opening. Keeping with the traditional historical look, both inside and out, the Bubar's are near completion at renovating this monumental Adirondack Hotel.
Take a peak at the Adirondack Room where travelers once again can find a comfortable, affordable place to rest while taking on the scenery of the mountains at the Wells House. Visit this historical Adirondack hotel at www.thewellshouseny.com.
During the peak years of the Wells House's, a community spirit wrought out of the effort and dedication of the local businesses in the Adirondacks brought to life the Pottersville Fair. In 1877, the Faxon family started the Pottersville Fair way up north among the balsam and at once became popular; but a few years later went bankrupt because of drinking and gambling interest getting control. The Pottersville Fair Association took hold of this Fair in 1910, and continued to run a good, clean fair. Advertised that fact, given amusements that kept patrons busy every minute and took people back to nature on a big, mammoth Old Home Week Picnic Party that they remember from year to year as the great happy event of the year. The old attendance used to be 1,500 people. In 1913 on one big day there were 7,000 people on the grounds, with 400 automobiles, and all out for amusement. Click on Pottersville Fair Program to view the fun-filled week's events back in 1914.
After the Civil War the town had grown to two main settlements, Chestertown and Pottersville, with several smaller ones such as Starbuckville, Darrowsville, Igerna and part of Riverside. Roads had been built and stage coaches brought in the mail and visitors. Very early Chester became a Mecca for the summer visitors, hotels, and boarding houses that sprung up to care for the influx.
The tourist trade has always been part of the economy of the town. In the early days the traveler had to make a journey by the D. & H. Railroad to Riverside and from there by Tally-Ho to the foot of Schroon Lake. Small steamers took the passengers to Taylor's on Schroon Lake. As cars and buses became more common, the whole area opened up. Roads completely surround Loon and Friends Lakes, with many cottages colonies and motels taking the place of old time boarding houses and summer hotels. On Schroon, the third of the Tri-Lakes in the town, summer camps for adults and children have always been prevalent. Echo Lake, Mt. Spring Lake and Lake Fathomless are among the smaller lakes.
Fathomless at one time had its monster, which surfaced, sank, surfaced again in a new spot, baffling those who tried to approach it. People came to watch for its appearance. It was finally decided that it was a mass of bullheads, their horned heads twined together.
The Jenks Farm was raised in 1873 and five generations have lived on the place since it was built. One of the principal products of the Jenks Farm was sheep. Mrs. Flora Jenks Ingraham recalls the trough by the district school house where families of the neighborhood took their sheep for washing before shearing. "We took the wool to Chester Carding Mill," as the Park Mill at Friends Lake was called, she said.
Friends Lake is just 15 minutes from Warrensburg and five minutes from Chestertown. It is a destination for those who seek the tranquility of being out of the mainstream. "Friends Lake is one of the most admired in the Adirondack," states the 1898 souvenir edition of the Warrensburg News. "While small, it is a pure gem of Nature, which reflects peacefully on its surface every detail of its emerald setting a picture of restful tranquility." In its heyday there were at least eight hotels at Friends Lake. Today there are two: The Balsam House and the Friends Lake Inn. The Balsam House is currently closed, but the The Friends Lake Inn offers its own brand of Old World charm, with bed and breakfast-style recommendations and full-service, award-winning restaurant.
Every year, the Town of Chester holds an annual Halloween Pug Party. In 2004, on Sunday at 1 p.m., the pugs were out for the fifth annual Halloween Pug Party that was held at Dynamite Hill Recreation Center on Route 8. In 2003, more than 120 pugs participated in the parade to show off their costumes.
Community United Methodist Church
In 1835 the First Church was built in the village of Chestertown. Previously people had worshipped in Methodist Episcopal Church about one and half miles outside of the village. In 1867 more room was needed so a new Church was built across the street for $6,000.00. The original was sold to the Catholics who had recently organized it. In 1890 to 1892 a choir loft and pipe organ was added and the Church rededicated. In 1918 the Presbyterian Church closed and people joined with the Methodist and the name was changed from the Methodist Episcopal to Chestertown Community Church. In 1920 the spire was taken down for safety reasons. In 1945 the interior was redecorated with a new sanctuary. In 1968 a new steeple was installed.
Episcopal Church in Pottersville, NY
The Episcopal Church was incorporated in 1844 as Christ Church. Many of the early settlers were from the Church of England and wanted their own Church. The original property was a gift and work began in 1844 and used for services in 1845. In 1860 a bell tower was added. The congregation built the Church with a wooden frame. In 1925, the Church was destroyed by fire, and the present Church was built. In 1959, this Church came under the jurisdiction of the Adirondack Missions located at Barry House in Brant Lake, NY. In 1968, the Church was redecorated.
North Creek Seventh Day Adventist Church - Town of Chester
This Church is located on Bird Pond Road in an area called Igerna. In 1872 it was organized as Chester Seventh Day Adventist Church. In 1895, the first meeting in the Church was held. It had a seating capacity for 100 people. The land was given as a gift, and it was built by volunteers.
The 8.5 mile section from Riparius to North Creek was rehabilitated in the mid 1900's and a tourist train there now carries about 23,000 passengers a year on that route. Riparius is just across the river from Chestertown. One newspaper article states that "Chestertown has become more of a year-round destination spot in the winter, hunting and sightseeing in the fall and rafters in the spring."
Chester has had its literary people, including Benjamin F. Leggett, Katherine Carpenter, whose pen name was Kay McKay, and Jeanne Robert Foster. Mrs. Foster was literary editor of the American Review and was American Editor of Transatlantic Review. She has writing on stories and ballads of the lumberjack era. Arthur S. Draper was London correspondent and European manager for the New York Herald Tribune and editor of Literary Digest before coming to Chestertown following his retirement. John Butler Yeats, Irish painter and writer and father of William Butler Yeats, is buried in Chestertown. Click on Prodigal Father to learn more of John B. Yeats and Jeanne Foster.
In 1973 Pottersville, Brant Lake and Chestertown created the consolidated North Warren School District; in 1999 the district opened a new central school, including all grades in the same building. The Town of Chester opened its first public library in 1994, its immediate success forced a move into new quarters twice the original library's size less than two years later.
Besides the museum of local history, the town of Chester boasts America's most scenic highway selected in 1966-67. Its 23 miles lead to Exit 26, the gateway to Pottersville. Loon Lake, which is the setting in June for the Stock Outboard Motor Regatta, in the fall is a photographer's paradise. Pottersville, which is in the heart of the lake area is superb for picnicking, camping, and swimming. Family recreation and fishing can be found on the Schroon and Hudson rivers, which border the town of Chester. Deer, bear, and game abound can be found in Chester for the challenging hunter. Dude ranches, horseshows, and trail rides are other activities for sportsmen that are also available. Chester winter sports include cross country skiing, downhill skiing, and hiking for the young as well as the old. The Natural Stone Caves, as well as Echo Cave are natural attractions to the locals as well as the travelers.
Recreational opportunities were expanded by development of cross country skiing and hiking trails, continued development of parkland at Dynamite Hill, including construction of a hockey rink, and a joint effort with the State and Warren and Essex Counties to develop facilities at the former Schroon Manor site along the shores of Schroon Lake. For many city dwellers the Town of Chester is a second home.
Sources:An article entitled, "Life was simpler then in Chester's North Gore."
Town of Chester (History of Warren County 1885 edited by H.P. Smith)
Chapter XXIX History of the Town of Chester
My Side Of The Street - A Talk by Dorothy Durose
Script For The Pottersville Promoters May 1971 Dialing For Dollars
Show Channel 10, TV Station WTEN Albany, N.Y.
Warren County Centennial Publication - 1813-1913
The History of Warren County New York Published by the Board of Supervisors of Warren County Printed
Department of the Glens Falls Post Company 1963
Douglas Van Weelden in an article on Chestertown
Other Places of Interest Regarding the Heritage and Historical Background of the Town of Chester:Town of Chester WebSite: www.townofchesterny.org
Historical Society of the Town of Chester
Chester Town Hall
Chestertown, NY 12817
Phone: (518) 494-3758
Chester Town Historian
123 Pine Street
Chestertown, NY 12817
Phone (518) 494-3044
Town Hall (518) 494-2711
Town of Chester Library
PO Box 451
Chestertown, NY 12817
Phone (518) 494-5384
Town of Chester Historical Society Museum
Chester Town Hall
Chestertown, NY 12817
Phone (518) 494-3758
This project was developed in partnership with New York State Department of State, Division of Coastal Resources.