Chester County is one of the South Carolina bastions of historic activity. Sandwiched between the Broad River and the Catawba, it was an ideal location for early Scots-Irish settlers who immigrated here in the mid 18th century. Most early settlements were in close proximity to Presbyterian churches and ministers in these areas played vital rolls in both secular and religious circles. Following the American Revolution, Chester became the county seat in circa 1785. The City of Chester thereafter, developed as a leading trade center for the surrounding farm communities receiving a post office April 1, 1795. One source states; “Shortly after 1800, the town as described as having grown to contain about thirty houses. By 1825, the town had about sixty structures.” It grew rapidly after the Charlotte and Augusta Railroad came through the area in circa 1851. The new railroad linked Chester with Columbia, South Carolina for the first time.
Prior to the coming of the railroad, Chester had served as a central trading hub, but it exploded with new business opportunities as part of the booming economic period of the 1850’s. New homes, brick factories, cabinet shops, buggy companies, and general mercantile businesses were built.
The transpiration of finished goods to Chester and the export of cotton to the world markets provided ample income, for the thriving area to enjoy the prosperity offered by technology prior to the coming of the disasters of the Civil War.
Due to the railroad, Chester also became an important stopping place for troops, refugees and political figures during the Civil War. The town suffered economically during reconstruction, as did most of the former Confederate states. It was during this period, in which many of Chester County’s youngest and brightest relocated to take advantage of the explosive growth in surrounding communities such as Rock Hill. The post Civil War economy was indeed bleak as the region began exploring new means to work with their former slaves and once again economically grow cotton. Leaders in the region also looked to the industrial states for opportunities to bring the textile industry to the piedmont region. As a result, it was only a short period before Chester County and the City of Chester once again became a center for agricultural sales and banking interests up until the 1929 depression.
Incorporation as a municipality in 1840, the city limit has virtually remained unchanged from the one mile radius from the hill in downtown. The hilltop occupied by the Chester County courthouse, was served by six radiating roads, functioned as the heart of the town. Four fires and a tornado in 1884 created havoc in the business center.
The citizens of Chester were quick to begin using the professional services of builders and architects from Rock Hill. The Herald reported on Sept. 6, 1902 – “That architect, H.E. White went to Chester yesterday, where he is supervising the erection of several dwellings and remodeling of a store house.”
Unfortunately, the community was further rocked by the depression as well as WW II and it was following this period that Chester’s economy began declining as textiles began slowly leaving and farming declined dramatically. In the 1950’s the downtown area of Chester as well as most cities were hurt further as development began to spread to shopping centers and subdivisions.
Since the mid 1980’s a number of downtown improvement projects have been completed by local business owners who re-invested their own money to revitalize downtown properties and help preserve create a handsome collection of architectural gems as well as attract new business. But the significant downtown improvement project was the city sponsored street-scape project of 1996. Completed with the help of substantial grant awards, this project cost roughly $1.8 million. Since then, downtown Chester now has a large number of second floor apartments.
As part of this project, utility lines were buried, street 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, and the Aaron Burr Rock and a nineteenth century cistern. The downtown continues to be a popular spot for community events and has shown that the rehabilitation of historic buildings in downtown Chester has been a vital part of keeping the area attractive and viable.