When talking about Chester in southwestern Morris County, you need to distinguish between the Borough of Chester, which is the shopping village, and Chester Township, the surrounding area which is decidedly more rural. At about 1½-square miles, the borough is located at the intersection of Routes 206 and 24 and offers quaint streetscapes lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques, antique shops and restaurants. Chester Township includes 29.8 square miles of farmland, newer residential developments and historic homes.
Incorporated in 1799, over 40%--or 12 square miles--of the township is preserved as open space. There are nature reserves, parks and deed-restricted agricultural property under the state Farmland Preservation Program, which buys the development rights while allowing the farmer to retain title and continue working the land.
The Borough of Chester was incorporated in 1930, and is a separate municipality that shares many services with the township such as a library, first aid squad, fire department, community pool, athletic programs, civic organizations and schools.
The township has a few small restaurants, an antique mall, several service-oriented businesses and some of New Jersey’s most popular farm stands for locally-grown produce. This rural environment caters to “agri-tourism,” welcoming visitors who come to pick apples and pumpkins in the fall or cut down a Christmas tree in December.
Several parks and preserves located in the township are free and open to the public. A partial list includes:
Chubb Park is an 85-acre area on Route 24 with playing fields, tennis courts, a skating pond and a sledding hill.
Tiger Brook Park on Cooper Lane was purchased with the assistance of the New Jersey’s Green Acres Program in 1980. This 270-acre preserve contains a ten-acre reservoir.
Hacklebarney State Park is an 890-acre park established in 1924. The Black River bisecting the park is one of the state’s premier trout fishing streams.
Black River Fish and Wildlife Management Area consists of 3,020 acres in the northern portion of the Township. It was purchased under the Green Acres Program for fishing, hunting, canoeing, kayaking, cross-country skiing and hiking.
Among the state-owned parks are the 1826 Cooper Mill, the oldest working grist mill in Morris County, and the 100-acre Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center, which showcases gardens developed by the early 20th century landscape architect Martha Brooks Hutcheson.
Students in kindergarten through grade eight from Chester Township are in the Chester Township Public School District. The district is composed of Dickerson Elementary School (kindergarten through grade two), Bragg Intermediate School (grades three to five), and Black River Middle School (grades six to eight). High school students attend West Morris Mendham High School, which is located in Mendham Borough and is part of the West Morris Regional High School District. Students also come from the surrounding school districts of Mendham Borough, Mendham Township and from Washington Township. It has consistently been ranked as one of the state’s top high schools by New Jersey Monthly magazine.
Commuters to midtown Manhattan often take the New Jersey Transit train from Peapack (about five miles south of Chester) to Penn Station, a rush-hour commute that takes about 90 minutes. Lakeland Bus runs from nearby Far Hills to Port Authority in midtown Manhattan, a trip of about an hour and ten minutes. Newark Liberty International Airport is about 35 miles from Chester.
Chester is located near a network of local highways including Routes 24, 202 and 206. Interstate highways Routes 78, 80 and 287 are short distances away.
Smaller, older homes situated near country roads are interspersed with new 5,000-plus-square-foot brick or stone-front estate homes set back from the road. New construction requires building lots of two to five acres. There are also equestrian and farm properties in this horse-friendly part of the state.
A 2007 article in the New York Times summed up the future of Chester Township when it said “Because so much of the township is protected open space, a century from now Chester could very well look and feel as it does today: a bedroom community of large houses on estate-sized properties, coexisting with a farming industry focused on the local market.”
Cooper Mill in Black River Park on Route 513 is probably Chester’s most famous historic site, and is a scenic reminder of the area’s strong agrarian roots. The 19th century mill is listed on both the state and national register of historic sites, and hosts activities and events for the public throughout the year. Built in 1826 by Nathan Cooper, this fascinating grist mill included some of the newest innovations of the time.
Willowwood Arboretum at 300 Longview Road has about 3,500 kinds of native and exotic plants amidst 130 acres of rolling farmland. Both wild and cultivated plantings can be seen on self-guided tours. The circa 1792 residence features two small formal gardens and several meandering pathways.
Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center at 11 Longview Road has 100 acres of fields, woodlands and a formal garden designed by Martha Brooks Hutcheson, one of the first women to be trained as a landscape architect in the United States.
Alstede’s Country Market on Route 513 presents 200 crops on the 500 acres farmed here, and visitors enjoy the experience of picking their own fruits and vegetables. Chester is also home to Hacklebarney Farms and Riamede Farms, where pick your own berries, apples, peaches, strawberries and vegetables as well as baked goods are available.
Chester Township Fun Fact: Amazingly, the 16-foot water wheel at Cooper’s Mill–which weighs six-and-a-half tons-- takes as little as two cups of water in less than half of the wheel’s 48 buckets to keep it turning at four rotations-per-minute.
Mass Transportation: New Jersey Transit train station in Peapack provides service to midtown Manhattan’s Penn Station. Lakeland Bus has service to Port Authority bus terminal in midtown Manhattan from nearby Far Hills.
Parks: Chubb Park, Route 24; Tiger Brook Park, Cooper Lane; Black River Park, Route 513; Cooper Mill, Route 24; Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center, Willowwood Arboretum, Longview Road; Hacklebarney State Park, off State Park Road
Local Sites/Attractions: Cooper Mill at Black River Park, Willowwood Arboretum, local farm stands for produce and plants.
Housing: Antique farmhouses, antique Colonials, center hall Colonials, equestrian properties, horse farms, luxury real estate, Cape Cods, Victorians, custom homes, cul de sac homes, new homes, ranch homes, cottages, contemporary homes, and a host of distinctive architectural styles.