(Chester County; 2000 pop. 6,476). In 1791 Chesterville (shortened to Chester in the nineteenth century) was surveyed to be the Chester County seat. Both the town and county were named after Chester County, Pennsylvania, where many of the area’s first European settlers originated. By the early 1800s the village boasted a courthouse, a jail, and male and female academies. The site was incorporated as a town in 1849 and received a city charter in 1889.
In the antebellum era Chester grew slowly around the property of the Stewart family, and by 1835 it contained at least twelve buildings, including the courthouse and a Baptist church. The arrival of the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad in 1851 brought prosperity and prominence to Chester and gave local farmers the opportunity to send their crops to markets across the state. In 1852 a new courthouse was constructed and the state legislature chartered the Bank of Chester, which opened for business the next year. During the Civil War, the Chester railroad depot was a stopping point for Confederate wounded returning from battlefields throughout the South.
In 1879 the state allowed Chester County schools to incorporate into the Chester Graded School, making it the second such school in the state when it opened its doors the following year. In 1888 local entrepreneurs organized Chester’s first cotton mill, the Chester Manufacturing Company, which commenced operations with one hundred looms and its own dye works. City leaders constructed a second cotton mill in 1900, the Wylie Mill, which was eventually acquired by Springs Industries. As in most of the surrounding county, textile mills remained the dominant industrial employer well into the next century.
During the first decades of the twentieth century, Chester steadily added the trappings of a modern, progressive city. The city already possessed its own modern communications network, the Chester Telephone Company, organized in 1897. Dr. S. W. Pryor established the Magdelene Hospital in 1904. After a fire destroyed the hospital in 1916, it was replaced by the Pryor Hospital. City bond issues in 1920 and 1922 paved most of the streets in Chester and built a new high school, which opened in 1924. In the decades following World War II, both the city and county of Chester worked for economic diversification to reduce reliance on two dominant employers, the textile giants Springs Industries and J. P. Stevens. In the early 1960s city and county leaders established the Chester County Board of Commerce, which attracted new manufacturers, such as Schlegel Corporation and Sun Chemical Corporation. A boost to the morale and economy of Chester came in 1983 when the city became the setting for a CBS television miniseries, “Chiefs,” based on Stuart Wood’s 1981 best-seller. Film production provided a welcome diversion for Chesterites at a time when declines in agriculture and the textile industry left the local economy in the doldrums.
Chepesiuk, Ronald. Chester County: A Pictorial History. Norfolk, Va.: Donning, 1984.
Chepesiuk, Ronald, Gina Price White, and J. Edward Lee. Along the Catawba River. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 1999.