'What We've Lost' stirs the ghosts of Chester's past
Chester. The Chester Historical Society's new exhibit at the Erie Station Museum is a tour through the businesses, schools, and homes that once graced the local landscape.


An open carriage in front of Lord’s blacksmith shop during the 100th Hambletonian Anniversary Parade on May 5, 1949. Lord's shop occupied the site where Main Street Pizza is now located. You can also see, on the right, part of the building that now houses Lorgan's Hair Design. (Photo courtesy of the Chester Historical Society)
By Ginny Privitar

"What We've Lost," the Chester Historical Society's new exhibit at the 1915 Erie Station Museum, open a window on bygone buildings that once stood in Chester but still live in memory, with the aid of photographs, documents, and other artifacts.
Perusing the exhibit, the visitor can overlay the faraway past on the familiar present.
On the site where CVS is now, for example, the original Chester Academy once stood. It was destroyed by fire in 1906. A photo shows the school ablaze as the bell tower falls into the flames. That very bell is now in the vestibule of the present Chester Academy on Hambletonian Avenue.
The moment was captured forever by James Razey, a professional photographer who lived in Chester and had a tiny studio, long gone, on Main Street, between the corner antiques store — formerly Durland's general store — and the Yelverton Inn.
Now a private residence, the Yelverton Inn existed before the American Revolution. The Yelverton family did much for the area. George Washington did not sleep there, but he took a meal there with some of his officers. Washington was careful to document his expenses for reimbursement, and a receipt exists for his meal at Yelverton's. This historic inn still stands but has fallen into disrepair.
The Patriot who blocked the British
Perhaps the most egregious loss is the Peter Townsend house, which was razed in the 1990s. Its last incarnation was as a beauty parlor, in house on a rise behind today’s Main Street Pizza.
It was the home of a man very important to the American Revolution, Peter Townsend, who owned the Sterling Iron Works with his partner, William Noble. Knowing that Townsend sympathized with the Patriots, George Washington sent two emissaries, including Secretary of War Timothy Pickering, to his home in Chester. There a contract was signed on Feb. 2, 1778, for Townsend's ironworks to supply links for the "Great Chain," which was extended across the Hudson River at West Point to block the British from making further incursions upriver. An earlier chain strung at Fort Montgomery had broken, enabling the British to sail upriver and burn Kingston.
The dairy farmer who nourished the city
Other exhibits show lovely private homes that are no more. The substantial home of the wealthy Tuthill family once stood on land now occupied by the Chester Academy.
The Gregory/King house, later occupied by the deSchauensee family, once stood on a rise overlooking Route 94, where the Meadow Hill apartments now stand. The early Gregory and King families made their mark on Chester. Philo Gregory helped put Chester on the map when he started shipping milk on the Erie Railroad from his farm to New York City. Suddenly, city people had access to fresh milk. Soon farmers throughout Orange County were also shipping milk, bringing a new level of prosperity to the area.
The exhibit also includes photos of bygone businesses. The Chester (Imperial) Meatpacking plant operated on a site now occupied by the Lowe's Home Improvement store. Cattle were brought in by train at the Erie Station and driven through the streets to the slaughterhouse.
Ananias B. Lord's blacksmith shop once was where the current Main Street Pizza now stands. After the Chester Academy burned down, some classes were temporarily held on an upper story of the blacksmith shop — the kind of place that today would be considered too hazardous for groups of children.
Opening day was also the occasion of a slide presentation by railroad historian Bob McCue on local train lines. He gave an excellent talk full of interesting facts that intrigued the audience.
So come down to the Erie Station Museum on Winkler Place any Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for an appreciation of local history — not only what we've lost, but what we still have, and want to protect.