Presenting a case for preserving a historic site in the Village of Chester

| 02 Jun 2021 | 03:52

The Village of Chester Planning Board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, June 22, at 7: p.m. at the Chester Senior Center, 81 Laroe Road, Chester, in regard to an application by Westlake Development to construct an Advance Auto business on one of the Village’s remaining significant historic sites.

You may have noticed historic markers on the main roads coming into and going out of the village. The top line of these markers proclaims “Home of Neufchaltel Cheese.”

That cheese, along with cream cheese and other fancy cheeses such as brie and d’Isigny, were produced right here at William Alfred Lawrence’s Neufchatel and Cream Cheese factory.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Lawrence cheeses were shipped across this country and to foreign markets.

Son T.F. Lawrence ceased operations here May 1, 1925, due to scarcity of milk supply. Operations then moved to their Antwerp, N.Y., location.

Not only was Lawrence successful in business, his factory being the chief industry in Chester; he was instrumental in the incorporation of the Village as a way of being able to obtain water for fire protection by taxing its residents.

In 1892 he became the Village’s first President, then a water commissioner and a founding member of the Walton Hose Company – all within two years.

His landholdings grew; encompassing both sides of what is now Brookside Avenue from West Avenue north to include Brookview farm in the town.

Lawrence and his family members lived at various times in three of the still existing structures along Brookside Avenue.

The immense cheese factory was demolished in the 1930s, but still standing today are what was his home at 99 Brookside, the small house that the parents of his stepson’s wife and later his son and wife lived in at 93 Brookside and the building now Orange Trust Bank, 91 Brookside, where his grandson, wife and great granddaughter lived.

Advance Auto project’s proposal puts their discordant corporate style building on the site of theold cream cheese factory.

As proposed, its disharmonious placement between the mid 19thcentury picturesque bracketed style structures defiles the streetscape; whose appearance, by the way, the developer was told at the February 4th planning board workshop was a big concern.

Historic resources and their preservation drew the most consistent interest during the public outreach phase in the creation of the new Comprehensive Plan which is waiting to be adopted by the Village Board.

That draft Comprehensive Plan recommends this area as part of a futures mall West Chester Historic Overlay district.

The Chester Historical Society has applied for a Preserve New York Grant from the Preservation League of New York in order to help fund a cultural resource survey for that small historic district, including the three historic Lawrence homes: five tax parcels; 91 Brookside Avenue, repurposed as Orange Trust Bank on the corner of West Avenue and Brookside Avenue, the former residence of W. A. Lawrence at 99 Brookside Avenue which has been appropriately readapted as law offices and the three parcels upon which Advance Auto wants to build, which includes the small cottage at 93 Brookside.

The survey would be a first step to possibly list this district on the state and national register of historic places adding weight to efforts to preserve these locally significant historic resources.

This 3.5 acre area is threatened by the development as proposed by the Advance Auto project which our current zoning does allow if no-one steps up to do or say anything to prevent it.

Leslie Smith