Improvements along Chester’s main street in the past several years have included brick-lined sidewalks and new lampposts sporting red and blue banners noting places of historical significance; including the old Chester High School, the World’s Largest Teapot, and my favorite – Rock Springs Park (pictured).
Growing up in Chester, West Virginia, I often incorrectly identified the main street through town as “Main Street.” Mostly this was because I lived on a dead end and many lost drivers would interrupt a street wiffle ball game or a game of catch to ask us for directions to the bridge. It was easier to refer to the main drag though town as “Main Street” rather than its given name “Carolina Avenue.”
There have been two Chester Bridges – the old one and the new one. The old one at First Street closed in 1969 and the new one opened in 1977. During the intervening years, drivers used Newell's toll bridge.
Carolina Avenue in Chester is clearly "Main Street" as it is the address for the post office, fire department, several banks, and most other businesses. You enter Chester at one end of Carolina Avenue and exit at the other. Plus, It’s the only street in town with traffic lights – four at present – two when I was a kid . Not to mention, geographically speaking, Carolina Avenue neatly divides Chester right down the middle with the mountains to the south and the Ohio River to the north. Historically speaking, it was the very first road in town.
Our family business, Herche's Pharmacy, was located on Carolina Avenue and Third Street in Chester.
The reason many vehicles stopped and asked for directions in my old neighborhood was because at one time Carolina and Virginia Avenues were along a trolley route that led from East Liverpool, Ohio, across the old Chester Bridge and on to Rock Springs Park. Approaches to bridges in those days were not sprawling clover leaf exchanges like today, but could be found anywhere; including at the end of a winding neighborhood street like ours or at an abrupt 90 degree turn like the one off Route 2 to enter the Newell Bridge. Before the interstates, drivers had to go through the small towns and in many instances the main drag was not a straight shot.
There was no gentle cloverleaf-style off-ramp at the northern portal of the Chester Bridge. Drivers were forced to make a sharp left into downtown East Liverpool.
In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Juliet delivers the famous line, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” meaning “What matters is what something is, not what it is called.” This is apropos when talking about Carolina Avenue in Chester. A quick Google Map search shows it to be Route 2 today. Before the new Chester Bridge (which by the way is actually called “The Jennings Randolph Bridge”) was built, the old trolley route through town was designated as part of the three mile section of the Lincoln Highway through West Virginia, making Carolina Avenue also the Lincoln, and then Route 30.
Call it "Route 2", "Route 30", "The Lincoln", or any other name you want, but Carolina Avenue in Chester is still Main Street to me. If you happen to be in town over the 4th of July, as I was last week, and see it festooned in red, white, and blue bunting and rows and rows of American flags, you just might call it "Main Street USA."
Although he did not stop and ask for directions, Jack Nicklaus got lost in my neighborhood looking for the old Chester Bridge in the early 80s. He was heading to Ohio with his father for a tournament, we learned on the evening news. We weren’t sure if it was Jack until he did a three-point turn at the end of our dead end street and we saw his vanity plate which read, “PGA.”