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Monday, April 9, 2012

Who Named Chester and When Was It Founded?

Do a quick history-search of the home of Rock Springs Park, Chester, W.V., online and you will get dozens of hits explaining that the city of Chester is named for J.C. McDonald, “one of its original planners.”

But in my book and in several other dependable sources, J.E. McDonald, not J.C., is credited as being the original planner. In fact, I have not been able to find a single reference to a J.C. McDonald anywhere in Chester’s history, and besides, where is the “Chester” in “J.C. McDonald”? Obviously, it must be his middle name, but that is not clearly stated either.

The East Liverpool Historical Society describes J.E. McDonald as surveying the land in the new south side suburb of East Liverpool in West Virginia for the new town which would “enjoy every modern improvement.” Also stating that in 1899 the town of Chester, West Virginia was granted a charter.

However, many other sources list 1896 as the year the town was established and have it not being incorporated until 1907. So, both the naming and the founding of my home town seem to be in dispute.

Even folks in recent times are just as confused as I. The town celebrated two centennials in the last decade: one in 2000 and one in 2007.

“Chester, West Virginia, celebrated its 100th birthday on Saturday, September 9, 2000. They repainted ‘The World's Largest Teapot’ and got the town ready for its 100th birthday party.”

“Mystery Writer Lauren Carr will kick off the book signing tour for her next book, A Reunion to Die For, in Chester, West Virginia, at their Centennial Celebration on the Fourth of July, 2007.”

In his obituary, dated October 13, 1953, C. A. Smith, not surprisingly, is given the credit. “Mr. Smith founded the village of Chester and named it after his uncle, Chester Mahan.”

On the other hand, Chester historian, Roy C. Cashdollar wrote that “the flatland along the Virginia shore was called Chester prior to the Civil War.” William Pusey came from Chester County in eastern Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, and applied the name Chester “in tribute to his original home.” He notes later in his The History of Chester: The Gateway to the West, “J.E. McDonald came upon the scene first and immediately began to lure people to the area. He did not name Chester, but did popularize the name in all his business deals.”

A 1941 edition of the West Virginia Guide to the Mountain State appears to over rule Cashdollar’s claim. “Chester a predominantly residential town was laid out in 1896 and incorporated in 1907, it was called Chester by its founder, J.E. McDonald, ‘solely because it was a short name, easy to remember.” Really?

This brings me back to my original inquiry: “Who named Chester and when was it founded?

I still don’t know.

In Images of America: Rock Springs Park, I skirt the issue. “J.E. McDonald is sometimes credited with giving Chester its name by popularizing its use in many of his business advertisements, but there can be no doubt that he is the man who helped transform Rock Springs Park from ‘Natures Beauty Spot’ to the ‘Showcase of the East.” Clever, huh?

Okay, readers, help me out.

Do any of you know the real story? Could it be that it was simply a matter of not wanting to make the town’s name too difficult to remember? Were our ancestors really that slow? I don’t think so.

I’ve noticed that most of the sites which give J.C. McDonald credit are simply using Wikipedia as their source? Can Wiki be trusted on this? Where did they get that name, anyway?

Perhaps some of you have insight and will share it here.

In the meantime, I’ll keep researching.

1 comment:

Simon said...

Another possibility you may consider is that the original city of Liverpool, England has the attractive Roman City of Chester located a few miles to its South across the River Mersey, a wide river like the Ohio. I see there are also places nearby in WV that contain the names of the City of Manchester and the County of Cumberland (now called Cumbria). All four of these are very prominent places in the North West of England – so being from Britain (and born between Liverpool and Chester) the idea that they took the name from the City just to the south of Liverpool in England seemed the most likely explanation to me.