I have done a decent amount driving in my day. From college, to sales, to out-of-town relatives, much of my adult years have been spent pounding the pavement. Recently, my travels include routine weekly commutes in and out of the region via Mayfield Road.
Along this route lies a distinct transition that, if you are paying attention, is fairly obvious. As you head east out of Mayfield, hospitals, businesses, and apartment complexes abruptly give way to the wooded and less populated Chagrin Valley. The city life and tight suburbs transform to a more rural suburban atmosphere. Here, heading east out of the valley, we find the western border of our beloved Geauga County and the first township to greet us along our way—Chester.
While Chester, with its large commercial districts, is presently one of the county’s busiest towns, it started just as quiet and desolate as the rest. In 1801, a man by the name of Justice Miner arrived in the area with his son Philo and son-in-law, Harvey Sheffield. The trio cleared a few acres of Justice’s new land, erected a small cabin from the surrounding timber, and headed back to New York. This property, located between Heath and Sperry Roads on the south side of Mayfield Road, was the first settled lot in the town then known as Wooster. The next year, the trio returned with the rest of the Miner family and began to work their land that was later known to locals as the ‘Old Settlement’.
The year 1802 also marked the creation of the Chillicothe Turnpike, known now as Route 306. It was laid out to connect Painesville with Chillicothe, then the capital of the Ohio Territory. The Cleveland-Meadville Rd. was laid out soon after, and both intersected close to the geographic center of ‘Wooster’. This crossing was known as Hudson’s Corners, named for William Hudson who settled there in 1809. His father, David Hudson, donated a 6.25 acre plot of land on the northeast corner of the intersection on February 10, 1811 “to be used as a town park forever and ever.” It still is today.
While this intersection is definitely the present town center, it was not the original. North of ‘Hudson’s Corners’ is Sherman Road, or ‘Center Road’ as it was known back then. Where it crossed the Chillicothe Road was the early heart of ‘Wooster’ and was the first business district. The area included a store, a church, a blacksmith shop and the first town hall.
In 1816, due to postal issues (apparently there was another Ohio town named Wooster), the township reorganized under the name we all have come to know and love—Chester.
Wool Hollow and Scott’s Corner
Other than the Old Settlement and the old Center, Chester had some interesting sub-communities in its past. ’Wool Hollow’ encompassed the northeast section of Chester and was given this designation for the large sheep and wool business that sprouted up in the nineteenth century. A resident by the name of Leverett Barnes was the largest sheep farmer in the town, owning 100 Merino sheep in 1843.
Another, and possibly the best-known sub-town in Chester, emerged in the mid-1800s. Porter Scott purchased land on the south side of the intersection of Mayfield and Sherman Roads. This became known as Scott’s Corners until the interurban railroad from Cleveland came through and made the area a stopping point. Around the depot, business developed, and the spot was re-named Scottsburg at the turn of the 20th century. The site of the former community is now home to the Chesterland Historical Foundation, and several of the Chester’s old structures have been moved there for preservation, including the original town hall from the Old Center.
In 1842, the Freewill Baptist Church was searching for a site for a new school of higher learning. The group decided at a meeting (held in Huntsburg, no less) that Chester would be the location and began classes in the church at the old center. Late in the next year, the Western Reserve Labor Seminary opened its doors. The new three-story facility rested on a stone foundation just north of the Chester Township Park. It was known locally as the Geauga Seminary and contrary to its name, was simply a higher-education facility as opposed to a school for those entering the clergy. Until the 1890s, the school boarded students on the upper floors. President James A. Garfield actually attended the Seminary for a few years of his childhood. The school was remodeled in 1892 and again in 1906 when it was reduced to two floors. It fell into disrepair and was finally torn down around 1927.
Chester Caves Resort
The Chester Caves Resort was created as a vacation spot to escape the hustle and bustle of Cleveland life. It was located near the southwest corner of Caves Road and Sherman Road and came to life with the introduction of the interurban rail line which stopped just south of the grounds. The park opened for business on May 30, 1900, and was centered around the massive outcroppings and caves of Sharon conglomerate sandstone on the grounds. There was a dancing pavilion, a dining hall, several cottages, a boating lake, and multiple springs.
In 1913, a massive snowstorm caused the dancing pavilion to collapse. It was rebuilt, but it was not much longer before the park would close its gates for good. In 1925, the Maple Leaf branch of the interurban rail line ceased operation, and with it went the large groups of relaxation-seeking Clevelanders. Chester Caves Resort closed in 1927, and the property was sold to a private landowner. The pavilion stood until 1935 when it was torn down.
“The Orchard King”
One of Chester’s most prominent citizens was Charles Bingham. Charles came to the area practicing medicine but ended up making his mark in the fruit industry. Eventually known nationally as ‘The Orchard King’, Mr. Bingham boasted the largest orchard east of the Mississippi River! He owned thousands of acres in the area and had large warehouses for storing his apples in nearby Hambden. Mr. Bingham was also known for his early research in the frozen food industry. His orchards in Chesterland sprawled along the southeast corner of Scotland.
Today, Chester is a busy town, boasting dozens of businesses. Many of the old buildings are long gone or moved, but if you look closely, remnants of the old Chester still remain.
For more information, make sure to contact the Chesterland Historical Foundation, or visit their website.