Chester is a city in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, United States, with a population of 33,972 at the 2010 census.[4] Incorporated in 1682, Chester is the oldest city in Pennsylvania.[5] Chester is located on the western bank of the Delaware River between the cities of Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware.


Caleb Pusey House, built in 1683 is the only remaining house known to have been visited by William Penn

The Indian tribe that owned the land where Chester now stands were the Okehockings, removed by order of William Penn in 1702 to other lands in Chester County.[6] The original Indian name of Chester was Mecoponaca.[7]

The first European settlers in the area were members of the New Sweden colony. The settlement that became Chester was first called "Finlandia" (the Latin name for Finland) and then "Upland" after the Swedish province of Uppland. The New Sweden settlers built Fort Mecoponacka in 1641 to defend the settlement.[8]

By 1682, Upland was the most populous town of the new Province of Pennsylvania. On October 27, the ship Welcome arrived at the town, bearing William Penn on his first visit to the province. Penn renamed the settlement for the English city of Chester.[9]

Chester played only a small role in the American Revolutionary War. Throughout 1776 and 1777, there were significant forces stationed in Chester and nearby Marcus Hook. In 1777, the Continental Army led by George Washington passed through Chester on the way to meet the British Army led by General Howe at the Battle of Brandywine. John Armstrong was ordered to take command of the militia stationed at Chester. The Continental Army fled back to Chester after defeat at the Battle of Brandywine. A portion of the British force occupied Chester as they chased the Continental Army fleeing to Philadelphia.[10]

Chester served as the county seat for Chester County, which then stretched from the Delaware River to the Susquehanna River. In 1789, Chester became the county seat for the newly created Delaware County. West Chester became the county seat of the newly designed Chester County. On March 5, 1795, the borough of Chester, which had been governed under the charter granted by Penn in 1701 was incorporated by the Pennsylvania Assembly.[11] The Delaware County seat was moved to the borough of Media in 1851.[12] On February 14, 1866, Chester was incorporated as a city.[13]

Chester's naval shipyard supplied the Union during the Civil War, and the United States in subsequent wars until the shipyard at Philadelphia became dominant after World War II. America's largest postbellum shipyard, John Roach's Delaware River Iron Ship Building and Engine Works as well as the Chester Rolling Mill which supplied the metal hull plates and beams were located in Chester. The location was repurposed by the Ford Motor Company with the Chester Assembly factory until 1961. The Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., later Pennsylvania Shipyard & Dry Dock Company, was located in Chester until it closed in 1990. Two ships of the United States Navy have been named USS Chester in honor of the city.

Chester Courthouse was built in 1724 and operated until 1967.
Old St. Paul's Church Burial Ground
Chester waterfront c. 1875
Bird's-eye view of Chester in 1885

The following are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Delaware County National Bank, 1724 Chester Courthouse, Chester Waterside Station of the Philadelphia Electric Company, Old Main and Chemistry Building, William Penn Landing Site, and the former Second Street Bridge.[14]


Workingmen's homes on Taylor Terrace
External audio
Chester, A City Working on a New Narrative, 43:46, Grapple, Keystone Crossroads[15]

Chester began losing its mainstay shipyard and automobile manufacturing jobs as early as the 1960s, causing the population to be halved in fifty years from over 66,000 in 1950 to under 34,000 in 2010. Poverty and crime rose as the city declined. In 1995, the state designated Chester as a financially distressed municipality. Soon thereafter, the city's schools ranked last among the state's 501 districts, leading Pennsylvania education officials in 2001 to hire the for-profit Edison Schools to run the local school district for three years.[16]

J. Lewis Crozer Library

When Chester became eligible for Pennsylvania's Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) program, firms began to accept state and local tax breaks to invest in KOZ-designated areas. The Wharf at Rivertown, a $60 million renovation of the Chester Waterside Station of the Philadelphia Electric Company, originally built in 1918, was renovated and provides recreational and office space for new local endeavors.[17][18] One of its tenants is AdminServer, which makes software for the insurance industry. It moved from Malvern, Pennsylvania in 2003 and was acquired by Oracle in 2007.[19] Another one of the Wharf's tenants is Power Home Remodeling Group, the nation's 2nd largest exterior home remodeling company. Sun Shipbuilding converted part of the shipyard to a smaller shipping concern and sold its interest, then sold off portions of the rest to new users, such as the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution – Chester. Harrah's Casino and Racetrack built its facilities beginning in 2005, launching harness racing along the Delaware River in September 2006, and its racino in January 2007. The employment status for workers sixteen and older, and not in the labor force is at 41 percent.[20]


Chester has a mayor-council government system, consisting of a popularly elected city mayor and city council. The terms of the mayor and members are four years.[21]

The current mayor of the City of Chester is State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, who won the Democratic nomination in May 2015 over incumbent Mayor John Linder. Kirkland was elected on November 3, 2015, and took office on January 4, 2016.[22][23]

The Chester City Council is made up of four members: council members Elizabeth Williams, Portia West, William A. Jacobs, and Edith Blackwell plus the presiding officer, Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland. The City Controller is currently Ms. Edith Blackwell. Council members are elected at large to serve the entire city. Council meetings are generally held the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. Under the Administrative Code of the city, each council member serves as a department head for one of the five municipal departments. Those municipal departments are:[24]

  • The Department of Public Affairs (Mayor Kirkland)
  • The Department of Public Safety (Councilman Jacobs)
  • The Department of Public Works (Councilwoman West)
  • The Parks and Recreation Department (Councilwoman Williams)
  • The Finance and Tax Office (Councilman Nafis Nicoles)
Avenue of the States
Shuttered buildings on Avenue of the States
The Alfred O. Deshong Memorial in Deshong Park

Chester is a Third Class City, and was approved by the citizens on April 20, 1980, as a Home Rule Charter Community.[25] Under the home rule form of government, the city council has been given all the legislative power to create ordinances, rules and regulations so the city can provide for the health, safety and well-being of its citizens.[citation needed]

The city government has been in financial distress for many years. It has operated under the state's Act 47 provisions for twenty-one years. The act provides for municipalities that are near bankruptcy.[26] The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections operates the State Correctional Institution – Chester, a drug treatment facility, in Chester.[27] The city is scheduled to exit the program in May 2018, which may force it into bankruptcy. Additionally, the city is expected to face an operating deficit of $9.2 million[28] for 2016 which has led the new administration to address cutting government spending.

There has recently been a new initiative to provide more public housing in the city, with three different projects at Wellington Heights, Union Square, and Pentecostal Square.[29]

Police Department

The current Police Commissioner, Daren Alston, is serving his second term in that role. He has worked for the department since 1993, and held various other roles such as captain, major, and deputy chief.[30] The department responds to about 4,900 calls for service each month.[31] In 2013, the city expanded its police force as summer was approaching because crime generally rises during that time and the addition was done in anticipation of more calls to action. The United States Department of Justice gave them a Community Oriented Policing Services (C.O.P.S.) grant in 2012 that allowed the department to create five new positions that were implemented in this plan. The department prefers to keep its "rank and file" at more than one hundred officers and this grant has allowed them to surpass that goal. However, retirements and injuries continue to make it difficult to fully staff the department's many divisions.[32]

Despite its efforts, the Chester Police Department still has a strained relationship with its citizens which led to a probe in May 2016.[33] The probe followed a March 2016 shootout that saw the department claiming the suspects fired first, but the residents of the area where the incident took place believed the police fired first.[34] In June, the United States Department of Justice came to Chester to hear the concerns of the citizens and it heavily criticized the department, pointing out deficiencies within the department. The community gathered in the Widener University auditorium where incidents of illegal stop and frisk encounters, the lack of Spanish speaking members of the department, and police brutality were discussed. This was the first step in a 6-month program organized by the Department of Justice's Office of Community Policing. Recommendations will be made early in 2017 and a task force will be in Chester for two years to oversee any department changes.[35]

Crime is a heavy part of the daily life in Chester along with all the violence and economic hardships.[36] The city of Chester has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the country. People in the city of Chester have a 1 in 37 chance of being the victim of a violent crime. Recently, a source stated that there were 73 registered sex offenders living in the area.[37] Other sources say that the crime in Chester, PA is roughly about 114% higher than crime in the rest of Pennsylvania and close to 330% greater than the rest of the nation.

To combat these crimes, the city of Chester has a police force of 112 officers. This is about 80% greater than the average in Pennsylvania.[38]


Chester borders on (clockwise from southwest to northeast) Trainer Borough, Upper Chichester Township, Chester Township, Upland Borough, Parkside Borough, Brookhaven Borough, Nether Providence Township, Ridley Township, and Eddystone Borough in Pennsylvania. Chester is bordered to the south by the Delaware River. The city has a total area of 6.0 square miles (15.6 km2), 4.8 square miles (12.5 km2) of which is land and 1.2 square miles (3.0 km2) of which (19.42%) is water, according to the United States Census Bureau.[4]

Chester Creek meets the Delaware River in Chester. The northeastern border of Chester is defined by Ridley Creek.

Being at a low elevation between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Chester experiences a humid subtropical climate (Cfa) bordering a humid continental climate (Dfa.) The hardiness zone is 7b. [1]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1820 657
1830 847 28.9%
1850 1,667
1860 4,631 177.8%
1870 9,485 104.8%
1880 14,997 58.1%
1890 20,226 34.9%
1900 33,988 68.0%
1910 38,537 13.4%
1920 58,030 50.6%
1930 59,164 2.0%
1940 59,285 0.2%
1950 66,039 11.4%
1960 63,658 −3.6%
1970 56,331 −11.5%
1980 45,794 −18.7%
1990 41,856 −8.6%
2000 36,854 −12.0%
2010 33,972 −7.8%
Est. 2016 33,988 [2] 0.0%

As of Census 2010, the racial makeup of the city was 74.7% African American, 17.2% White, 9.0% Hispanic or Latino of any race, 0.6% Asian, 0.4% Native American, 0.1% Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, 3.9% from other races, and 3.0% from two or more races. [2].

There were 11,662 households, out of which 37.3% had children under the age of 18, 19.5% were headed by married couples living together, 35.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.1% were non-families. 31.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.1% were someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.64, and the average family size was 3.34.[42]

For the period 2010-2014, the estimated median annual income for a household in the city was $28,607, and the median income for a family was $34,840. Male full-time workers had a median income of $34,354 versus $30,634 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,516. About 27.3% of families and 33.1% of the total population were below the poverty line, including 47.7% of those under age 18 and 18.4% of those age 65 or over.[43]


In Chester, east-west streets are numbered, while north-south streets carry names. The main bisecting street, known as The Avenue of the States south of 9th Street and Edgmont Avenue north of it, is signed as both Pennsylvania Route 320 (southbound only; northbound PA Rt. 320 uses adjacent Madison Street to Interstate 95) and Pennsylvania Route 352. North of I-95, State Route 320 follows Providence Avenue. Between 1993 and 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) widened and realigned Pennsylvania Route 291 from Trainer to Eddystone from a two-lane roadway to a five-lane roadway. This widening and realignment project, spearheaded by the late State Senator Clarence D. Bell, allowed PA Route 291 to maintain at least two travel lanes in each direction between the refinery towns of Marcus Hook and Trainer and the Philadelphia International Airport, as well as promote riverfront development in the city.

Highways and bridges

Commodore Barry Bridge across the Delaware River at Chester

Chester is served by two interstate highways: Interstate 95 and Interstate 476, which meet in nearby Crum Lynne. I-95 was built in the 1960s and originally terminated just north of the Chester/Eddystone line at the present-day I-95/I-476 junction. It was extended north in the 1970s, with the section around Philadelphia International Airport being completed in 1985. Three exits on I-95 allow access to Highland Avenue, Kerlin Street, and Edgmont Avenue/Avenue of the States (Rts. 320 & 352).

Two federal highway routes, U.S. Route 13 and U.S. Route 322, also run through Chester. US 13 enters Chester from Trainer on W. 4th Street, becomes part of Highland Avenue between W. 4th Street and W. 9th Street, and then continues on 9th Street to Morton Avenue. US 13 follows Morton Avenue in the city's Sun Village section until it crosses Ridley Creek and becomes Chester Pike in Eddystone.

US 322 enters Chester from the northeast, merges with I-95 briefly and crosses the Delaware River over the Commodore Barry Bridge. Prior to the bridge's opening in 1974, US 322 would cross the Delaware River on the Chester-Bridgeport Ferry, via Flower Street, causing major backups because of limited space on the ferries. With the expansion of State Rt. 291 and the redevelopment of the Chester Waterfront, both the Delaware River Port Authority and PennDOT built a pair of entrance (westbound) and exit (eastbound) ramps to PA Rt. 291, providing direct access to the waterfront without using local streets. The ramps were built between 2007 and 2010 and were opened in 2011.[44]

Plans for reconstruction of US 322 and the merge with I-95 are underway.[45] The road currently requires traffic to merge onto I-95 in the left lane and requires changing lanes three times to the Commodore Barry Bridge exit ramp in less than a mile.

A $16.6 million project to fix up eight I-95 bridges will begin March 2017 and is expected to be finished in November 2018. Improvements to Chestnut Street and Morton Avenue are also included in the project.[46]

Public transportation

Public bus transportation in Chester is provided by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which acquired the former Suburban Philadelphia Transit Authority (aka "Red Arrow" Lines) in 1968. Seven bus routes (Routes 37, 109, 113, 114, 117, 118, and 119) serve the city, with the Chester Transportation Center as the hub.

The city is also served by the SEPTA Wilmington/Newark Line commuter rail service. The Chester Transportation Center and Highland Avenue station are the two SEPTA train stations in Chester. The Lamokin Street station was run as a flagstop station until it was closed and demolished in 2003 due to low usage.

The Chester Transportation Center was both a commuter and intercity stop on the former Pennsylvania Railroad's New YorkWashington route. The Chester Transportation center was bypassed when Amtrak took over intercity rail passenger services in 1971, with the exception from April 30, 1978, to October 29, 1983, when the Chesapeake stopped once daily in each direction between Philadelphia and Washington.


Primary and secondary schools

Public schools

The Chester-Upland School District serves the city, along with nearby Chester Township and the borough of Upland.

Parochial schools

The old armory designed by Will Price

Drexel Neumann Academy is Chester's only parochial school. It is run by the Saint Katharine Drexel Roman Catholic Church which was established in 1993 by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with the consolidation of all Roman Catholic parishes in the city.[47] St. James High School for Boys closed its doors in 1993 due to low enrollment.

Charter schools

Chester Charter School for the Arts was established in 2008 as a small public-private partnership between The Chester Fund for Education and the Arts and the Chester-Upland school district. The school was originally called the Chester Upland School for the Arts (CUSA) and operated until 2011 when significant staff reduction occurred due to state funding cuts.[48] In 2012, a charter school application was accepted and the school operated in Aston until September 2017 when a $30 million campus was built on Highland Ave.[49]

Chester Community Charter School is a charter school established in 1998 that serves over 4,000 students in grades K-8.[50][51] The school operates four campuses, the Upland campus at 1100 Main Street in Upland, the Aston campus at 200 Commerce Drive in Aston, the East Campus at 302 East 5th Street and the West Campus at 2730 Bethel Road in Chester Township.[52]

Widener Partnership Charter School was first launched in 2006, and is currently located across from the main campus of Widener University. It has been operating for eight years, and now has four hundred enrolled students from kindergarten to eighth grade. Widener University provides support to the charter school including educating staff, providing work to graduate students, and use of the university facilities. The school also has a number of outside partners that include 21st Century Learning Communities, Andrew Hicks Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Big Friends, Chester Education Foundation, Earth Force, Exelon Foundation, Incredible Years, PECO, and Soccer for Success.[53] The Widener Partnership Charter School also has recently added a new $4.6 million wing of the school at 1450 Edgmont Ave. This new edition includes a Science Learning Center, an extension of the library, a gymnasium, eight classrooms and eight offices.[54]

Colleges and universities

Widener University is a private, coeducational university located in Chester. Its main campus sits on 108 acres (.44 km²). The university has three other campuses: two in Pennsylvania (Harrisburg and Exton) and one in Wilmington, Delaware.

Founded as The Bullock School for Boys in 1821, the school was established in Wilmington, Delaware. It became The Alsop School for Boys from 1846–1853, and then Hyatt's Select School for Boys from 1853-1859. Military instruction was introduced in 1858 and in 1859 the school changed its name to Delaware Military Academy. It moved to Chester in 1862 and became Pennsylvania Military Academy. It was known as Pennsylvania Military College after 1892 and adopted the Widener name in 1972.

About 3,300 undergraduates and 3,300 graduate students attend Widener in eight degree-granting schools. The university offers associate's, baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral degrees in areas ranging from traditional liberal arts to professional programs. The Carnegie Foundation classifies Widener as a Doctoral/Research University and a Community Engagement Institution. Widener was ranked #181 in the National Universities category by US News & World Report for 2012.[55]

Old Main Building at the Crozer Theological Seminary

Crozer Theological Seminary was a multi-denominational religious institution built in 1858. Its most famous student was Martin Luther King, who graduated in 1951 with a Bachelor of Divinity degree.[56]

In 1970, the school was moved to Rochester, New York in a merger that formed the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.[57] The Old Main Building of the Crozer Theological Seminary was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1973.[58] The seminary grounds are part of the Crozer Arboretum and the Old Main building is part of the Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

Sleeper's College was a vocational school for "office and commercial training" founded in 1910.[59]


Horse racing

Harrah's Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack

With the construction of Harrah's Philadelphia, the city received a series of horse races that were once held at the Brandywine Raceway and the now-defunct Liberty Bell Park Racetrack. The racino opened on January 22, 2008, and features a specially-constructed bridge that enables the midpoint of races, contested at one mile, to take place over the Delaware River.


Club Sport League Venue Established Championships
Philadelphia Union Soccer MLS Talen Energy Stadium 2010  
View of the interior of Talen Energy Stadium, from the southwest corner facing the Commodore Barry Bridge in 2010.

Chester is the home of the Major League Soccer Philadelphia Union franchise, which plays its home games at Talen Energy Stadium, a soccer-specific stadium at the base of the Commodore Barry Bridge. Located on the Delaware River, the stadium is part of a larger development called Rivertown. Financing for the Rivertown development was announced in early 2008 by Governor Ed Rendell and Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, with $25 million going to the construction of Talen Energy Stadium, and an additional $7 million towards a two-phase project composing of 186 townhouses, 25 apartments, 335,000 square feet (31,100 m2) of office space, a 200,000-square-foot (19,000 m2) convention center, more than 20,000 square feet (1,900 m2) of retail space, and a parking structure to house 1,350 cars. In phase two, another 200 apartments will be built, along with 100,000 square feet (9,300 m2) of office space and 22,000 square feet (2,000 m2) of retail space.[60]

Notable people

Points of Interest


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  50. ^ Public school review data sheet
  51. ^ About Us Archived June 21, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. page from the school website
  52. ^ "Contact Us About". chestercommunitycharter.org. Retrieved 27 January 2018. 
  53. ^ "University Partnership". widenerpartnershipcharterschool.org. 24 October 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2017. 
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Further reading

  • Blumgart, Jake. "Chester, Pennsylvania". The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) at Rutgers-Camden. Retrieved 10 February 2016. 
  • Jordan, John W. ed. A History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania (New York Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1914)
  • Johnson, Amandus The Swedes on the Delaware (International Printing Company, Philadelphia. 1927)
  • Weslager, C. A. New Sweden on the Delaware 1638–1655 (The Middle Atlantic Press, Wilmington. 1988)

External links

Preceded by
County seat of Chester County
Succeeded by
West Chester
Preceded by
County seat of Delaware County
Succeeded by