Originally settled in 1644 by the Swedish as “Upland”, the name was changed to Chester in 1682. Incorporated on October 31, 1701 as a Boro and as a city on February 14, 1866. Chester is the oldest City in Pennsylvania. In 1681, William Penn acquired the colonial settlement as a safe haven for Quakers. One year later he landed on the ship Welcome and renamed the settlement Chester, after the city in England. For the first two hundred years of its history, Chester was prosperous and wealthy manufacturing community with industries concentrating on machinery, metal manufacturing, locomotive, shipbuilding, and textiles. These strong industries, paired with the city’s proximity to the Delaware River and major railways generated jobs and fueled a steady population growth.
During the early 1900’s, Chester experienced its first major growth period stimulated by World War I. The population grew significantly from 38,000 in 1910 to 58,000 in 1920 as people moved into the city to fill the many jobs generated by the war. The rapid expansion of Chester’s industrial base and the need for workers to support this growth provided many jobs in Chester and vicinity. The job growth also created a demand for housing and other services. After this initial growth and during the depression years, economic development activity stabilized. Along with the rest of the county, manufacturing employment dropped significantly in Chester during this time.
As in many cities and urban areas, World War II stimulated a second period of economic prosperity. As employment increased, housing demands grew in Chester. Business and industry operated at an all time high in the city. By 1950, Chester’s population peaked at more than 66,000; however, the post-war economy also had a negative impact on Chester as it did on many industry-based cities at the time. By the mid-1950s, Chester began to experience economic difficulties as manufacturing and other industries moved out of the city. As a result, employment declined into the 1960s, as many people migrated out of Chester to surrounding towns and suburbs.
Since 1996, Chester has received 1.36 billion dollars in public and private investment. With these funds, the city has restored its parks system, improved and expanded housing, attracted new business, generated thousands of job opportunities, and invested funds into future development projects. Today Chester is the site of five nationally registered historic places:
1724 Chester Courthouse
Chester Waterside Station of the Philadelphia Electric Company
Delaware County National Bank
Old Main and Chemistry Building
Second Street Bridge
William Penn Landing Site