Thursday, August 10, 2017

When Chester became a city a fun look back

Need some help a unknown aerial of Chester from about 1950. A location etc.


 What the Records of the Town Council Tell of Legislative Work Little Bits of History

In the steel vault of the City Clerk’s office is a large volume substantially bound in full sheep, whose closely written 558 pages of well-preserved manuscript is the only document that has come down to us of the present, appertaining to the official records o the ancient borough of Chester.  The minutes of meetings of the Burgesses of the town begin June 6, 1857 and continues until April 6, 1866, a period of almost nine years, while the minutes of the Council of the City of Chester begin April 6, 1866 and extend to, including June 15, 1868.  In all eleven years, during which the old order of things that had attained for a hundred and fifty-five years gave place to new conditions which came when Chester took upon herself the responsibilities and dignities of city government.
            It is a matter of regret that very little of the records of Chester, as a borough have been preserved to our day.  Nearly thirty years ago, when John Hill Martin was preparing his “History of Chester,” he visited our city in the hope that he could trace the whereabouts of the official books and papers appertaining to the old Borough government.  With that purpose in view he waited on the late George Baker, the last Chief Burgess only to learn that several years before the city was incorporated, the minute books of Councils and the documents that had accumulated for more than a century, had been dumped into barrels and, as they were deemed of no value, in fact regarded as a nuisance at one of the annual cleanings up of the old hall had been sold as waste to a dealer.  Mr. Baker doubted and he was emphatic, for I was present at the interview, whether any record whatever had been saved from the junk pile.  This volume, however, has escaped that fate.
THE OLD VOLUME - From time to time Frank W. Harrison, the efficient clerk of the city, has given me free access to the pages of this valuable book of official records. Through his kindness I am enabled to present the facts which make the groundwork of these sketches, covering a period of the history of Chester, when the old system of municipal government was showing “structural weakness” and the public were clamoring for a new order of things – a condition out of which came the active, progressive city of today.  This volume, our only record of the old borough, is valuable if for nothing else than that it affords us opportunity to measure the conditions that existed forty-eight years ago, when the population of the town – covering the same territory that we do now – was about four thousand souls, and the city of today, probably with forty thousand inhabitants.  It is only by contrasts that growth can be measured.
THE BOROUGH RECORDS – Taking the old minute book as the main source for the facts appearing in these sketches and occasionally illustrating the narrative by turning on some side lights, as the story develops, I hope to present to the reader information that will be instructive, sometimes amusing and unquestionably of considerable historic value, dealing as it does with the formative period of our present city government.  The trials and tribulations which came to our staid borough fathers, were, at that time, as serious and as difficult to grapple with successfully as are the subjects presented to our more complexed municipal legislative bodies of today.  We laugh now at the perplexities of Borough Council, just as fifty years hence the people then will find amusement in recitals of the momentous problems that vex the gentlemen of our Select and Common Councils in this year of grace, 1905.
            BOUGHT THE COURT HOUSE – On December 9th, 1850, the borough authorities at public sale of the county properties in Chester, purchased the old Court House and the contiguous grounds, paying therefore $2601.  To comply with the terms of sale, the Borough was compelled to negotiate a note at the Delaware County Bank for that amount and that debt was a serious problem constantly confronting the Committee of Ways and Means for more than a decade.
            For several years after that purchase the treasury controlling no money that could be employed is making needed alterations to the hall, the building remained practically as it was when it passed into the ownership of the borough.  The court room, shorn of its bench, the bar enclosure and the seats for the witnesses, suitors and spectators, it is true were removed, and the apartment could be hired for exhibitions, public sales or for any legitimate purpose that would turn a few dollars into the town coffers.  Gradually the second story was altered to meet the needs of Council but for some time it was occupied as a school, which was attended by the children of the residents of the place, whose parents would not send their offspring to the public school at Fifth and Welsh Streets.
            THE OLD MARKET HOUSE – Until the spring of 1857, the Borough council met in the second story of the old Market House, which for a hundred and twenty years had occupied the center of Market Square.  That building, a structure thirty-five feet in length and twenty-five feet in width, facing north and south, was erected on a raised brick, stone curbed platform, fifty feet long and thirty-five feet wide.  Originally the shingled roof only was born up by fourteen brick pillars – seven on each side.  The plastered ceiling was rounded in an arch through which was afforded a glimpse of the Delaware in the distance when viewed from the northern end of the shed.  Early in the nineteenth century, a frame addition was built on the north end of the roof of the Market House, the new structure being about twenty feet in length and sixteen in width.
            It was built with a three-fold purpose – as a chamber in which the sessions of the Burgesses could be held; a hall for town meetings, when the court room could not be had; and, a room in which to house the books owned by the Chester Library Company.  On the roof of this building was a small square cupola and in each of its sides, for ventilation and ornamentation, were permanent blinds, painted green, and the remainder of the structure being white.  A wooden staircase on the east and on the outside of the Market building, facing James Street and old St. Paul’s church gave access to the hall.
            THE OLD QUESTIONS – In that apartment frequently in the winter seasons, the young men of the town debated interesting subjects, or discussed such topics as: “Which is the Greater – Columbus who discovered America, or Washington who saved it?”  As public amusements were the exception in those days, unless the night proved to be raining, the speakers usually addressed large audiences.
            In April 1857, the old Market House was dismantled.  John G. Dyer purchased the material in the building for 35.  The frame structure in which Borough Council met, for many years, was lowered bodily to the ground, placed on skids removed to Fifth Street and set up.  There it will remain now used as a Chinese laundry.  It is situated immediately in the rear of Louis A. Clyde’s store.  Nearly three days were consumed in the removal of the building from Market Street to the present location.  Its progress along the street attracted a crowd as a modern circus parade does today.
            During the preceding year, 1856, nearly $500 were expended in making alterations to the old Court House to adapt it to the uses of the municipality.
            SOME EXPENDITURES – Among the expenditures was an item of $37.48, the cost of piping and fixtures in introducing was in that building.  In the same year a committee of citizens of which F.S. Walter was chairman, raised by private subscriptions seventeen hundred dollars.  That sum was used in the purchase of the present town clock, the erection of the clock lower and the removal of the old belfry, which formerly crowned the center of the building.  There for one hundred and twenty-seven years had hung the old bell which was cast in 1739 by John Rice in Chester, England.  It had right loyally rung in honor of each successive birthdays of George II and his nephew and successor, the mad King George III, and subsequently it had called the people to assemble on July 4th successively for ninety-nine years to celebrate the proclamation of America’s independence.
            At that time the raising of the fund to buy and install the town clock was a matter entailing great labor.  A short time preceding his death, Mr. Walter told me that he still had the original subscription paper together with an itemized account of the way in which the money had been expended.  It was, he said, his intention to write and publish the story of the clock, believing it would be a valuable contribution to the history of the town.  That he failed to do.  None of those papers, I am told, were found among those which came into the possession of Mr. Walter’s representatives at his death.  When first erected the dials of the clock were of wood, with gilded figures for the hands, and they were not replaced by the present transparent ones until about twelve years later.
            THE OLD MINUTE BOOK – At the time the old minute book opens, July 6th 1857, John Edward Clyde was Chief Burgess.   John Larkin, Jr., was president of Council and his fellow burgesses were Abram Blakeley, Samuel Cliff, Benjamin Garside, Joseph Aldous Crossman Lyons, David B. Thomason, Y.S. Walter and Dr. William of the then town fathers alive in the flesh today.  William H. Falkville was town clerk, Hon. Frederick J. Hinson, Borough Treasurer and William G. Lyons held the place as High Constable or Chief of Police for the minutes make mention of him under both of those titles.
            AN OLD SUBJECT – The everlasting topic of repairs to the public highways shows itself as the first subject demanding the attention of the Councils in the first recorded minutes that have been preserved to us.  It appears that the Chester Gas Company in laying its mains on James (now Third) and Market Streets, had opened trenches through the platforms on which the market house stood.  John and Washington Rumford had re-laid the pavement and had been paid for the work by the Gas Company.  Sometime later the bricks over the trenches settled, forming deep gutters.  The public complained that the depressions were dangerous to purchasers frequenting the market.  The Rumford’s thereupon repaired the pavements a second time and charged the work to the borough.
            The claimants in explaining why they had done that, stated that the conditions in which the streets were kept by the municipality prevented the water, after a rainfall, to flow freely in the gutters, hence, pools formed in the highways.  The trenches made by the Gas Company collected the water and gradually the pavement was undermined, finally sinking until deep gutters were formed in the floor of the market house.  Councils were willing that the Gas Company should pay the bill, but at a subsequent meeting, the Borough assumed the debt and an order of $8.47 was drawn in settlement of the account.
            GOING FOR DOGS – It was dog days and as several names of rabid animals inflicting damage to stock and alarming the public had occurred, the Committee on Ordinances reported an ordinance “to regulate dogs running at large in the borough.”  The minutes state that as this grave rise to “considerable discussion,” the ordinance “was withdrawn.”
            On the evening of August 3d, Mr. Ladomus, chairman of the Committee on Ordinance, presented an ordinance prohibiting “wheelbarrows, hand-carts or other vehicles from passing over the sidewalks of the Borough,” which was laid over until the next meeting of Council.  Mr. Gartside ordered a resolution that stone fenders should be placed at all the lamp posts as a protection from passing vehicles.  It seems that a wagon to discharging freight to the general store of Johnson & Cochran.  (R. Morgan Johnson and John Cochran) where the White Swan Hotel is now, had backed against and wrecked one of the city lamps, and Mr. Gartside’s resolution was to guard against such accidents in the future.  The Borough sought to compel Johnson & Cochran to make good the loss in that lamp, but the firm did not accent that view of the matter and did not pay the bill.
            SOME OF THE DISPUTES – The bill of the Gas Company for lighting the town for the preceding three months amounting to $165.50 – an old resident tells me that the ordinary consumer was charged $4 per thousand feet was ordered paid.  But the charge of Mr. Ladomus “for attendance.  Four months later the Committee on Ways and Means reported that they had written to the Chief Burgesses of West Chester and Norristown, to learn what was paid annually for “caring” for the town clock.  The only reply received was from West Chester, where the pay was twenty-five dollars a year.  Mr. Ladomus, the Committee reported, would be satisfied with a like salary, and so was Council, for the bill was ordered paid on those terms.
            ALAS, POOR BROWSER – An ordinance was reported an enacted providing that after ten days’ notice “from the date hereof” that all dogs of either sex found running at large in any of the streets, public highways, fields or other enclosures of the said Borough without proper and safe muzzles” shall be “taken up by the High Constable or other person authorized by him or the Burgess” and placed in a suitable kennel for the space of twenty-four hours during which the dog or slut’s whereabouts and on refusal of the owner to pay one dollar and fifty cents for his or her redemption, then the said dog or slut shall be destroyed.”  One-half of the redemption money was to go to the constable and the remainder be paid into the town treasury.  Seventy-five cents was allowed the constable for every animal destroyed.  The ordinance was operative from the first day of June until the first day of September in each and every year thereafter.  That is the first dog ordinance enacted in our city’s history.


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