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The Chester Green

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The town of Chester has its beginnings with the Saybrook Colony which was established in the 1630s by a land grant from Charles II. The first settlement in the area known today as Chester was in 1692. It was not until c. 1730 that the houses were built on Goosehill and the first highway was laid out from the top of the hill south to the Cove at Pattaconk River. The parish was incorporated in 1740 and in 1743 the first meetinghouse was built "east of the third cemetery." (What are said to be stones from its foundation are seen in the front yard of a house located at the corner of Goosehill and Story Hill Roads.) Fifty years later, the second meetinghouse was erected. Parish records on January 1, 1793 place it "at the north end of the green against the road leading from the main road to Cedar Swamp" where it is situated today.

The green dates to the early days of the community and is the site of the first and second meetinghouses. Continued use of the second meetinghouse for town meetings until 1960, and as a site for cultural and civic events, has reinforced the importance of the green as a significant historic site. In addition, it remains central to an historic residential neighborhood and a peripheral industrial area that developed about the time the existing meetinghouse was being actively used by the congregation.

It served as the meetinghouse until c. 1845 when a new Congregational Church was constructed on West Main Street. It was sold to the town in 1847 for $300 and used for the town hall. In 1876 it was substantially remodeled as a theater; Jenny Lind and Tom Thumb both performed there. In later years, it was used for local theatrical events, high school graduations and dances, as well as the ongoing site for town meetings until 1960. In 1971-1972 the church was refurbished under the guidance of the Chester Historical Society with private subscriptions and subsequently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A new wing was added to the north side of the building in 1984-1985 designed by architect Thomas Norton and named after the donor, Burton Cornwall.

Beers Maps from the second half of the 19th century indicate that a connector road existed between Liberty Street and Goosehill Road that formed the northern boundary of the green. Apparently two connector roads existed, one running in front of the meetinghouse where the new wing has been added, and one to the rear. The one in front existed well into the 20th century but was closed several years before the recent restoration took place.



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