Visitors Guide to
Chester is situated on
the Mississippi River on the Great River Road and is the county seat of
Randolph County. The earliest known European settler to the area was John
McFerron who purchased 47 acres that included a ferry landing from the
government in 1816. Samuel Smith, however, is considered the founder of
Chester, which was originally known as Smith’s Landing. Smith built a
dwelling, a mill, and established a ferry in 1829. Smith’s wife, Jane, was
from Chester, England, and the name of her hometown was given to the new
In the 1830’s Chester
expanded and along the riverfront were an iron foundry, machine shop,
several large stores, and steamboats found chopped wood for fuel.
Chester’s earliest industry was the production of castor oil, which was
used as a lubricant for railways and industrial machinery. Chester
incorporated in 1835 and in its early days was located entirely below the
bluffs. The Flood of 1844 caused the county seat to move from Kaskaskia to
Chester where the courthouse was temporarily located in a schoolhouse until
a new courthouse was completed in 1848. The stone annex, now the Archives
Building, was built in 1863 and today houses the Randolph County Museum.
The museum contains Kaskaskia Manuscripts, Native American artifacts, and an
old electric chair that was last used to execute a woman who had killed her brother.
Next door is the Randolph County Court House with an observation deck on the
fifth floor for a great view of the Mississippi River and Missouri farmlands
in the flood plain.
As the town grew and
began to occupy the tops of the bluffs, access to the riverfront was made by
what became known as the “city steps,” a stairway of more than 100
steps. Chester became a river port in the mid 19th century and exported
locally produced castor oil, flour, and meat. Chester was also a favorite
stopping place for the steamboats and their passengers. Charles Dickens and
his wife stayed here in 1842 and Mark Twain supposedly stayed at the Cliff
House, which was a noted river hotel. The buildings of the original town
along the river no longer exist but a number of homes on the bluffs
overlooking the river, such as the Cohen Home, give visitors a sense of
the architectural style of a 19th century river town.
is the birthplace and early home of Elzie C. Segar, the creator of Popeye.
Segar is said to have modeled many of the Popeye characters after real
residents of Chester. In 1977 a 6-foot bronze Popeye statue was dedicated in
Segar Memorial Park, located near the Chester Bridge that crosses the
Mississippi River. In September
Chester hosts its popular annual Popeye Picnic with events located at numerous locations
throughout the town.