Chester -- Thayer County
Because of a tragic incident on Christmas Eve 1985, the whole nation became aware of a village in Nebraska by the name of "Chester." On that cold, snowy night, the body of a child, dressed only in blue pajamas, was found along the roadside. In the months that followed, authorities searched for clues that would lead them to learn his identity and to discover the circumstances that surrounded his death. In the early spring, while the name of the little boy was still unknown, he was laid to rest in the Chester cemetery. The concerned community of Chester turned out en masse to give him a dignified funeral, calling him "Matthew, gift of God." Years later, when the entire sad story was revealed, his real name, Daniel Stutzman, was added to the stone. He will, perhaps, always be known as "Chester's Little Boy Blue."
The town of Chester was established when the Republican branch of the Burlington Railroad reached this area in the fall of 1880 and needed a station at this location. It was given the name "Chester" for Chester A. Arthur, 21st president of the United States. According to the records, there are 26 other towns in the United States with this name.
Platted by the Lincoln Land Company, the town was located "on the divide" between Rose Creek to the south and Dry Creek to the north, about three miles from each. Thus, while the early settlers had easy access to water, they did not have a problem with flooding as many towns did.
The original plat consisted of 15 blocks, nine on the north side of the railroad and six on the south side. When the town was new, lots sold for $25 each. Five passenger and several freight trains stopped at the depot daily. A Burlington turn-table was built at Chester for turning the engine on the Chester-Fairmont daily passenger train in 1906. G.E.Waring had a sale barn in the 1930s.
In the early days, Chester's business district contained three doctors, a dentist, several grocery and dry goods stores, two hotels, a number of cafes, a blacksmith shop, several elevators, a lumber yard, and a number of barber shops.
At present there is a bank, a hardware store, three construction companies, two auto repair shops, a cafe, beauty shops, elevators, farm chemical dealers, a truck stop, a motel, a painting and decorating service, a liquor store and lounge, a welding shop, an aerial spraying service, an auto sales, a post office, a medical clinic, a funeral parlor, a printing office, an antique shop, and an occasional freight train.
The Church of Christ, Methodist, and Lutheran churches were established in the 1880s. All are still active today.
During the summer of 1880, the first schoolhouse of the district was built in the northeast corner of town. After the village incorporated in 1883, a larger school was built on the present site. The addition of a large gym and several class rooms was completed in 1966.
Our town's claim-to-fame was, and is, that Chester is where six-man football originated. When Stephen Epler was the high school coach in the early 1930s, he initiated the game which is still played by a number of the small high schools around the state as an interscholastic sport. Chester's school is now known as "CHB" -- Chester-Hubbell-Byron -- as a result of consolidation with two neighboring towns. It now has an excellent sports complex located along Highway 81, near one of our two parks.
The highest population recorded for Chester was 634 in 1940. The current population is 360. Our highly-qualified rescue unit serves not only Chester, but also the Hubbell and Byron communities. The community has an active senior citizens center providing noon meals, meals on wheels, and monthly card parties.
Chester is located in Thayer County on the Nebraska-Kansas state line where Highways 81 and 8 intersect. This brings many tourists to our quiet, little village. Visitors stop to enjoy our spacious parks or shop in our friendly stores.
We would welcome a visit from you!
By Bernetha Gillette, Box 21, Chester, NE 68327, with the help of Zora Mae Messman and Frieda Truss.