CHESTER - Situated literally at the top of West Virginia, Chester can best be described as "just a quiet, friendly little town," according to City Clerk Sandra Parkins.
"This one knows that one, this one's related to that one, so you've got to watch what you say," Parkins quipped.
Chester, home to about 2,575 residents, seems to typify the small town ideal of Main Street, as main artery W.Va. 2 - called Carolina Avenue as it passes through the city - is lined with small, family-owned businesses, from a candle shop to a bakery to a collectibles store and a bait shop.
The “World’s Largest Teapot,” built in Chester in 1938 from a giant barrel once used in a root beer advertising campaign, is the city’s most unique feature, standing near the entrance ramps to U.S. 30.
Photo by Ian Hicks
And Chester officials have their eye on new development, as the old Taylor, Smith and Taylor pottery plant site is up for sale. Its current owner, the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, is marketing the property, and Executive Director Pat Ford said two natural gas-related companies have expressed interest, but no official announcement has been made.
The plant closed in 1981 and continued to deteriorate for 30 years until the BDC purchased the property. Parkins said the demolition was a long time in coming for Chester residents.
"They're happy it's gone. It's just the anticipation of what's going to come next," said Parkins. "It was pretty bad. They had started to demolish it at one time, but there were some legal issues that put a stop to it. Then the BDC bought it."
Chester also is home to the "World's Largest Teapot," the city's most unique landmark, which greets visitors entering town from U.S. 30. Measuring 14 feet in height and 14 feet in diameter, it was built in 1938, converted from a giant barrel originally used in a root beer advertising campaign into a teapot that sat in front of William "Babe" Devon's pottery outlet.
Various items from food and souvenirs to lawn and garden items and china were sold from inside the teapot at various points in its history. It was donated to the city in 1987 and renovated once in 1990 and again in 2007. A local Boy Scout, J.P. Raynor of New Manchester, repainted the teapot as his Eagle Scout project in 2011.
And Chester also was home to Elizabeth "Mo" Carlson, who was believed to be West Virginia's oldest woman when she died Jan. 14 at the age of 109. Carlson, who once taught in a one-room schoolhouse, in her late 60s spent more than two years as a Methodist missionary in Haiti during a time of violent instability for that nation.
It's clear when you visit Chester that its residents take great pride in preserving local history. A veterans memorial park built by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6450 is a prominent feature along Carolina Avenue, and the municipal building - located inside the former Chester High School - is a repository for photos and mementoes of the town's past.
A mural in the second floor hallway depicts a ticket window, complete with a basketball schedule and advertisement of tickets for an upcoming Sadie Hawkins dance. In a glass case not far away, letterman's jackets and cheerleader uniforms hearken back to the days before the various high schools as the northern end of Hancock County consolidated to form Oak Glen High School.
Another unique feature in the municipal building is a room known as "Memory Lane." The room, containing school photos and items from the old Rock Springs amusement park, is maintained by a group of volunteers and is open by appointment.