In southwestern Morris County, New Jersey lies the charming and attractive little borough of Chester.
You might not expect many amenities from this place, but let it work its magic and surprise you with hidden gems.
Chester enjoys a thriving business district even though single-family housing facilities stand on much of the 1.45-square-mile community.
In 1799, the borough itself claimed the name “Chester” to cover both the downtown village area and the township.
Eventually, both areas formed the borough.
In 1640, the earliest settlers arrived at the Chester area, forming the settlement named “Black River,” where two Lenape Indian trails intersect.
The Native Americans used these trails for centuries, and the early settlers di
d the same as they traveled everywhere in New Jersey.
As the borough grew, so did the historic Main Street, connecting people to the place’s various establishments.
Today, Chester’s primary attractions are restaurants and shops along Main Street.
Likewise, you can visit downtown Chester for more terrific restaurants and antique shops.
If you want to get closer to nature, you can drop by the farms in Chester Township.
Do you want to know more about Chester, NJ?
Here’s a list of the best things to do in town:
Learn Local History at the Nathan Cooper Gristmill
In 1826, the Nathan Cooper Gristmill stood on 14 acres of property in the Chester borough.
Today, the mill is a tourist attraction and one of the few restored water-powered mills in New Jersey.
It also stands as a monument marking the transition of Chester from an agricultural town to an industrial one.
You’ll join a 45-minute guided tour with a master miller during your visit.
The miller will wear period clothing as they explain the mill’s history and operations.
Likewise, they will share the history of the community that once surrounded the mill, called Milltown.
See how a gristmill works by watching the miller run the machinery and marvel at the brilliant engineering that went into the building of the massive water wheel.
The Black River becomes a force of nature as it turns the steel wheel, grinding grain into flour with two sets of enormous millstones, weighing 2,000 pounds.
See Animals at the Black River Wildlife Management Area
You can also visit the 3,000-acre Black River Wildlife Management Area to check out local wildlife in various habitats.
You’ll see environments like a freshwater marshland, a woodland swamp, and deciduous trees during your visit.
While hiking, you’ll also pass a hardwood forest and a few pine plantations.
You’ll see wildflowers strewn across many of the fields.
Likewise, you should bring your binoculars if you want to catch sight of rare birds.
Browse Unique Items the Chester Crafts & Collectibles
One of the famous shops along Chester’s Main Street is Chester Crafts & Collectibles, which sells unique and interesting items, including antiques.
Their antique selection offers various objects from different periods, so you’ll surely find thrilling items there.
For instance, you can buy sturdy antique furniture, glassware, artwork, jewelry, and painted furniture.
For over 25 years, the store has gained a reputation of being a crafter gallery.
You won’t go wrong with any fine handcrafted items on display here.
If you want to buy creative gift items, just look through the store’s selection of handcrafted jewelry, baby gifts, and home decor.
Likewise, you can even grab seasonal items from nationally known artists like Billy Jacobs, Radiance Lighted Décor, and Grassland Road.
Go Hiking along the Black River County Park
Spend the day outdoors by taking a stroll at the Black River County Park.
The park sits on 560 acres of property by the Black River’s eastern shore, between Long Valley and Chester.
Likewise, the park covers several interesting sites, such as the Nathan Cooper Gristmill.
During the 19th century, the property hosted several iron mines.
The town transported the iron via train along the High Bridge Railroad.
In 1900, they abandoned the railroad, which you can see on your hike along the river.
Today, you can visit the park for hiking, fishing, and bird watching.
You can also check out the complete list of the park’s botanical features there.
Grab a Meal at Sally Lunn’s Tea Room & Restaurant
All that browsing should leave you hungry, so you better take a break and hop inside Sally Lunn’s Tea Room & Restaurant for a scrumptious and filling meal.
For 30 years, the charming restaurant has served delicious meals to locals and guests alike.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Sally Lunn’s offers the finest homemade pies, pastries, and other desserts in the whole state of New Jersey.
You can also sample their rich food selection, from sandwiches to cottage pie and freshly roasted meat.
The restaurant is also proud of its best-selling buttermilk scones, whose recipe remains a secret.
Sally Lunn's has you covered if you want the tea to pair with your snacks.
You’ll eat and have tea inside a luxurious Victorian parlor filled with authentic fine china.
All of their tea comes from England, coming in over 50 flavors.
Grab Luxury Handbags at Grouse in Pearls
Feel the luxury lifestyle by dropping by Grouse in Pearls, one of the popular shops along Chester’s Main Street.
For over 30 years, the founder and owner Jo Chalabi have allowed residents and guests to enjoy whatever fabulous items they could find.
Every piece in the store goes through her experienced hands to become a fine addition to your home.
You can buy various items at Grouse in Pearls.
For instance, you can grab works of fine art, antique décor, and even designer handbags.
These handbags—ranging from Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, Hermes, and Chanel—also come with matching accessories, so you’ll always go out in style.
Play Sports at Chubb Park
The Chubb family donated the 85-acre facility to the Chester township, which has become its busiest park.
Scores of people flock to this place because of its various amenities.
For instance, you can play tennis, softball, baseball, and soccer there.
You can also practice athletics as the multi-purpose athletic fields.
Bring your kids there, too, to enjoy the playground or youth sports.
Likewise, you can go down the Patriots Path Hiking Trail or the “Taylor Walking Path.”
You can also stop by the Veterans Monument and the 9-11 Memorial to remember the fallen.
Enjoy Nature at the Elizabeth D. Kay Environmental Center
In 1993, the former Hidden River Farm became known as the Elizabeth D. Kay Environmental Center, thanks to the generous donation of the Kay family.
They had intended for the property to become an environmental center, teaching kids and adults about the wonders of nature.
During her lifetime, Elizabeth Kay was an accomplished horticulturist and conservation advocate.
Today, you can explore the 223-acre site filled with gorgeous meadows teeming with several species of plants, mammals, and birds.
You can also explore vast tracts of forest or hike along the many trails.
These trails should lead you through an Eastern Hemlock forest, running along the Black River, eventually leading you to a majestic gorge with steep slopes.
Otherwise, you could simply spend the day admiring the expansive meadows, where flowering trees, wildflowers, and shrubs thrive.
Grab the Famous Cider Donuts at the Hacklebarney Farm Cider Mill
During your trip to Chester, visit the Hacklebarney Farm Cider Mill, one of the township’s most popular attractions.
It offers premium family-friendly fun and activity options.
Moreover, their bakery lets you try their wood-pressed apple cider and homemade baked goods.
In the fall, you could also join several activities.
For example, you can pick your own pumpkins or attend cider pressing demonstrations.
You can also get lost in their corn maze.
The cider mill is also famous for its cider donuts, which you can sample at their store, located inside an 1850s barn.
Bring Your Kids to the Black River Candy Shoppe
Your kids will go crazy inside the Black River Candy Shoppe, a Chester institution located directly off Main Street.
You’ll feel immediately at home with the store’s classic ambiance during your visit, with antiques and memorabilia decorating the interior.
However, the main attraction is bulk candy.
You’ll find them stored inside authentic oak whiskey barrels, ready to drive your kids wild.
Don’t worry if your kids are picky with their candy.
This candy shop offers over 1,000 candy items, so your kid will never run out of options.
The only thing you need to worry about is the dentist’s bills.
Get Mystical at Midnight Owl
If you want to give your friends uniquely inspirational gifts, you need to hit the Midnight Owl, another Main Street attraction.
The store sells nearly everything, from accessories to candles, soaps, and tarot cards.
The store features its signature apparel line, called Spiritual Gangster, designed for people who do yoga.
According to the store, these clothes aim to help yogis balance the modern world and the ancient tradition.
Another signature line is the Twisted Wares collection, filled with statement aprons, cocktail napkins, kitchen towels, etc.
Grab Fresh Produce at the Alstede Farms
On 500 acres of gorgeous New Jersey farmland lies the Alstede Farms, where you can buy only the freshest fruits, vegetables, and flowers in the whole Garden State.
New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation Program ensured that much of the farmland was permanently preserved.
Today, the family-owned farm grows all-organic produce, following the best sustainable cultural methods.
Bring your family there and make some memories as you roam across the farmland and buy healthy food.
For example, you can pick your produce straight from their plots and feed the farm animals.
Likewise, the Alstede farm holds special activities, including pony and farm-tractor-drawn wagon rides, the moon bounce, and the annual corn maze.
Never Run Out of Syrup at The Maple Shop
Finish your tour of Main Street by dropping by The Maple Shop, where you can buy authentic homemade maple syrup for your breakfast needs.
The store offers Red Leaf Hollow Farms Vermont maple syrup and another earthier variety.
You’ll be surprised how differently syrup made from real maples tastes from corn syrup imitations.
Moreover, you’ll also be surprised that Jon Rybkiewicz, the owner, also makes these authentic syrups himself.
He sells the Red Leaf Hollow Farms Vermont syrup and other syrup varieties.
Likewise, you can buy other items at his stores, such as coffee, hot sauces, candles, pottery, soap, and wooden toys.
Leaf through Vintage LPs at Penny Lane
It’s only open from Friday to Sunday, but making the drive to Penny Lane along Chester’s Main Street is worth it.
If you’ve just bought a record player and want to try listening to vinyl records for the first time, then Penny Lane is the place for you.
It offers a diverse selection of vinyl records, from original pressings to re-issues.
Likewise, you can also check out their rich collection of CDs and DVDs, all at great prices.
Complete your record hunting by grabbing poster art or come to their open mic nights.
Otherwise, just hang out with other vinyl enthusiasts and music collectors.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Follow the Trails of History at the Schiff Nature Preserve
Sixteen minutes from Chester is the city of Mendham, where you can find the lush Schiff Nature Preserve.
Go there and see sweeping vistas, challenging hikes, and various environments.
The preserve covers more than 300 acres of river valley land, which has seen hundreds of years of history.
Several important figures in American history have walked these trails.
For example, George Washington led his Revolutionary Army along the “Old Colonial Road” that passes through the preserve.
Researchers have also found Native American artifacts on the land.
In 1750, the earliest settlers of Morris County arrived at this place, and a 19th-century estate once stood there.
However, only the stone foundations and cellar holes remain in the house.
The Boy Scouts had their headquarters in the 500-acre property, which had Norman Rockwell as a frequent visitor.
Today, the Schiff Natural Lands Trust owns the preserve.
You can explore the preserve all you want and follow in the footsteps of history.
Chester is filled with excellent and unique stores to serve your culinary or cultural needs.
Likewise, the town has natural attractions that allow you to experience nature and appreciate local plants and wildlife.
So, don’t think twice.
Make Chester your next vacation stop!