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Chester is a city located on the bluffs of the Mississippi River Valley in Randolph Countymarker, Illinoismarker. The population was 8,400 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Randolph County and is located south of St. Louismarker, Missourimarker.

With Chester being the county seat, the elected county officials are Terry Luehr-Board Member, Terry Moore-Chairman, Ken Slavens-Board Member, Randall Rodewald-State's Attorney, Randy Dudenbostel-Coroner, Fred Frederking-Sheriff, Shirlie Robinson-Treasurer, Wayne Voss-County Supervisor Of Assessments, Pat Laramore-County Clerk, and Barbara Brown-Circuit Clerk [17111]

Home of "Popeye"

Chester is the "Home of Popeye", where a six-foot, 900 lb. bronze statue of Popeye stands in the Elzie C. Segar Memorial Park, which also honors Popeye's creator, Elzie Segar. The park is located next to the Chester Bridge. Several of Mr. Segar's characters were created from experiences with people of Chester. Chester's big event is its annual Popeye Picnic and parade, held the weekend after Labor Day. Popeye fans travel from all over the United States and the world to partake in the weekend activities. Most of the events and entertainment are free and family friendly. In addition to the bronze Popeye statue, new statues honoring the other Thimble Theater characters are added each year. This character trail is spread throughout Chester and to date includes "Wimpy", which in the Fall of 2006 was erected at the Chester Gazebo Square with overwhelming donations which are engraved on the base of the statue. "Olive Oyle, Swee' Pea, and Jeep" was the next statue unveiled during the Popeye Picnic festivities in 2007 and stands downtown near the Randolph County Courthouse - once again with donations engraved on the base. During the 29th Annual Popeye Picnic festivities "Bluto" (a.k.a Brutus) was erected at the corner of Swanwick Street and West Holmes Street near the Buena Vista Bank parking lot area. This year the statue that was unveiled for the 30th Annual Popeye Picnic Festival was "Castor Oyl and Whiffle Hen" it was erected at Chester Memorial Hospital after the parade. Plans are continuing for several more characters in the coming years.[17112]There is a store in honor of Popeye that is called, "Spinach Can Collectables." In this store you can find Popeye souvenirs, along with Popeye t-shirts, and much more. There is also a pizza parlor in honor of Popeye that came into business in the year of 2008, which is known as "Rough House Pizza." The selections on Rough House's menu are named after the characters of Popeye's friends and family.

Popeye's Picnic and Parade

Popeye's Picnic is an event that takes place in Chester for three days out of the year. It takes place in the month of September. The Popeye Parade is held on a Saturday morning. Before the parade there is a walk and run for anyone who wants to participate in it. Medals and trophies are awarded for the top runners and walkers in each age category. A Popeye t-shirt is included with each entry. Many people from different towns participate in this parade. The parade consists of local school bands, band fronts, such as dance teams and cheerleaders, floats from various businesses, fire departments, veterans representing the United States, politicians marching, clowns passing out stickers and candy, and finally horses trail the parade.Popeye's Picnic consists of rides, food stands, music, amateur wrestling matches, fireworks, in the past there were talent shows and ghost tours, an airplane show, a bazaar at St. John's Lutheran School, a small petting zoo, horseback rides for children, a sand sculpture is made representing the theme of that year's picnic, and more.Many people and businesses help sponsor the picnic and donate money and time to make it possible.

Popeye is not the only famous Sailor from Chester

Donald Attig, who operated the Sea Lord Boat Company in Chester Illinois, became a world famous sailor, while voyaging for ten years on his three mast sailing ship. Now in his seventies he has been establishing international benchmark records in the Adventure Challenge and Endurance Challenge categories for the past three years. Details can be found by going to Additional information can be found by clicking on his name above which will activate the Winkipedia internal link.

Parks and historic sites

The Chester area includes a number of state parks and historic sites. The Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Sitemarker has a beautiful overlook of the Mississippi River. Across the river from the fort is Kaskaskia Island, the only part of Illinois west of the Mississippi River. The island was the site of the first state capital of Illinois. A historic church founded by French explorer Pere Jacques Marquette still holds weekly mass on the island. Five miles northeast of Chester is the Randolph County State Recreation Areamarker, which has a lake for fishing as well as hiking and equestrian trails. South of Chester is the Turkey Bluffs State Fish and Wildlife Areamarker, which has many scenic overlooks and trails to spot its namesake turkeys. Part of the Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, a division of the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge Complex, is located along the Mississippi River at Chester.

A Piece of Chester History

The town of Chester, the county seat of Randolph County, is a river town in the proudest sense of the word. The Mighty Mississippi has played an important part in its history.

The area was considered a suitable place to settle and the earliest entry of land on the site was made by John McFerron who, on September 30, 1816, purchased from the government, fractional section 25, containing upwards of 47 acres. This is a triangular tract embracing the ferry landing and the old depot site and extending up the river as far as Hancock Street.

McFerron operated a ferry and was a Judge for the Court of Common Pleas at Kaskaskia. Later he represented the area as State Senator in the first Legislature that convened after the admission of the State of Illinois into the Union.

To Samuel Smith, however, belongs the honor of being the founder of Chester, originally known as Smith's Landing. In the summer of 1829 he erected a dwelling, established a ferry and began construction of a mill. His wife was a native of Chester, England, and her name was Jane Thomas. She came to Illinois with the Swanwick family and bestowed the name of her home town on the new settlement. Smith kept a hotel and ferried passengers across the river on a flatboat.

Early Chester's chief commodity was castor oil which was used as a lubricant. It lost its importance as the petroleum industry was developed and flourished. There were castor bean presses in other area towns, however, Chester had the advantage over the others because of river transportation. Shipments were made to St. Louis, New Orleans, and as far away as England. In 1830, the settlement increased and along the river front were an iron foundry, machine shop and several large stores. The old wood-burning steamboats did a brisk business at Chester.

In 1837, Nathan Cole began operating a small sawmill with a corn-grinding attachment. A few years later he converted this enterprise into a flour mill which became the Cole Milling Company, now Con Agra. The Cole Milling Company installed an electric generator using the surplus power for street lights. Thus, Chester was one of the first towns to have electric street lights. The generator used is now in the Ford Museum at Dearborn, Michigan.

The first brick house in Chester was built by Amzi Andrews in 1834. During the flood of 1844, the Bellair, a steamboat, ran against it as well as demolished the city jail. The same boat knocked a corner out of the stone, Holmes and Swanwick Mill, then under construction.

The area residents solved the problem of transportation by utilizing the river as their highway. The William Garvin plied the Mississippi as a regular tri-weekly packer between Chester and St. Louis.

Chester was a favorite stopping place for the river men and boat passengers. Charles Dickens and his wife stayed here on April 11, 1842. Mark Twain was a pilot on the Mississippi from 1857 to the Civil War and supposedly on several occasions stopped at Chester at the Cliff House, which was a fine river hostelry.

In 1832-33, there was a cholera epidemic which took many lives. South of the present site of the Con Agra Mill a few stones on the hillside mark the burying place of those who died on steamboats and were buried there.

Illinois State Penitentiary at Menard had its beginning during the Civil War when it was a repository for Confederate troops being taken to the Federal Prison in Alton. The original brick building is still standing inside the yards.

When the county seat was moved from Kaskaskia to Chester in 1844, records were stored in a school house which was the temporary court house until the new one was completed in 1848.The stone annex, now the Archives Building, was built in 1863 and is today a museum.

The old buildings that were part of the original town along the river have been razed. However, a number of the old homes which stood on the bluffs above the town overlooking the river still give evidence of the wealth and the architectural style of that day.[17113]

After people began to settle in Chester, it didn't take long for the population to grow. After settling here began, stores and homes were built near the river front. Near the river was where most residents lived during this time. As the town grew, buildings, schools, and homes began to spread throughout the town. Chester was then divided into two communities known as McGuireville and Camptown. Today these two communities are no longer referred to as McGuireville and Camptown. Chester is now considered one community.


Chester now has Channel 10 through Cable TV, it broadcast events, post announcements and upcoming community events, relay emergency notices and much more to the citizens of Chester.

Chester's newspaper is the Randolph County Herald Tribune and the radio station is KSGM 980AM. Chester's on-line newspaper is

Chester is centered around the intersection of Illinois Route 3 (Great River Road) and Illinois Route 150.

The city was the filming location of scenes from the 1967 movie In the Heat of the Night, the 1993 movie The Fugitive, the 1994 film documentary Hoop Dreams and the 2000 film Poor White Trash.


Chester is located at (37.913947, -89.823140).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.9 square miles (15.3 km²), of which, 5.9 square miles (15.3 km²) of it is land and 0.17% is water.


As of the census of 2000, there were 8,400 people, 2,018 households, and 1,283 families residing in the city. The population density was 879.9 people per square mile (339.9/km²). There were 2,229 housing units at an average density of 378.3/sq mi (146.1/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 94.87% White, 3.59% African American, 0.15% Native American, 0.21% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.21% from other races, and 0.93% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.75% of the population.

There were 2,018 households out of which 28.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.9% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.4% were non-families. 32.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.32 and the average family size was 2.92.

In the city, the population was spread out with 22.4% under the age of 18, 8.1% from 18 to 24, 27.9% from 25 to 44, 21.9% from 45 to 64, and 19.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 105.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 102.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $39,079, and the median income for a family was $49,426. Males had a median income of $36,103 versus $22,239 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,190. About 5.4% of families and 9.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.8% of those under age 18 and 13.7% of those age 65 or over.



Chester Community Unit School District No. 139 consists of two schools; Chester High School and Chester Grade School. The superintendent is Rebecca Keim. The principal of Chester High School is Keith Kittell with the vice principal being Danny Miller. The principal of Chester Grade School is Tim Lochhead with the dean of students being Deb Caraway.


St. John's Lutheran School and St. Mary's School are Chester's parochial schools. The principal of St. John's Lutheran School is Chris Urquhart. The principal of St. Mary's School is Janelle Robinson.

Religious Affiliations

There are ten churches located in Chester. These churches consist of the First Baptist Church, First Christian Church of Chester, Family Worship Center Assembly of God, First Presbyterian Church, First Apostolic Pentecostal Church, First United Methodist Church, Grace Church Ministries, Peace Lutheran Church ELCA, St. John Lutheran Church LCMS, and St. Mary's Help of Christians Church.[17114]

Notes and references

External links

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