Wednesday, February 8, 2012

So where do they put the skating rink and the Christmas tree?

After my stop in Ralston, I kept driving along Route 24 till I made it to Chester. It was a little too early for the antique shops to be open -- so much for my plan to get another Edison phonograph cylinder -- but a good time to get a decent parking space. If you've been to Chester on a Saturday, you know that a place to leave your car on Main Street goes at a premium during weekend shopping hours. A friend of mine calls the town the Doily Capital of New Jersey, and it is, indeed a hotspot for several categories of old stuff.

The emptiness of the street revealed something I hadn't noticed on previous trips: Chester's own Rockefeller Center. It's not surprising that I missed it until now. It's a one-room building that's about the size of your average living room. I peered through the front window to see several wooden boxes that looked a lot like the cubbyholes akin to the ones in the back of a post office, where they sort the mail. And to be precise, the structure is known as the Rockefeller Building, according to a sign on the front.

Research reveals that the building did, at one time, serve as a post office, among other uses in the time since it was built in 1870. According to the Historical Society of Chester, gravestones were once sold there, and a cattle dealer used it for his office. It's the perfect size for a business that needs a presence in town and whose inventory could be kept outdoors.

From what I can tell, the Rockefellers were the last to occupy the building, but it wasn't the family you're thinking of. A gentleman named Carlos Rockefeller (a.k.a. "Rocky") operated a bicycle shop and repair business there in the 1940s and maybe beyond, also sharpening the occasional set of ice skates. He rented both the building and the neighboring cottage from a man named George Conover. One could imagine that living next door came in handy; at a quick glance, it doesn't appear that the shop building had any plumbing.

There's no indication of whether there are plans to restore it any further than it's already been preserved, but there appeared to be some historic materials being kept there. I could imagine a very small historical society meeting taking place there, perhaps during daylight hours since I didn't see any power lines leading to the structure.

The only reference I can find to the building is a brief writeup on the Historical Society web page, and a Google reference to a Chester Facebook page that doesn't seem to exist anymore. Anyone out there have any information on the Rockefeller estate in Morris County?


  1. One of our readers tells me that the building was moved to Main Street from another location in Chester.

  2. Hi Sue,
    These Rockefellers are not related to the NY Rockefellers, and did not have an estate. They did have several hotels in Chester in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

    According to the Chester Historical Society, the little building "originally sat up next to the firehouse and was used for the post office, a cattle farm's office (Abe Meyers), a monument sales office and then Gert Rockefeller had a card store in there. Eventually it turned into the "Painted Pony" antique store. It was moved up next to the gazebo and given to the CHS, who eventually gave it to the Borough."

    Hope this helps.
    Deb Schiff
    Local History Librarian
    Chester Public Library

    1. Thanks for filling in more of the story, Deb. That's quite a lot of action for such a small building. I'm glad you're reading Hidden New Jersey!


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