Friday, May 17, 2013

West of Chester OH

School District No. 9 Schoolhouse, built in 1900
I lived in West Chester OH, a large suburb north of Cincinnati from 1978-1986 as an awkward teenager with limited social skills. Times have changed. West Chester has grown quite a bit and I am now an awkward 40-something with limited social skills.

I never thought much about the history when I lived there. To me it seemed like they just built a bunch of subdivisions on farmland and that was the end of it...but I did wonder why they called it West Chester. West of what? Chester? Where is Chester? I don't see a Chester on the map. There is no East Chester either. It's too far north to be considered west of Cincinnati. No one seemed to know. I forgot all about this for about 25 years until I ran across the book, "The History of Union Township, Butler County" by Virginia Shewalter. In case you haven't read it, here's the deal...

In 1824 there was a village in Butler County called Mechanicsburgh. Just to the east of that village was the post office called "Chester". No one knows why. Maybe a guy named Chester worked there. Maybe the horse that helped deliver the mail was named Chester. No one wrote it down. That actually happens more than you think. I even contacted the West Chester Historical Society and they had no idea where the name "Chester" originated.
VOA Bethany Station 1943-1994
Since there was already another Mechanicsburgh OH, folks decided to rename the town. People were already calling the area "Chester" after the post office. So, by 1826 they decided on "West Chester" since the village was west of the Chester post office. That's it.

West Chest is certainly no podunk town anymore. By 1900 there were over 1,700 people living in West Chester and by the 1980s 25,000. In 2000 it had doubled to over 50,000 residents and became West Chester Township. According to the official website, in 2011 there were over 60,000 residents and 3,000 businesses.

concrete platforms for the Bethany antennae array
At one time, West Chester boasted itself as one of the richest suburbs in Ohio, but it has dropped a bit in recent times. Things still look pretty good though as it was just named 97 out of 100 of the best small cities to live by Money Magazine.  It also happens to be the home of the US Speaker of the House John Boehner who being a humble man of the people he serves owns a home in the rich, private gated community of Wetherington.
From 1943-1994 West Chester was also home to the Voice of America Bethany Relay Station that beamed American ideals over the radio airwaves in 44 languages all over the world. The Bethany Station building is slated to become a museum for VOA and the giant tower relays have been removed and the land converted into VOA Park.

Now, can they convert those empty strip malls back into corn fields?