The Oldest Town in Pennsylvania Is 128 Years Older Than America Itself

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Written by Kristen Holder

Updated: August 15, 2023

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The oldest town in Pennsylvania is 128 years older than America itself! That’s because Pennsylvania is one of the original thirteen colonies. This means that white pioneers arrived in the area well before the idea of the USA congealed in the minds of the Founding Fathers. Let’s find out the name of the town as we also discuss details about the region now.

What is the Oldest Town in Pennsylvania?

The oldest town in Pennsylvania is Chester, and it was founded in 1648. This makes it 128 years older than America itself! It’s part of the Boston-Washington Corridor which is the megalopolis on the northeast coast of America.

Aerial view over the neighborhoods and streets of Philadelphia PA USA

Chester is located to the southwest of Philadelphia, and it’s a suburb in the Philly Metropolitan Area. 

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By the middle of the nineteenth century, Chester was a thriving industrial hub since its location on the Delaware River made it easy to transport products and materials.

Oldest Town in Pennsylvania: Where is Chester?

Chester is located in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. It is located on the Delaware River, and it’s about 6 square miles in size. However, about 20 percent of that land is underwater. The city is located to the southwest of Philadelphia, and it’s a suburb in the Philly Metropolitan Area. 

Chester: The Early History of the Oldest Town in Pennsylvania

The area that makes up Chester was originally occupied by the Okehockings. They called the region Mecoponaca, which roughly translates to “large potatoes grow along this stream.”

Chester’s first white colonial occupation was by the Swedish as part of the New Sweden Colony. Because of these settlers, by 1644, a large tobacco plantation occupied the city’s land.

The most heavily populated town in the Pennsylvania Colony was Chester in 1682. On October 27, 1682, the English Quaker named William Penn arrived on a ship named Welcome. He named the area Chester after the city in England bearing the same name.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Chester was a thriving industrial hub since its location on the Delaware River made it easy to transport products and materials. Textile mills, iron processing, paper mills, and the creation of steel ingots were some of the industries in the city. It produced the Union Army’s blue uniforms during the Civil War.

Aerial view of Ben Franklin Bridge and Philadelphia skyline at sunset. Ben Franklin Bridge is a suspension bridge connecting Philadelphia and Camden, NJ.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Chester was a thriving industrial hub since its location on the Delaware River made it easy to transport products and materials.

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The Oldest Town in PA: Chester’s Modern History

The population of Chester shrunk as a result of post-industrialization. In 1950, 66 thousand people lived in the city, but today, Chester’s population is a little over 32,000 people.

Chester was a major player in the Civil Rights Movement in April 1964. Daily nonviolent protests broke out, and the protesters were met with police brutality.

The demonstrators wanted school segregation to end in the area despite it being federally outlawed a decade prior. The school district hesitantly complied, though the legacy of poor decision-making regarding education continued. Even after efforts to improve education, the city of Chester still has some of the worst-ranking schools in the state.

By the end of the twentieth century, Chester was declared a “financially distressed municipality” under Pennsylvania law. Despite some revitalization efforts, Chester declared bankruptcy in 2022. Today, unemployment and poverty are a problem in the city.

Crime has been established in Chester for well over a century. This is because it started as a bootlegging and gambling center in the early twentieth century, and it was rife with political corruption in the 1960s. Today, it is the twentieth most dangerous city in the United States.

Black lives matter. Symbol of unity. Two women activists holding hands. Demonstrators protesting together holding hands.

Chester was a major player in the Civil Rights Movement in April 1964. Daily nonviolent protests broke out, and the protesters were met with police brutality.

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Wildlife You’ll Find in Chester

In and around Chester, you’ll find wildlife worth seeing. Pennsylvania as a whole is home to over 450 species of birds, and 66 species of mammals. There are over 1200 types of insects and 3000 different species of plants.

While some of the plants around Chester are invasive, all of the plants contribute to the ecosystems that sustain natural wildlife. Some of these plants are garlic mustard, eastern skunk cabbages, bloodroot, American pokeweed, Christmas ferns, tulip trees, Carolina horsenettles, northern spicebush, common jewelweeds, and sassafras.

Insects around Chester include spotted lanternflies, common eastern bumble bees, Asian lady beetles, North American wheel bugs, Chinese mantises, eastern carpenter bees, common buckeyes, giant leopard moths, large milkweed bugs, blue-winged scoliid wasps, brown-belted bumble bees, eastern cicada-killer wasps, banded tussock moths, dogbane leaf beetles, green stinkbugs, common whitetails, and Carolina mantises.

Migratory birds travel through Chester, and some year-round residents stay in the region. Some of these birds are eastern bluebirds, American robins, song sparrows, red-tailed hawks, gray catbirds, and red-winged blackbirds.

Wild mammals are the most visible inhabitants in Pennsylvania. Some of the animals you may see out and about around Chester include white-tailed deer, eastern gray squirrels, eastern cottontails, red foxes, groundhogs, raccoons, eastern chipmunks, and northern short-tailed shrews.

Since Pennsylvania is a humid state that receives plenty of rain, it’s a good spot to find various mushrooms. Some of the mushrooms in the state include chicken of the woods, lumpy brackets, resinous polypores, eastern American jack-o-lanterns, and hexagonal-pored polypores.

American Robins

American robins are among the many migratory birds which travel through Chester, Pennsylvania.

©Martina Sliger/Shutterstock.com

Martin Luther King Jr. and Chester, Pennsylvania

The Calvary Baptist Church in Chester was founded in 1879, and Martin Luther King Jr. attended this church from 1948 to 1951 while attending the Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland. Upland is a couple of miles away from Chester, and he began his time at the seminary after graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1948.

At Crozer Theological Seminary, which was considered a liberal place, Dr. King learned about using the gospel to push social reform. He also was exposed to Gandhian ideas and pacifism. It was at the seminary that he solidified his resolve to enact social reform through nonviolence.

In 1970, the Rochester Theological Society in New York merged with Crozer to become the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. Today, the Crozer Theological Seminary is used as an office building by a local hospital.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta. His message earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 after he was Man of the Year for Time Magazine in 1963.

King gave many passionate sermons. Arguably, the most famous, titled I Have a Dream, was given on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray assassinated Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee.

A vertical shot of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in West Potomac Park in Washington, USA

The Calvary Baptist Church in Chester was founded in 1879, and Martin Luther King Jr. attended this church from 1948 to 1951.

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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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