Cozying Up to Chester

The classic colonial town now offers overnight stays.

The Cooper Gristmill, built in 1826 and offering tours every fall weekend through October 26.
Photo by Steve Greer

Chester has long been a fall favorite of day-trippers who enjoy its colonial-era charm and the antique shops, boutiques and cafés that line its cobblestone-and-brick sidewalks.

This year, the historic town adds a new enticement. The Publick House, a beautifully preserved brick tavern and inn on Main Street, is welcoming overnight guests for the first time since 2002. Built in 1810 as a rest stop for travelers between New York City and Philadelphia, the inn, originally named the Brick Hotel, is listed in the National Historic Registry. The current owners have renovated and reopened its 10 two-room suites, each featuring a decorative fireplace and exposed brick walls. Rates are $175 to $195 per night.
In addition to traditional tavern fare, the downstairs restaurant at the Publick House boasts a wood-fired oven that turns out specialty pizzas like sausage and broccoli rabe or prosciutto with caramelized onions and goat cheese. There’s even a homemade gelato bar, starring flavors like pistachio, coffee and blood orange. The wraparound porch is the perfect perch to sip a spiked cider on a chilly fall afternoon.

Sally Lunn’s Tea Room and Restaurant (35 Perry Street) is another destination not to miss—although its location in a parking lot behind a row of Main Street stores makes it easy to overlook. The Victorian-style parlor serves dainty meals like crustless cucumber sandwiches, meat pies and loose-leaf tea on fine china and mismatched tables. At the least, you’ll want to pick up some house-made scones to go.

A new gem is the Robin’s Nest (52 Main Street), an organic and GMO-free café featuring smoothies, juices, salads, paninis and creative entrées, including a Lost Sheep Shepherds Pie with sweet potatoes and corn. The café is attractively furnished with rustic wood pieces and plush leather armchairs—mostly from Platypus, a nearby home-goods retailer (250 Route 206 South).

Care for Mexican fare? The cramped but brightly colored Fresco (137 Main Street) offers authentic dishes, including classic chicken mole and chimichangas, and Mexican sodas in lime, mango, apple and sangria flavors.

Many shops along Main Street occupy original colonial structures, with narrow doorways and creaking, uneven floorboards. You could spend hours perusing Pegasus Antiques (98 Main Street), a maze of jam-packed displays reminiscent of a wizard’s apothecary in Diagon Alley. You’ll find nearly every issue of Life magazine, exotic lamps and bottles, war propaganda posters, vintage gumball machines, film prints, pistols and pocketknives. Not surprisingly, the old-school shop doesn’t have a website. Other enticing antique stores include Chester Crafts & Collectibles (28 Main Street), Pines & Needles Antiques (455 Main Street) and the Chester Antique Mall (427 Route 24), a large, multivendor location just east of downtown.

Chester’s main drag is also home to several specialty furniture shops, including Boehs Cabinet Shop (85 Main Street) with custom wood pieces, including rocking chairs, birdhouses and benches. Across the street at 60 Main, Chester Country Furnishings, a charming home goods store, carries farmhouse-inspired pieces, crafts and décor. There are several clothing and accessory boutiques for women, including Objects of Desire (57 Main Street), selling handmade jewelry and quality leather handbags and belts.

Need another reason to visit? On October 11-12, the 31st annual Harvest Celebration in downtown Chester will roll out a pet costume contest, colonial musketeers, pumpkin painting, an antique car show and live music. Fill your Halloween baskets with unique treats at the Black River Candy Shoppe (44 Main Street), boasting more than 900 varieties of candy, fudge, nuts and taffy.

Explore Chester’s agricultural history at the Cooper Gristmill (74 Route 513), built in 1826 on the edge of the Black River with a massive water wheel that still grinds grain into flour. The mill will grind flour for a bread-baking demonstration on October 4. Now owned by the Morris County Park Commission, the mill runs fall weekend tours through October 26, from 10 am-5 pm on Saturdays and noon to 5 pm on Sundays.

Family fun of the pick-your-own variety can be had at Alstede Farms (84 Route 513), Riamede Farm (122 Oakdale Road) or Stony Hill Gardens (8 Route 24)—all within a five-minute drive of Main Street. A slightly longer but scenic drive southwest of Chester brings you to the Hacklebarney Cider Mill (104 State Park Road), a popular destination for cider hot dogs, ciderkraut, cider donuts and hot mulled cider.

Just past the Cider Mill begins the 465-acre Hacklebarney State Park, with its many hiking trails and more than 100 picnic tables and charcoal grills nestled among the trees, boulders and waterfalls. The park’s Black River is stocked with brown, rainbow and brook trout for fishing.

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