The Chester Borough Council has unanimously voted to name the Open Space property at 50 North Road, the Seward Hill Preserve. The Preserve, purchased by the Borough in 2009 from Alcatel-Lucent, consists of 64 acres, which are restricted to passive recreation. There are an additional 22 acres on the parcel which are owned by the municipality and the buildings house the municipal offices and department of public works in addition to the Chester Board of Education.
The prominent feature of the property is Seward Hill. The Seward Family dates back to the 1700s in Chester. According to Chester, New Jersey A Scrapbook of History by Frances Greenidge (1974), Obadiah Seward was a “Black River Patriot” in the Revolutionary War. The Seward Farm was passed down in the Seward family until it was sold to the pastor of the Chester Congregational Church, sometime around 1801. A portion of an old “Seward” house can still be seen on Seward Place in Chester Borough. The original Seward Farm was known as the “Welcome Home Farm.”
In 1928, Bell Telephone Laboratories purchased what by then was referred to as Seward’s Hill, as an outdoor testing site. According to Mrs. Greenidge, the spot was chosen “for its altitude of over a thousand feet, and for its ‘particularly good wind exposure on open wires.’’’ In 1929, the original “telephone pole forest” was installed.
At some point, John and Willard Apgar, decedents of early settlers of Chester, decided to erect a Christmas Star on the Hill, which remains a tradition to this day. Mrs. Greenidge also mentioned that the Bell Lab employees enjoyed working on the property and one of them brought in a high powered telescope and placed it on the Hill. It is said that on a clear day, the men could count 33 stories of the Empire State Building.
Today, the Seward Hill Preserve is home to a trails system that winds its way through Chester Township and Borough. Native plantings dot the landscape and wildlife freely roam its environs.