In 2007 the City received a $25,000 grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and created a riverfront park overlooking the Mississippi River.
The small park was given the name “Smith’s Landing” after Samuel Smith, who is credited as the town's founder. Smith had originally called the town Smith's Landing but it was renamed by Samuel's wife (Jane Thomas) as a reminder of her home, Chester, England.
Chester began on the river in 1816. Samuel built a house in 1829, established a ferry, began construction of a mill (but didn't finish it), ran a hotel, and was a surveyor. His surveying company moved up the bluff, eventually laying out the streets creating the city of Chester.
The Old Landmark Inn is the last building remaining of the original Chester riverfront town, originally called St. Louis Flats. Some say the old building is haunted. Just up the bluff and to the right you will see the Cliff House. Originally a 3 floor rooming house with 16 rentable rooms, used mainly by captains and passengers of the steamboats on the Mississippi. Some say that Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) stayed here. Up the bluff and to the left of the Landmark you can see Samuel Smith's home.
The town grew along the river banks with a milling company added in 1837 and the Illinois State Penitentiary in 1878.
Nathan Cole, the founder of the Cole Milling Company, brought the first electric generator to Chester. The surplus electricity from the mill was used to operate street lights, giving Chester this modern convenience before the city of Chicago. The historic generator is now in the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
As the town grew and began to occupy the tops of the bluffs, access to the riverfront was made by what became known as the “City Steps,” a stairway of nearly 300 steps connect the town on the bluff to the riverfront. The original steps were stone, then wood, or a combination of both. Riverboat passengers, crew, and Chester citizens used the steps daily. Chester became a river port in the mid 19th century and exported locally produced castor oil, flour, and meat. Chester was also a favorite stopping place for the steamboats and their passengers.
According to the 2010 census, the population of Chester is about 8,586 with around 3,300 incarcerated in either Menard Correctional Center or Chester Mental Health Center, Illinois' maximum security psychiatric hospital.