By Ashley Bouwense
A crowd gathered around Chester’s Highlands Ridge Barn to celebrate the end of the barn’s renovations with a ribbon cutting ceremony and luncheon held Wed, May 25.
Mayor Bill Cogger addressed the gathering: “I want to take the time to thank the volunteers that made the renovations possible. Their acts of kindness have made the barn what it is today. It proves that when a community gets together, things really get done.”
Everyone cheered as the mayor cut the ceremonial red ribbon. Champagne was passed amongst the crowd to celebrate, and everyone filed in to the refurbished barn for a volunteer luncheon.
As people walked into the building, they had the opportunity to peruse multiple poster displays created by the Chester Historical Society, documenting the evolution of the Highlands Ridge Park. The line of posters showed photos and facts about the park when it was formerly Bell Labs’ Telcordia Tracta in the 1930’s; the history of the long-term test facility, “Telephone Pole Farm,” for AT&T in the 1980’s; and a display of maps and aerial shots of the park’s facilities.
Highlands Ridge Park was purchased by Chester Township in July 2004.
Highlands Ridge Barn evolved from “nothing” to “something;” it used to be a dairy barn more than 50 years ago. The renovations took six years to complete. Now, the barn is a recreation center, fully equipped with air conditioning, heated floors, Wi-Fi, a generator and tiled bathrooms and showers. The new additions are far cries from the old farm troughs and tools that once used to clutter the aging structure not so long ago.
“The barn renovation project is important as it will be the focal point in the community where various recreation programs and events will be held,” Maxine Finney said, Recreation director for Chester Township and Borough. “It’s a centrally located, easily accessible and stunning facility with joint efforts from many volunteers from the town.”
The barn is situated at the base of the town’s main sledding hill and is also on the same drive as the first aid squad, community garden and food pantry, which makes it truly at the heart of the township.
The barn is not only Chester’s community center, it is the town’s “hot-spot,” as it is where programs like barn dances, comedy nights, youth improve classes, free concerts, family movie nights, film camps and more are held. Only non-profit and community-based organizations can use the barn for hosting activities and events.
Finney explained that having the barn completely renovated will allow the town to use it more, as more programs will be scheduled.
At its establishment in 1740, Chester became a large agricultural community. The town was a place for travelers to pass through to conduct their business, find lodging and traverse to local cities such as Phillipsburg, Morristown and New York City. Now, the people of Chester are working hard to preserve their town’s rich history. The Highlands Ridge Barn restoration is just one example of the townspeople’s dedication to keeping the historical dignity and the community-based atmosphere of the town alive and well.