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Old Chester, PA: Biographical Sketches

Chester F. Baker

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Photograph courtesy of
Jane Unger,
granddaughter of
Chester F. Baker.

Chester F. Baker

(A biographical sketch by Galja Barish Votaw, Chester Times, August 6, 1951)
Contributed by his granddaughter, Jane Unger,

Surveyor, municipal engineer and historian, Chester F. Baker comes from a family of English origin who settled in Delaware County seven or eight generations ago.

The eighth of ten children (only two of whom survived) he was named after the city of Chester, which he loves though at times he is critical of some aspects of it.

When Joseph G. E. Smedley became principal of the Larkin School where young Chester Baker was a student, he made it his business to have a talk with each pupil endeavoring to help them decide what occupation he would like to pursue.

The fourteen-year-old Chester was impressed and took the matter up with his parents.  His own inclination was to study art, but the graining would have been expensive and the living precarious.

His grandfather, William H. Flaville, on his mother's side, was a surveyor and though he was dead at the time of the discussion in which Chester participated, the family decision was that the boy was to follow that profession.

Easter vacation in 1905 Chester Baker went to the city engineer's office, told him of the plan and worked there that week.  He did the same the following summer and continued the job after school.

He attended the Drexel Institute Evening School, worked for the Delaware County Trust Co., served in the armed forces from 1917 to 1919 and opened his own business after his discharge.

In 1924 when the Nether Providence High School was built, Chester Baker was the surveyor of the property and some of the older residents were amused recalling the fact that his grandfather, William Flaville, was not only a surveyor but a teacher in the Wallingford School.

He was much in love with a girl living on Copples Lane.   Her father would not hear of his marrying his daughter, since he did not think the teacher's salary would support the girl in the right style.  The night the young man was refused he was seen by the girl's father in the moonlight praying on his knees in the snow on the grounds where the Nether Providence High School stands now.

The older man relented and sent for the young teacher the next morning saying that any one fool enough to pray for a girl in the snow should be given his wish.  This reminiscence made A. B. Geary remark in 1924 about Chester Baker being "the only man a result of a prayer".

Chester Baker married Ruth Cobourne of Brookhaven (then Chester Township) in 1925.  The couple have one daughter Jane, who is now Mrs. John Wilson Calhoun.  There is one grandchild, Jane Louise.  The Calhouns live with the Bakers in Chester in the same ward Baker was born and lived all his life.

Jane in Every Generation

Ever since anything has been known about the Baker family there has been a Jane in every generation - the name coming down from the feminine side of the family.

Chester Baker's work as a surveyor has to do with conveyance of land, laying out real estate developments and planning incident to these matters.  In municipal engineering he represents a number of boroughs and townships in matters that have to do with public improvements, sewers, sidewalks and grading.

His hobbies are his home and yard.  He claims that working among flowers gives him an opportunity to "blow off steam".

His work is so much a part of him that he considers it a hobby too.  The walls of his office have numerous reproductions of early surveying of cities and towns.  He does not collect originals, but he has done an excellent job in reproducing those.  Thus he has the first plans of Chester and Marcus Hook.   Plans made by Anthony Wayne and John Morton, both surveyors of note, are among his possessions.

Baker is a member of the American Legion Post in Chester.  He serves on the board of the Chester Rural Cemetery Association, is a member of the Delaware County Institute of Science, the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia and Delaware County Chapters of Professional Engineers.

Biggest Hobby History

His biggest hobby is the Delaware County Historical Society of which he is the chairman of the Library Committee.

Most reticent when speaking of himself Chester Baker goes all out when he talks about the organization and the importance of history as such.

According to him much of our local and national history would be different if we knew the past and were guided by it.

History concerns itself with more than events of towns, countries and nations.  Individuals in those are the ones who make history.   Thus family history, genealogy, is most important, not only to the members concerned but to the community as a whole.  Family records carefully kept are of tremendous help not only as an indication of times but in settling legal disputes.

This rather calm, judicial looking man is willing to refer any one to the source where factual data may be found.  He is careful with his facts and Delaware Countians and others are indebted to Chester F. Baker both for his cooperation in helping people and organizations to secure needed data and for his fostering the love for and the understanding of the importance of the science and art of history.

[Editor's note: Chester's daughter Jane is now Mrs. Jane Baker Calhoun Brown.  A second granddaughter, Ruth Ann, was born after this article was written.]

Historian Chester F. Baker Named 'Engineer of Year'
Chester Times, February 17, 1955

Chester Forrest Baker, 64-year-old professional engineer of Chester, and veteran director of the Delaware County Historical Society, was named the "engineer of the year" last night by the Delaware County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers.

Before 75 engineers of the county, Herbert A. Russell, president of the local chapter, presented Baker with the framed scroll, and began the first of three tributes to Baker.

Russell commented on Baker's meticulous and untiring efforts to preserve and perpetuate the old surveys and basic surveying material while he carried on his work as engineer for private and public institutions.  Russell then turned the meeting over to George Plowman, president of the Delaware County Historical Society.

Plowman pointed out that Chester F. Baker, perhaps more than any other person, was responsible for many of the historical treasures preserved by the county in the past twoscore years.

He said that the late Charles R. Long, former editor and publisher of the Chester Times, was the first person to recognize Baker's right to the title "historian."

Then Plowman linked Baker with another editor and publisher of the Times, Alfred G. Hill, with whom Baker served in the Army at Fort Oglethorpe, GA, in 1917.  Hill came to Chester from Kansas years later to renew their old acquaintance, and to utilize Baker's historical background in the preparation of the Chester Times' 75th anniversary edition which appeared on [clipping torn, month is missing] 7, 1951.

Finally, Plowman associated Baker with the current editor and publisher, Hugh Wagnon, who offered the Historical Society through Baker, the files of the Times, the Morning Republican and Chester Evening News for the 75-year period.

Plowman linked Baker with saving the birthplace of John Morton in Prospect Park, the Pusey House, the Morton Mortenson house, the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Swedes and Finns, at which time Baker's work gained international recognition, and many other activities.

Albert E. Smith, former president of the Delaware County Lawyers' Club, lauded Baker for his close cooperation with the legal profession in the tracing of titles "back to Indian days" and in connection with his municipal work.





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2000 John A. Bullock III.

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