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CHESTERFIELD: AREA ISN’T JUST A NEIGHBORHOOD; IT’S A WAY OF LIFE.

SHARE CHESTERFIELD: AREA ISN’T JUST A NEIGHBORHOOD; IT’S A WAY OF LIFE.

Through the years it's been referred to as teepee town, the dog patch, skid row.

But to the folks who settled the area, grew up, reared children, once lived and continue to live there, Chesterfield in its raw glory is a peaceful, united enclave. Chesterfield is more than just a neighborhood; it's a way of life."Chesterfield is a very unique place," said Lee Giles, 60, whose family was one of the first to settle the area in the early 1930s. "It's a great place to raise kids with no harassment. The neighbors work together and want to be left alone."

Maybe that's true because Chesterfield, the area east of Redwood Road, between the Jordan River, I-215 and 2800 South, was settled by people who wanted land and space and the resultant autonomy. Initially settled during the Great Depression, it was just wide open space with tumbleweeds, according to Alice Curtis, an old-timer who moved in with her mother and four siblings in 1937.

"We were just barely out of the Depression. We moved back to the country," Curtis said, remembering the days after her childhood in Lehi.

Curtis recalled her mother buying three Army tents - $15 apiece - to house them while they built their three-room house. The house, when finished, stood on a foundation of railroad ties, with cloth and wallpaper-covered cardboard walls. It took a very short time to build the house because everybody around helped, Curtis said.

Other families lived in railroad cars while they built their homes. Land sold as cheap as 50 cents an acre near the river to upward of $10 an acre elsewhere.

There were dirt roads, no gas or running water and no street lights. Curtis' mother owned a cow and raised pigs and chickens, like most of their neighbors.

Today, Chesterfield is still a mostly agrarian community, surrounded by a now-burgeoning urban center.

In the past 10 years, with the incorporation of the Hunter, Granger and Redwood communities into West Valley City, the area has received a municipal water supply. In the early '60s, residents went from septic tanks to sewer lines. In the past year, more street lights have been installed, but curb, gutter and sidewalks remain nonexistent. One subpocket of the area still isn't wired for cable TV.

The old-timers will tell you they like it just the way it is - and so will the newcomers. And despite the fact that industry and new subdivisions are cropping up all around them, Chesterfield residents feel no desire to change their ways. Many still raise horses, goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens and turkeys.

"It used to be called skid row because the ground was real cheap. We had one of the first wooden-framed houses with wood floors," said John Jones, who's lived in his simple Warnock Street home for 62 of his 65 years. In August, the home was condemned for a variety of health violations and safety hazards. Jones was subsequently displaced for three months, but neighbors took him in. He just moved back into his newly renovated home last month, thanks to a community block grant from West Valley City.

Generations of folk live and die in Chesterfield. And if they happen to move out, they usually return, residents say.

"The people are nice and friendly, and they're always willing to help out. They're a lot like family. I've known some of them forever," said Nino Valdez, a 39-year-old "lifer."

"I've always loved it. There are too many hoods in Salt Lake City. It was great growing up here because your neighbors (weren't) in your back yard. Chesterfield is safe. No one bothers anyone," Valdez said.

Unless, of course, a neighbor is want for help.

"The people have more or less looked out for one another," said Curtis, 75, who's raised seven kids in a charming little Shelly Avenue house. She recalls a few years ago when neighbors with a number of buckets in tow extinguished a fire before Murray firefighters - who serviced the area at the time - even arrived.

"It's been an interesting place to live," Curtis said, admitting that her house has always been a focal point for neighborhood kids, sometimes attracting as many as 20 at any given time.

"It's a fun neighborhood. I miss it," said Nina Dana, who recently moved away. "Everybody would get together and play football in the field and Lillian Dana (now her mother in-law) would come out with cookies and lemonade." Dana, who lived in one house on Chesterfield Street for 28 of her 29 years, said she may even move back. She moved earlier this year after her husband was killed in an accident. She said her new neighbors are much less friendly.

Chesterfield has historically been a low-income neighborhood, and it continues to be. But Giles, the resident historian, points out that "a lot of educated people" are native to the area, including county commissioners and a sheriff or two. Too, many maintain that Chesterfield proper is the area between Redwood Road and Sunset Avenue, from Whitlock Avenue to the Jordan River.

Despite their sometimes-junky yards, problems with standing water and lack of sidewalks, Chesterfielders are a proud, resilient and self-sufficient lot. The way they've always done things still works, so they see no reason to change.

"It's kind of a laid-back community," District 1 Councilman Leland DeLange said. "They want to be left alone. They don't like too much change, especially if it takes away their quality of life, just like you and me."

Rumors of high crime and drug-infested houses have dogged the area for years. But West Valley Police administrative officer Dave Shopay said crime has actually decreased in the area over the years. Andy Shavers, a community oriented policeman in the area for one year, said a SWAT team-assisted drug bust on Russett Avenue last month was the most activity he's seen on the beat.

"For the most part they're just hard-working people. They treat the police fairly decent, too," Shavers said.

Four years ago, Lee Branson moved his family to their Chesterfield Street home from Granger. He's happy with the area and thinks he got a honey of a deal on his house.

"I was skeptical at first, but I have no regrets. I was told a bunch of low-lifes live here, but it's not like that at all. We have our misfits just like other neighborhoods," Bran-son said. For more than two years, he's patrolled the community in the early morning for the neighborhood watch program. "I've never had problems. At 2 o'clock in the morning it's so quiet."

Branson said there's no more crime in Chesterfield than in other neighborhoods. "What are they gonna steal?" he asks. His 14-year-old son, Chris, admits there are some wannabe gangsters and some hardcore gang members, but he said he likes the area's fields and river best.

"Chesterfield is a growing gold mine," Branson, 40, said. "If we get a good enough reputation to bring the right parties in, it'll be nice for new buyers. I like the idea that when I'm ready to buy horses, I'm zoned for it. I've got river front property."

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Life in Chesterfield

Total residents 4,603*

White 3,655

Asian or Pacific Islander 440

Latino 432

American Indian 223

Black 79

Other race 205

High School graduates or higher: 59.9%

Bachelor Degree or higher: 3.1%

Most houses (178 owner-occupied) valued $35,000 to $44,999. Median contract rent: $291

Census information (1990) supplied by State of Utah Office of Planning and Budget, Demographic and Economic Analysis.

*Figures may not reflect census total. Latinos are sometimes counted as members of other races.