Why Move to Chester County PA?
If you were to go out and ask thousands of people where to find the best suburbs around Philadelphia, roughly one-third of them would answer Chester County. Towns like Berwyn and Devon receive A+ ratings from residents of all ages, with Berwyn itself ranking among the top 5 best places to live in the entire state.
What is it about Chester County that’s got people so excited about living there? Aside from the charming historical village centers, the top-rated schools, and the proximity to both urban and rural escapes, that is?
In case you’re new to the area or if you’re considering a move, here’s what stands out about Chester County, PA, making it shine as a top destination for people looking for a new home.
Chester County is Breathtakingly Beautiful
We’ll start with what’s easily the most apparent benefit of living in Chester County: it’s beautiful. With the rolling hills, preserved historical town centers and the abundance of greenery and an agricultural base that produces everything from wine to mushrooms, a drive through the county is one long, continuous marvel after another.
To give you an idea of the beauty that exists within county borders, here are some highlights:
- Magnificent farms. Geographically speaking, Chester County lies at the bottom of an ancient river valley. And if you remember your 7th-grade geology, that means rich, fertile soil. Historically, the area was a booming agricultural center. That’s still sort of true, as evidenced by gorgeous, extensive farmland throughout.
- Preserves. If it’s not still being worked today by modern-day farmers, much of the historical farmland in the county has been preserved. Hundreds of acres are protected, in fact. They’re a great place for people to go and enjoy the grasslands and woodlands as they return to their natural state.
From its southern boundary with Maryland to the apex of its border at North Coventry Township, the terrain of Chester County is wonderfully diverse. You can go hiking, kayaking, swimming, and more — all within an hour’s drive of Philadelphia.
It Contains Some of Philly’s Most Desirable Suburbs
Some of the most highly-rated suburbs of Philadelphia lie in Chester County. Devon and Berwyn placed at #6 and #4 on the Niche 2019 Best Places survey. And while we’re on the subject of suburbs, the lower portions of Chester County are locally considered to be suburbs of Wilmington, DE (another fantastic area to call home).
But Chester County is more than a suburb of Philadelphia or Wilmington. Head west from Philly beyond Devon and Berwyn and you’ll find a world that’s completely different from the fast-paced urban atmosphere of downtown Philly and the posh estates of Devon.
You Could Live on a Farm & Commute to Philly
There aren’t many east-coast cities (or west-coast cities, for that matter) in the United States where it’s still possible to live a rural lifestyle and maintain a big-city job. At its eastern-most border, Chester County is roughly 20 miles from downtown Philadelphia.
Out in Thorndale, where farms proliferate, you’re still only 45 miles from downtown. Thorndale lies at the end of the superb SEPTA commuter rail line, which makes ten stops through Chester County.
And if you really want to head to the countryside but remain within an easy train ride to Philly, Amtrak’s Keystone Service take you all the way out to Parkesburg in the westernmost region of Chester County. The ride is just under an hour from Parkesburg’s train station to downtown Philly.
History is Always All Around You
You can’t escape the historical significance of Chester County. There are reminders everywhere you go, especially in the lower portions of the county. As one of the original thirteen colonies, Pennsylvania is an old state full of historical references from one end to the other, of course. But Chester County shines in this department even when compared to the rest of the state. William Penn, who can be credited with conducting some of the earliest land sales in the New World, created Chester County in 1682.
A few of the notable historical towns in the Chester County area:
- Chadds Ford. Although not technically located in Chester County, Chadds Ford is of such great historical importance that it deserves mention here (it’s just across county lines, anyway!). The historical town is home to Brandywine Battlefield, where a pivotal Revolutionary War battle was fought in 1777. Today, it rates an ‘A+’ in best places to raise a family. With a median home value of $491,400 and 90% rate of home ownership, it’s clear that Chadds Ford is a highly desirable place to live.
- Malvern. Incorporated in 1889 but dating much older than that, Malvern consists of just over one and a quarter square miles of historical charm. The site of the 1777 Paoli Battlefield, Malvern is also home to the Wharton Esherick Studio, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
- Kennett Square. The “Mushroom Capital of the World”, Kennett Square farms produce more than one million pounds of mushrooms per day! With a population of just over 6,000, the town produces over half of the country’s mushroom crop, according to PBS Newshour. They’ve been at it since the 1800s when the town’s founder wanted to use up space underneath his elevated carnation beds. Pretty impressive, considering Kennett Square spans barely over one square mile! The borough pre-dates the Declaration of Independence and has over 500 protected buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- The Eastern Main Line area. There’s a line of historical communities that run along the old train line that extended from Philadelphia to western parts of the country in the 1800s. Along this line, impressive neighborhoods sprouted – many of which lie in Chester County. Today, they’re some of the most beautiful historic neighborhoods in the country.
All in all, Chester County boasts 320 properties and districts that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places! With 120, lower Chester County has the largest number of them. And it’s not all historic homes like those found along the old Main Line trail. From Amish covered bridges to 18th-century log cabins to the entire downtown district of West Chester, there’s a rich and abundant sense of history in every corner of the county.
Metro-Style Restaurants in Your Own Neighborhood
Foodies won’t have to trek to Philadelphia or New York City to enjoy top-notch restaurants. Chester County is full of them from Phoenixville to Kennett Square to West Chester. The restaurant scene is responsible for creating nightlife districts in some areas (Phoenixville) while in others, like West Chester, it serves as a specialty hub for niche gourmands (think French bakery or truffle house).
This is just a sampling:
- Éclat Chocolat. Bon Appétit has named this chocolatier “Best in America”. Many people consider this the best reason to visit West Chester.
- Dinner at Talula’s Table. Watch the chefs prepare seasonal ingredients in a private setting for one of the most unforgettable meals of your life. If you can even get a dinner reservation, that is! One of the benefits of moving to the Kennett Square area is learning how to score a table for dinner.
- 1906. Perched at the edge of Longwood Conservatory and Gardens, this popular Kennett Square lunch spot has been newly remodeled and sports a seasonal menu with locally-sourced ingredients. Come to Longwood Gardens for the events and stay for lunch (or dinner, in season).
- Majolica. Phoenixville has become a hipster destination but long before the transformation, Majolica was the anchor of the town’s nightlife scene. It’s sophisticated and dedicated to local ingredients and considered one of the best restaurants around Philly.
- Bangles. With the expansion of the tech district into the western areas of Chester County like Downington, come new restaurants that serve a diverse palette. Bangles is one of them, serving Indian food targeting an Indian clientele as well as anyone else who loves authentic Indian food.
The Taxes Won’t Kill Your Budget, Even in the ‘Burbs
Compared to other counties, Chester County boats lower County Taxes than surrounding Philadelphia suburbs. The median effective property tax rate is 1.25% of the property value. The median property tax paid is $4,192 per year. Although not the lowest in the country, property taxes in Chester County compare very favorably to nearby states, including New York and New Jersey. Comparable neighborhoods, including Westchester County in NY and Nassau, also in NY, levy almost twice as much property tax as Chester County, PA.
Overall, the State of Pennsylvania ranks in the bottom third of the country as far as tax burden goes. The good tax ratings for PA stem largely from a fairly low income tax, which remains a flat 3.07 percent.
In addition, Chester County does not impose a sales tax (although there is a statewide 6.00% sales tax and some towns may impose their own local sales taxes up to 2.00%).
Here’s what the tax situation in Chester County, PA looks like:
- Income Tax. Flat rate of 3.07% in the State of PA
- Retirement Income. No tax in PA
- Property Tax. Collected only on land and buildings at the county level, not cars or business inventory
- Sales and Use Tax. Unlike some counties in PA, Chester County does not collect local sales tax on the sale of taxable goods and services
The School Systems are Top Notch
Part of what property taxes go to pay for are schools. Accordingly, Chester County has some of the best in the region. So when it comes to schools, Chester County also delivers. Both public and privately-run schools receive high ratings. Here are some highlights.
- Malvern Preparatory School. A private Catholic school for boys, Malvern Prep has an average class size of 14 and it’s said that 90% of graduates get into their first-choice college. The rural campus is stunningly beautiful and boasts that 100% of graduates attend four-year colleges.
- Kennett Square- Chadds Ford Area. The network of public schools in these two towns, including the various schools that make up the Unionville schools, all rate very highly. The Unionville-Chadds Ford District is ranked #2 in the county with an overall rating of ‘A+’.
- West Chester Area School District. Niche.com rates WCASD as #4 in the county, with an overall grade of A+.
You’ll be Proud When Out-of-Town Guests Visit You
Finally, there’s no shortage of things to do in Chester County. Living here means you can show visiting houseguests a great time without straying too far from the house.
We’ve already mentioned Longwood Gardens but did you know it’s great to visit all year? They earned a mention in Architectural Digest’s global coverage of 12 Winter Gardens You Don’t Want to Miss This Season. And if you have guests in December, their holiday event is truly magical.
Then there’s the West Chester Film Festival, the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival, the Festival of Fountains at Longwood Gardens and … you get the picture, right? Plenty to do, tons of cultural events, and we haven’t even mentioned the vineyards yet, which dot the county.
Plus, who could argue with the taste of America’s fine arts influencers and trendsetters who’ve chosen to settle in Chester County over the years? People like Mati Bonetti de Buccini, director of Atelier Fine Arts Services, whose 1860s barn was transformed into a stunning home. And there’s also Frolic Weymouth, an artist whose estate in Chadds Ford is surrounded by stunning country gardens. Both were featured in Architectural Digest recently. And if you’re a fan of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, Chester County is Wyeth Central. His home and studio were located in nearby Chadds Ford and family members still live in the area.
So Much More in Chester County
Words alone could never capture what it’s like to live in Chester County, PA. But we’ve tried here to give you a glimpse of the high points (and there are so many more than this!). So one last word — whether you’re considering relocating from nearby states with heavy tax burdens or you’re a Philly transplant, Chester County is a great place to call home.