© 2017 American Physical Society. The ability to separately identify the Cherenkov and scintillation light components produced in scintillating mediums holds the potential for a major breakthrough in neutrino detection technology, allowing development of a large, low-threshold, directional detector with a broad physics program. The CHESS (CHErenkov/Scintillation Separation) experiment employs an innovative detector design with an array of small, fast photomultiplier tubes and state-of-the-art electronics to demonstrate the reconstruction of a Cherenkov ring in a scintillating medium based on photon hit time and detected photoelectron density. This paper describes the physical properties and calibration of CHESS along with first results. The ability to reconstruct Cherenkov rings is demonstrated in a water target, and a time precision of 338±12ps FWHM is achieved. Monte Carlo-based predictions for the ring imaging sensitivity with a liquid scintillator target predict an efficiency for identifying Cherenkov hits of 94±1% and 81±1% in pure linear alkyl benzene (LAB) and LAB loaded with 2 g/L of a fluor, PPO, respectively, with a scintillation contamination of 12±1% and 26±1%.