73 Locust St. Dover, NH 03820 (603)516-6050 Mon-Tues 9-8:30,Wed-Fri 9-5:30, & Sat 9-5
Historical Sketch, Views and Business Directory of Dover, N.H.
Presented by Dover Grange No. 225, 1926.
HILTON POINT. This point of land is at the north end of the railroad bridge connecting Dover and Newington. The Pascataqua river is on its west side, having its rise at Fox Point, where the tide from Little Bay and Oyster River unite and form the Pascataqua; on the east in the Newichawannock [Salmon Falls River], which has its rise at the falls in South Berwick, and ends with its junction with the Pascataqua, below the bridge. For convenience, in old times, the lower half was called Fore River.
The first permanent settlement in New Hampshire was commenced on this point of land in the spring of 1623, by Edward Hilton, William Hilton, Thomas Roberts and others. The first house was built where Hilton Hall (hotel) now stands; a house has been standing over that cellar 303 years. David Thompson had a temporary settlement in 1622, or earlier, at Thompson’s Point, at the junction of the Cocheco with the Newichawannock river. On this point he built a house which remained on the earlier Dover tax-lists, down to 1648, as the Thompson Point House.” He also had a temporary settlement at Little Harbor in 1623, but later gave that up and lived on Thompson’s Island, in Boston Harbor, where he died in 1628.
For two centuries this locality was called Hilton Point; before that the Indians called it “Wecannecohunt,” which the English settlers later abbreviated into Wecohamet. During the first decade the Hilton settlement was called “Pascataquack,” variously spelled. When Capt. Thomas Wiggin’s colonists took possession in 1633, they gave it the name of Bristol; later it was changed to Northam. After it became united with the Massachusetts Bay Colony it received the name “Dover.” Why this name was finally decided upon is nowhere explained. None of the early settlers in this section ever came from Dover, England.
POMEROY COVE. Leonard Pomery, or Pomeroy, a rich merchant of Plymouth, England, was the financial backer of Edward Hilton; he owned the ship “Providence” in which the Hilton colonists came over. No doubt he was with them on this first voyage, being a sagacious business manager in those early days of land speculation in New England. The “Providence” landed in the only good place along the shore, the cove, now cut in halves by the Dover & Portsmouth railroad; they named it “Pomeroy Cove” in honor of the financier of the expedition. Of course the name lacks the beauty and glory of the “Plymouth Rock” landing, which was only two and a half years before. William Hilton’s family became members of the Plymouth Colony a year later, but finally came up to Hilton Point.
OLD DOVER. Early in October, 1633, Capt. Thomas Wiggin and his colonists came over and landed at Salem. As soon as it could be arranged, they all reshipped to Hilton Point, where Capt. Wiggin had made a bargain with Hilton to settle his colonists. The negotiations commenced in 1630, soon after Hilton had secured his “Squamscott Patent” defining his territory, which he transferred to Capt. Wiggin’s colonists. In brief, this included what is now Dover, Somersworth, Newington, Durham, Madbury, Lee and Rollinsford. Up to that time all the houses were on the land between the Point and the Cove. The dwellers thereon were busily engaged in fishing, as the tidewater was abounding in all kinds of denizens of the sea, and trading with the Indians also brought to Hilton and his neighbors valuable furs from animals of the forest. It appears to have been a prosperous and peaceful period; there was no trouble between the white and red men; in fact, there was never any serious trouble, much less war, between the two races during the first fifty years following 1623.
There is no extant record of just what the bargain was between Wiggin and Hilton, but it was such as gave Wiggin’s colonists the right to establish a village on what is now known as Dover Neck. The present shape of the hill, on the east side from Riverview Hall along Fore River to the bluff, is entirely different from what it was originally; the slope of the hill was gradual to the water, so that houses were built all along the river front, and River Street was a thoroughfare until brick making commenced in the 19th century; there was no regular brick yard established before 1800. During the 19th century immense quantities of brick were manufactured from the clay banks along the river front.
It appears that when Thomas Wiggin came over here and completed the bargain with Hilton, he outlined in his mind the construction of a village like those in England, in that period of progress. The hill was covered with primeval forest, tall pines predominating, with here and there some hard wood. He planned a street where the state road now is, and named it High Street; on the westerly side of this street, one-quarter of a mile distant, he planned Low Street; on the Easterly side of High street he planned River Street. Between these main avenues of travel were lanes leading to the rivers on both sides of the hill.
There is no record of the names of number of colonists who made that first voyage; maybe there were forty or fifty, and most of the number were men, young or middle aged; well educated, but not college men; skilled in the various trades that prevailed in their old homes. At the landing at Hilton Point they made their temporary home while they were changing the forest into a village.
No doubt the first house erected was the log meeting-house on Low Street. It must have been a large edifice, and was the business center while the construction of log dwellings was carried on. It must have been late in the winter of 1634 when general house-keeping was commenced. Imagine yourself going out into several hundred acres of “Guppy Pines” and you can form an idea of what Capt. Wiggin’s colonists had to do. That log meeting-house served its purpose during the first twenty years; it was the place for church services on Sunday; town-meetings on Tuesday; for courts whenever need. The First Church was not organized until 1638, but they were not Godless men; religious services were held before that time. It was in that log house that all the controversies of the first score of years of the town were held; some of them are marvelously interesting, as showing what the common people thought and did.
Maybe the inhabitants on the Point kept fishing and trading, but the lumber business occupied most of the time and attention of the dwellers on the hill. At an early period they commenced ship-building in the yards along Fore River; they had carpenter shops, blacksmith shops, cooper shops, etc., all along Low Street. Dwelling houses, stores, or shops as they were then called, and ordinaries (taverns) were on High Street. The first brewery in New Hampshire was at a spring in Riverview Hall. In that vicinity was the first tannery in New Hampshire. A little farther along the first school-house in Dover was erected. On the other side of the hill, on Low Street, directly behind the meeting-house lot, is the locality in which the first jail and pillory stood, in which they confined Quakers and other church offenders, and last of all the whipping post, at which they punished wife-beaters and Godless topers. So for ninety years this locality on the hill was a large prosperous and happy village. In fact, the views from the summit of the hill are beautiful and need but to be seen to be appreciated. Automobile parties racing over the road at a rate of thirty-five or forty miles an hour have not the slightest idea of the historic and grandly beautiful locality they are passing through.
In 1654, twenty years after building the log meeting-house, the town voted to build a new meeting-house on the hill. The spot is now enclosed with iron rails and has a substantial face wall on its east side, with a bronze tablet in the center of it, on which is described data of the construction of the substantial framed building which, in 1679, when the Indian War began, was surrounded buy a high stockade of heavy timbers, with turrets at the northwest and southeast corners, at which soldiers kept watch against the approach of Indian warriors while church services or town meetings were being held. No attack was ever made on the village, but the inhabitants were fully prepared for vigorous defense should an attack be attempted.
At first, and for many years following, the dwellers in the settlements outside the village on the hill, had to attend church at the meeting-house. Those outside settlements were known, and called, by local names conjunctively with the words “in Dover.” It was a long journey for these citizens to go to church. They began to discuss, and then petition, to have their localities changed into “parishes,” that they might have meeting-houses and religious services near at hand. Gradually these petitions were granted. At first “Bloody-Point in Dover” was changed to Newington, where they built a meeting-house, which is yet standing and in use every Sabbath. Next, “Oyster-River in Dover” became Durham. Next, in a few years, the parish of Somersworth was established, and they built a meeting-house at what is now Rollinsford Junction.
In the same year that “Bloody-Point” received the name Newington, the citizens at “Cocheco-in-Dover,” now the center of the city, at their own expense, built a meeting-house on Pine Hill, near the site of the Cushing tomb, and meetings were held in this building, conducted by regular ministers or by local talent. For eight years following there was a very acrimonious discussion between the religious hotspurs of the two villages as to where the town meetings should be held. A Provincial Assembly, by a special committee, finally decided the question in favor of the village at Cochecho Falls, declaring it had more inhabitants than the lower river village. The center of business had changed from Back River to Cochecho Falls, so it became “Dover,” and the old village became Dover Neck. This word neck is derived from the fact that the territory is between three rivers—Back River, Fore River and Cochecho River. At the same period the name Hilton Point began to be called “Dover Point.”
COCHECHO-IN-DOVER became Dover in 1720, and the locality from which it sprang became Dover Neck; change in the business center caused the change in name. The settlement at Cochecho Falls (the Indian name which means “Swift Foaming Water”) was commenced in 1640 by Richard Waldron, son of a distinguished family in Somersetshire, England, who came over to Dover to see the country in 1635, being then twenty-six years old. He stayed nearly two years and bought a house-lot of Capt. Thomas Wiggin, nearly opposite the meeting-house on High Street. He returned to England and “married a gentlewoman of very good family;” returning to Dover, the newlyweds commenced housekeeping on High Street, and that was their home for ten years or more. Mr. Waldron at once became deeply interested in the ship building and lumber business. When he was thirty-one years old he had become so popular and influential that the town gave him grants of timber all over the territory between the Cochecho and Bellamy rivers. He built a saw-mill on the north side of the falls and commenced cutting up the big logs, whipping lumber to his old home in England and to the West India Islands. Though he lived on what we call Dover Neck, he had houses at the falls for his wood-choppers and mill men, and that was the beginning of the city of Dover as we have it today. His logs for the mill were rolled into the river at Log Hill (where the Portsmouth and Dover Railroad crosses the river) and the logs were held in place by a boom of logs where Central Avenue bridge now is; later the boom was made into a floating bridge; but for many years the river was only crossed by teams below the falls, where the Washington Street bridge now spans the river. That is a brief on the beginning of the City of Dover, 260 years ago. “Mirabile dictu!” the change in appearance of the land on both sides of the river has cost millions of dollars, and millions of hours of hard labor to put it into its present shape.
In 1652, when he was forty-one years old, Waldron was elected member of the General Court at Boston and served many years as Dover’s representative; for ten years he was speaker of the House and was on of the most influential men in New England. During a few years his family resided in Boston. About that time he built his mansion house at a point near the middle of the present National Block, which is known in history as the “Waldron Garrison.” It was a large, two-story edifice, constructed in the best Colonial style of that period of New England history; its furnishings must have been the equal of the best in Boston. Before that he had become “Captain;” later he was Major Waldron.
The story of the Indian War can only be briefly mentioned in this sketch. It continued for a period of fifty years, 1675-1725. The settlement, meanwhile, kept on growing slowly and various industries came into life. As the back towns began to be settled, and the inhabitants needed supplies, trade increased here, stores were opened, taverns built and local industry flourished up to the beginning of the Revolutionary War. In that war Dover had a good record. It’s most distinguished military officer of that war was Col. Stephen Evans. His chief work was in organizing regiments, and in keeping the three regiments in the field constantly supplied with new men as they became depleted by death and termination of service. Col. John Waldron commanded a regiment of Dover “six-month men” during the siege of Boston. Col. Evans saw field service in the campaign that ended in the surrender of the British army at Saratoga, under Burgoyne, in 1777. He was also an officer of New Hampshire troops in the Rhode Island campaign of 1778.
From the close of the Revolutionary War to the beginning of the Civil War was a period of great activity in business development at the falls. Up to that time the chief dwellings were at “the Corner” and along Silver Street, for the south side of the river; on the north side the village was at Garrison Hill and along to the foot of Gage’s Hill. The towns north and west of Dover had become settled to considerable extent; Dover became its center of trade, where the surrounding residents disposed of their farm and lumber products. What is now known as “The Landing” was still covered with forest growth. This was speedily turned into a busy mart of trade by the demands of business, in supplying the farmers of the north towns. In disposing of the lumber and other goods they brought to market, ship-yards were opened; ship-building changed from The Neck to The Landing. Light draft vessels carried the products for shipment abroad to the mouth of the Cochecho where, at Thompson’s Point, the goods were placed on sea-going vessels and transported to all the ports along the New England coast and to foreign lands. Merchandise was brought from up country by long teams of oxen. To accommodate the teams and teamsters were maintained taverns all along the road, both at Garrison Hill and for miles beyond. Dover merchants grew rich in the trade that was developed. Before the close of the 18th century Samuel and William Hale had a large ship-yard at the bend of the river, below the Washington Street bridge; they grew rich in the business; in the 19th century Samuel became judge of the court of Strafford County; William became Congressman. Other names could be given of men of that time who built ships and sailed them abroad, loaded with the products of the new land. In many instances the ships were framed in the forests where the timber was cut, and then the frames were brought to the Landing and set up and finished for sea-going service. During that period “The Corner,” at Silver Street, was the fashionable center of high class trade; only a few of the big teams came into town by that road. It had not received a name at that time; it was simply the road from The Corner to Barrington.
Among the young men who were engaged in trade at The Landing during the above-mentioned period was John Williams, a native of Fryeburg, Maine. He was a very able and popular citizen, he was a born leader, a genuine captain of industry. One of his coadjutors was John Wheeler, a merchant at The Corner. On December 26, 1812, Mr. Wheeler notified the proprietors of the Dover Cotton Factory to meet at Mrs. Lydia Tibbetts’ dwelling house on the 19th of January, 1813, at 5 o’clock, P.M., for the purpose of organizing under their act of incorporation.
The “Dover Cotton Factory,” which was incorporated in June, 1812, with a capital stock of $50,000, was the first attempt at manufacturing on an extensive scale in this town. As the lower falls were owned and occupied by the Waldron family, who would not sell their saw and grist mills, the Cotton Factory had to erect its first mill at the falls, two miles up the river, at a point ever since called the Upper Factory. At the meeting above mentioned, at Mrs. Tibbets’ dwelling house, John Williams was elected agent, and the first mill was built under his direction. The first yard of cloth was woven there in 1814. The story of the mill is wonderfully interesting, but cannot be told at this writing. It was kept in operation until about 1840.
1820 the proprietors of the Dover Cotton Factory got possession of the Lower
Falls, which had been in continuous possession of the Waldron family 180 years.
The cornerstone of the new factory was laid July 4, 1821, with Masonic
ceremonies. Col. Andrew Peirce delivered the address, being an able and eloquent
speaker. That mill was at the south end of the dam, where it stood and was in
use for nearly a century. Its cornerstone can be seen in the wall on the north
side of the pond, just above the dam, marked “W. &W.,” meaning Williams and
Wendall; John Williams and Isaac Wendall being the chief managers of the Factory
company. Mr. Wendall was the founder of the Great Falls Cotton Factory.
The founding of the factory here led to a rapid increase of the inhabitants. New streets were made; new houses were rapidly built; new stores were opened; new branches of business were established; rapid progress was made in all phases of industry. Changes followed the first auspicious beginning; Dover Cotton Factory, in 1823, changing its name to “Dover Manufacturing Co.,” and its capital was increased to $100,000. The Dover Bank and the Savings Bank for the County of Strafford were incorporated in that year. The Savings Bank is still in business, one of the richest if not the richest in New Hampshire. The Dover Bank still survives under the name of Strafford National Bank.
In 1826 John Williams, agent and founder of the cotton manufacturing industry in Dover, visited England and inspected all the cotton factories in that “snug little island.” He also inspected the printeries, where beginnings had been made in the making of calico cotton cloth. He came home with his mind full of new ideas of manufacturing cotton into cloth. More than that he succeeded in getting a half dozen expert calico printers to come over to Dover and set up a print-works. Mr. Williams introduced various improvements in his cotton mills, and when the “printers” arrived he had them set up their works in the south end of the mill on Central Avenue, using also part of the west end of the mill on Washington Street. That was the beginning of calico printing in America. That was the method of printing by use of blocks. It was successful for several years.
When block printing passed out of use, Dover manufacturers kept up with, or a little in advance of improvements and inventions in this line of industry. In 1844 the Printery of the Manufacturing Company was erected on Payne Street. As the years passed it was gradually enlarged, until it finally covered all of the vacant lot (as now seen) from Washington Street to the bend of the river, and was immense in machines as well as territory, and the best expert workmen were employed. In fact, it was the aristocratic mechanical institution of the city. Those who worked for the Printery were regarded as specially fortunate. It was a great loss to Dover when its machines ceased to work after the Pacific Mills secured control of the industry.
In May,1828, a tremendous financial panic struck Dover, and all New England, so that numerous failures occurred among business houses generally, and the final result was the closing up of the business of the Dover Manufacturing Company. Instead of giving Agent Williams a chance to get upon his feet, the Boston owners in the company organized the Cocheco Manufacturing Company, and by various “tricks of the trade” got control of the plant at the falls. The story of that company is long and very interesting. It continued successful during the 19th century. In the present century changes in the manufacturing business, both in New England and in the Southern States, finally brought the Cocheco Manufacturing Company under control of the Pacific Mill Company. That company removed the printery to Lawrence, and wiped out the immense plant of its work shops, converting the locality into a beautiful lawn.
AMERICAN WOOLEN COMPANY. This excellent company is the successor of the Sawyer Woolen Mills Company, which had its beginning in 1824, when Alfred I. Sawyer commenced manufacturing wool into cloth, having fully prepared it for spinning. The story of his work, and the enlarging of the plant by his successors in an interesting chapter in Dover history. This plant was in operation for more than a half century. It was in the closing years of the 19th century that it came under the American Woolen Company. It is now one of the best and most prosperous divisions of that great woolen manufacturing concern.
CITY OF DOVER. In 1855 the town of Dover changed to the city form of government, as its town meetings had become so large, unwieldy and noisy that the most valiant moderator could not properly conduct elections. It has been successful for over 70 years and is now the center of trade for a population of over 50,000 people, automobiles bringing customers to our local merchants from a wide circle in southern New Hampshire and the western adjoining towns of Maine.
Dover is the judicial seat of Strafford County. Its court house stands on the spot that once was enclosed within Major Waldron’s “stockade” that garrisoned his fine mansion, which the Indians destroyed, after murdering him in the most shocking manner on the morning of June 28, 1689. Dover is a railroad center, located midway between Boston and Portland, Maine. It is the center of extensive auto-bus traffic lines which make communication with the suburbs very convenient and at small cost.
Another important industry not previously mentioned is the I.B. Williams & Sons Belt Factory, an immense establishment located on Waldron and Orchard Streets. The products of this establishment are not only well and favorably known from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, but retain an active market in many foreign countries.
Immediately following the close of the Civil War the manufacture of shoes was engaged in by several active and progressive companies. The business ever since has remained successful. Several other large manufacturing companies are located here-The Kidder Press Company has a large plant at which is made printing presses and machinery of all kinds, which are in such demand, near and far, that the workmen are steadily employed; the National Woodworking Machine Company, on Locust Street, where all kinds of machinery are manufactured; immense bakeries, from which bread and food products are sent daily far into surrounding cities and towns; door, sash and blinds factories of D. Foss & Son on Portland Street and the D’Arcy Company on Maple Street; Beckwith Boxtoe Manufacturing Company on Sixth Street, etc.
DOVER’S CITY BUILDING. Few cities north of Boston can boast of a larger of more commodious public building than the structure erected by the city of Dover and dedicated December 16, 1891. In it are the city offices and the most elegant and commodious auditorium east of Boston. Across Hale Street, on the south, is the historic Lafayette house, in which the distinguished French man and patriot general was a guest when he visited Dover in June, 1825. On the west of the City Building can be seen the Public Library and the High School buildings. An annex to the latter is now being erected to accommodate the growing demand for school facilities. Our schools hold rank among the highest in the state. This makes Dover a very desirable residential city for families with children, as it offers exceptional opportunities for ambitious students who may desire to engage in business or enter college for higher education.
THE WOODMAN INSTITUTE on Central Avenue is a very interesting place to visit. It has fine exhibits of various kinds of birds, animals, historic relics and most remarkable of all, the only preserved and carefully protected garrison house in New Hampshire. This garrison house is 250 years old, constructed of hewn logs, now perfectly sound. In it is a large collection of antiques, which has been carefully cataloged, and affords a very interesting study for visitors. The Institute gives a course of free lectures every fall and spring.
There are various historic places for visitors to examine, and the secretary of the local Chamber of Commerce will readily give all inquirers directions how to reach them. One of the most interesting of these places is the summit of Garrison Hill. From the upper deck of the observatory can be seen, in fine weather, one of the most beautiful and inspiring panoramic views of rivers, hills, mountains, houses and villages in New England. It covers the circuit from Mt. Washington to the Isles of Shoals.
At the foot of the hill, on the north, are the Wentworth Hospital and the Wentworth Home for the Aged. The hospital is one of the best equipped in the state and is very ably managed. At the east of it is the rest home, and home for the nurses. It is beautifully located and one of the best equipped institutions in the state for young women to get their technical education and practical training to become registered nurses.
Dover is the recognized center of commercial activity in southeastern New Hampshire. Its merchants are enterprising and progressive; their stores models of modernity and attractiveness. The facilities of the Chamber of Commerce, are at the command of visitors at all times, and the Cochecho Country Club, famed for its hospitality, joins in a most cordial welcome to this historic town.
This historical essay is provided free to all readers as an educational service. It may not be reproduced on any website, list, bulletin board, or in print without the permission of the Dover Public Library. Links to the Dover Public Library homepage or a specific article's URL are permissible.