History of Dover, NH: Oldest Town in New Hampshire

Dover is a historic town in New Hampshire. In fact, Dover is the oldest continuous settlement in New Hampshire. In addition, it is also one of the oldest towns in America.

The following is a timeline of the history of Dover, NH:

1622:

  • David Thompson establishes a temporary settlement at the junction of the Cocheco River and the Newichawannock River, which is now known as Thompson’s Point, where he builds a house.

1623:

  • Edward Hilton, William Hilton, Thomas Roberts and others from the Council of New England’s Laconia Company settle an area at Dover Neck, now known as Hilton Point, as a fishing colony and name it “Pascataquack.”
  • David Thompson also establishes a temporary settlement at Little Harbor but soon moves to Boston Harbor and lives on what is now Thompson’s Island until his death in 1628.
Wood engraving of colonists settling Dover, New Hampshire in 1623 circa 1830

1630:

  • Edward Hilton secures his “Squamscott Patent” to expand the settlement into what is now Dover, Somersworth, Newington, Durham, Madbury, Lee and Rollinsford.

1633:

  • In early October, Captain Thomas Wiggins and a group of colonists land at Salem, Mass before moving on to Hilton Point where Wiggins purchases the Squamscott Patent from Hilton.
  • Wiggins and his settlers rename the Hilton Point settlement Bristol.
  • The First Settlers Burying Ground is established on Dover Point Road.

1634:

  • A log meeting house is built on what is now Low Street.

1637:

  • The settlement is renamed Dover.

1638:

  • John Tuttle obtains a land grant for small plot of land in Dover and establishes Tuttle Farm on what is now Dover Point Road.

1641:

1642:

  • A sawmill is built on the Cocheco River.

1653:

  • The First Parish Church is built on Dover Point Road.

1662:

  • Three Quaker missionaries, Mary Tompkin, Ann Coleman, and Alice Ambrose, are arrested in Dover and sentenced to be whipped 10 lashes in each town until they are out of the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They are whipped in Dover and Hampton but are mercifully released when they reach Salisbury, Mass.

1675:

  • The Damm Garrison is built by John Damm for his son William Damm on Dover Neck.

1676:

  • On September 7, Major Richard Waldron captures some suspected native refugee combatants from King Philip’s War during a mock battle against the militia near Cocheco Falls.
Major Waldron’s garrison, postcard, circa 1907

1679:

  • Dover becomes part of New Hampshire province.

1689:

  • On June 27, the Cocheco Massacre takes place in Dover during King William’s War, during which Abenaki and Pennacook Indians kill more than 20 settlers and take 29 captives. The massacre is believed to be revenge against Dover for the capture of natives during the mock battle in 1676.

1690:

  • The Guppy House is built for Captain Heard on the corner of Portland and Oak Streets.

1696:

  • Ebenezer Varney, a blacksmith and devout Quaker, builds his home at the foot of the west side of Garrison Hill. The hill, a 298-foot-tall glacial drumlin (a hill created by glaciers), later becomes known as Varney’s Hill in the 18th century.

1731:

  • On March 29, a town cemetery, known as Pine Hill Cemetery, is established during a vote at a town meeting. The cemetery had long been used prior to this as a burying ground by the local Native Americans.

1750:

  • Back River Farm is established on Bay View Road.

1768:

  • The Dover Religious Society of Friends Meetinghouse is built on Central Ave.

1780:

  • The Michael Reade House is built for local merchant Michael Reade on Main Street.

1788:

  • On February 24, the first hanging takes place in Dover when Elisha Thomas is convicted of the murder of Captain Peter Down during a bar brawl and is executed at gallows built at the foot of Swazey’s hill.

1790:

  • Captain Richard Tripe establishes a boatyard on Varney’s Hill (Garrison Hill).
  • The population of Dover is 1,998.

1795:

  • During the winter, Captain Rchard Tripe hauls a 50-ton schooner from his boatyard on Varney’s Hill (Garrison Hill) through three feet of snow down to the landing at the Cocheco River.

1800:

  • The population of Dover is 2,062.

1806:

  • The William Hale House is built by Bradbury Johnson for local merchant William Hale on Central Ave. It is later moved to Hale Street.

1810:

  • The population of Dover is 2,228.

1818:

  • The Woodman House is built by Captain William Palmer on Central Ave and is later occupied by wealthy merchant Charles Woodman in 1822.

1820:

  • The population of Dover is 2,871.

1822:

  • The Cocheco Mills are built on the Cocheco River.
Women workers outside the Cocheco Mfg. Co., Dover, N.H. circa May 17, 1909

1825:

  • The First Parish Church, a Federal-style building, is constructed by Captain James Davis on Central Ave.
  • The Sawyer Building, a triangular three-story brick commercial building, is constructed on Portland Street.

1828:

  • On December 30, the Dover “Mill Girls” organize a strike, which is the first strike by women in U.S. history.

1829:

  • John Ham purchases Varney’s property on Varney’s Hill (Garrison Hill).

1830:

  • The population of Dover is 5,449.

1834:

  • John Ham changes the name of Varney’s Hill to Garrison Hill.

1835:

  • The Samuel Wyatt House, a Greek Revival-style house, is built for Samuel and Sophia Cushing (Hayes) Wyatt on Church Street.

1838:

  • Dover residents vote in favor of allowing the Boston & Maine railroad to pass through Dover.

1840:

  • The population of Dover is 6,458.

1841:

  • In August, the Boston & Maine Railroad tracks are completed up to the intersection of Washington and Arch Streets. The tracks are extended over the course of the next year and a train station is built at what is now the Fourth Street municipal parking lot.
  • On September 1, the first train arrives in Dover.

1842:

  • The first City Hall building is constructed on the corner of Washington Street and Central Ave.

1846:

  • The Public Market, a Greek Revival-style commercial building also known as the Morrill Block, is constructed on Washington Street.
The Old Corner, Central Square, Dover, NH; from a 1909 postcard

1850:

  • The population of Dover is 8,196.

1851:

  • The Cocheco Railroad builds a track from Dover to Alton Bay with a station near County Farm Cross Road. This line is later absorbed by the Boston & Maine Railroad in 1863.

1855:

  • Dover is incorporated as a city in the state of New Hampshire.

1856:

  • To celebrate the election of President James Buchanan, a celebration is held with fireworks, a large parade and bonfire on the hill. In addition, a British War of 1812 cannon, nicknamed the Constitution after it was captured from the British, is fired on top of Garrison Hill but it misfires and kills the two men loading it.

1858:

  • The State Fair is held at Willand Pond.

1860:

  • In March, Abraham Lincoln stops in Dover while on his presidential campaign tour and spends the night at 113 Locust Street, which is now known as the Lincoln House.
  • The population of Dover is 8,502.

1866:

  • On November 23, the first City Hall, on the corner of Washington Street and Central Ave, is destroyed in a fire.

1867:

  • Strafford County Farm is established on County Farm Road.

1868:

  • City Hall is rebuilt on the corner of Washington Street and Central Ave.

1870:

  • The population of Dover is 9,294.

1872:

  • The Dover Portsmouth Railroad is built from Washington Street to Dover Point Road where it crosses the river and continues to Portsmouth. The Boston & Maine Railroad absorbed this line in 1884.

1873:

  • The Sawyer Woolen Mills are built on Mill Street.
  • A two-story brick train station is built on the site of the old train station on Fourth Street.

1875:

  • The County Farm Bridge, a covered bridge, is built on County Farm Road.
  • On July 4, a British War of 1812 cannon nicknamed the Constitution, is fired on top of Garrison Hill to celebrate the centennial of start of the Revolutionary War.

1878:

  • On June 18, Foster’s Daily Democrat newspaper is founded by Joshua L. Foster.

1880:

  • The top of Garrison Hill is jointly owned by Joseph Ham and Harrison Haley who develop it as a public park with a roller skating rink, a picnic grove and hiking trails. They also build a 65-foot-tall wooden observatory on top of the hill and name it Haley’s and Ham’s Outlook.
  • A carriage road to the summit of Garrison Hill is built on the side of the hill and still exists in modern day Dover as a hiking trail.
  • The population of Dover is 11,687.

1881:

  • An almshouse is built on Strafford County Farm on County Farm Road.

1882:

  • Harrison Haley establishes the Dover Horse Railroad Company which carries passengers from Sawyer’s Bridge to Garrison Hill.

1885:

  • The Woodbury Mill is constructed on Dover Street.

1888:

  • The City of Dover purchases eight acres of land at the summit of Garrison Hill from Harrison Haley to create a public park and build a two million gallon reservoir. The roller skating rink on the hill is later moved to Henry Burgett’s amusement park at Willand Pond.

1889:

  • Henry Burgett purchases, along with the Dover Horse Railroad, twenty-seven acres of land at Willand Pond.
  • On March 22, City Hall is destroyed in a fire.

1890:

  • On August 16, the Horse Railroad becomes electric and is extended from Franklin Square to Somersworth and is renamed the Union Street Railway.
  • On September 18, an amusement park is built by Henry Burgett at Willand Pond and features a casino, pavilion, a carriage house, and a power plant for the electric railway cars.
  • The population of Dover is 12,790.

1891:

  • The amusement park at Willand Pond is renamed Central Park.
  • The St. Thomas Episcopal Church, a Gothic Revival-style building, is constructed on Hale Street.

1892:

  • The railroad track from Franklin Square to Sawyer’s Bridge is also electrified and becomes an electric trolley.

1893:

  • On February 9, a fire destroys the Strafford County Asylum during which forty-one patients are killed.
  • Fourteen glass greenhouses are constructed by Charles H. Howe at the bottom of Garrison Hill between 1893 and 1901 and later become known as Garrison Hill Greenhouses.

1896:

  • On February 29 – March 1, three bridges and three stores are destroyed by raging waters and chunks of ice on the Cocheco River after a storm. The bridges are the Central Avenue Bridge, the lower Washington Street Bridge, and the Whittier Bridge.

1897:

  • On June 27, the wooden observatory on Garrison Hill is destroyed in a fire.

1898:

  • The Wentworth Home for the Aged, a three-story brick building, is built on Central Ave and opens its doors to the public on June 25.

1900:

  • The population of Dover is 13,207.

1905:

  • The Dover Public Library is built on Locust Street and opens its doors to the public in June.
Dover Public Library, Dover NH, postcard, circa 1907

1906:

  • The Wentworth Hospital, which consists of three cottage-type buildings (men’s ward, women’s ward and administrative building) connected by corridors, is built on Central Ave and opens its doors to the public on August 30.

1907:

  • The county jail is built on Strafford County Farm on County Farm Road.

1910:

  • The population of Dover is 13,247.

1911:

  • The U.S. Post Office – Dover Main, a Beaux Arts-style building, is constructed on Washington Street.

1912:

  • An automobile road, Abbey Sawyer Memorial Drive, is built to the summit of Garrison Hill.

1913:

  • A new 76-foot iron observatory tower is built at Garrison Hill Park, as the result of a donation made by Abbey Sawyer, and is dedicated on August 2.

1915:

  • The Damm Garrison is gifted to the Woodman Institute by its owner Mrs. Holmes Rounds.
  • The Woodman Institute is founded from a trust established by Annie E. Woodman.

1916:

  • On July 26, the Woodman Institute opens to the public on Central Ave.
  • The Damm Garrison is moved via horse-drawn rollers from Dover Neck to its current location at the Woodman Institute on Central Ave.

1920:

  • The Ham family sells Garrison Hill to Phillip Daum.
  • The population of Dover is 13,029.

1926:

  • On September 15, the electric trolley shuts down.

1930:

  • The population of Dover is 13,573.

1933:

  • City Hall is destroyed in a fire.

1940:

  • A small ski area opens on Garrison Hill and features a rope tow, ski jump and warming hut.
  • The population of Dover is 13,990.
Dover, N.H. Bird’s Eye View from Opera House Tower, postcard, circa 1913

1950:

  • On November 27, Garrison Hill Greenhouses are destroyed in a hurricane.
  • The population of Dover is 15,874.

1954:

  • The Wentworth Hospital changes its name to Wentworth City of Dover Hospital.

1960:

  • The population of Dover is 19,131.

1961:

  • Wentworth City of Dover Hospital changes its name to Wentworth Douglass Hospital in honor of Louise B. Douglass who bequeathed a half a million dollars to the hospital in the 1950s.

1970:

  • The population of Dover is 20,850.

1979:

  • The ski area on Garrison Hill closes to the public.

1980:

  • The population of Dover is 22,377.

1981:

  • The County Farm Bridge on County Farm Road is destroyed in a fire.

1984:

  • Mirage Studios in Dover publishes the comic book Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by writers Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

1988:

  • Liberty Mutual purchases a 222 acre lot off of Sixth Street with plans to build a million-square-foot office complex there.

1990:

  • On April 13, the body of Barrington resident Sheila Holmes is discovered near the railroad tracks by Forest Street in Dover. The death is ruled a homicide but the case is never solved.
  • The observatory tower at Garrison Hill Park is demolished due to safety reasons.
  • The population of Dover is 25,042.

1993:

  • The Garrison Hill Tower is rebuilt at Garrison Hill Park.

1997:

  • Dover East, an office building, is constructed at Liberty Mutual’s office complex off of Sixth Street and builds a private road to the complex called Liberty Way.

2000:

  • The population of Dover is 26,884.

2007:

  • Dover West, an office building, is constructed at Liberty Mutual’s office complex on Liberty Way.

2010:

  • The Tuttle family sells Tuttle Farm on Dover Point Road to Tendercrop Farm.
  • The population of Dover is 29,987.

2013:

  • A large four-story addition, the Garrison Wing, is built at Wentworth Douglass Hospital.

2020:

  • The population of Dover is 32,416.

2023:

  • In January, Liberty Mutual announces it is selling its Dover office complex on Liberty Way and moving its remaining workers to Portsmouth due to the reduced need for office space as a result of its work-at-home program.

Sources:
“Lincoln House.” Dover.NH.Gov, dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/historical-images/houses/houses-h-l/lincoln-house.html
“Dover’s First Hanging.” Dover.Nh.Gov, dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/history/dovers-first-hanging/
“Quaker Missionaries Whipped Out of Dover.” New Hampshire Radical History, 23 Aug. 2021, nhradicalhistory.org/story/quaker-missionaries-whipped-out-of-dover/
“Dover Historical Dates.” Dover.NH.Gov, dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/history/dover-historical-dates/
McManus, Tony. “Dover’s Tuttle Farm should not be forgotten.” Foster’s Daily Democrat, 23 Dec. 2019, fosters.com/story/news/2019/12/22/historically-speaking-dovers-tuttle-farm-should-not-be-forgotten/2021154007/
Pieretti, Nancy. “NORTHEAST NOTEBOOK; Dover, N.H.: Old Mill Town Gets New Look.” New York Times, 1 May. 1988, nytimes.com/1988/05/01/realestate/northeast-notebook-dover-nh-old-mill-town-gets-new-look.html
“Wentworth Home for the Aged.” Dover.Nh.Gov, dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/historical-images/buildings/buildings-h-z/wentworth-home-for-the-aged.html
“History.” Wentworth Douglass Hospital, wdhospital.org/wdh/about-wdh/history
“Calamity on the Cocheco.” Dover.NH.Gov, dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/history/calamity-on-the-cocheco/
“Dover Mill Girls.” Historical Marker Database, hmdb.org/m.asp?m=152215
“The Strike of the Mill Girls.” Dover.NH.Gov, dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/history/strike-of-the-mill-girls/
“2002 Heritage Walking Tour.” Dover.NH.Gov, dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/Heritage-Walking-Tours/2002-heritage-walking-tour/
“1986 Heritage Walking Tour.” Dover.NH.Gov, dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/Heritage-Walking-Tours/1986-heritage-walking-tour/ https://www.dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/Heritage-Walking-Tours/1986-heritage-walking-tour/
Krauss, Adam D. “’Cries of the doomed’: Anniversary of 1893 Strafford County Asylum fire.” Foster’s Daily Democrat, 10 Feb. 2009, fosters.com/story/news/2009/02/11/cries-doomed-anniversary-1893/52101769007/
“Fire at the Insane Asylum.” Dover.Nh.Gov, dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/history/fire-at-the-insane-asylum/
“Houses.” Dover.NH.Gov, dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/historical-images/houses/
Belknap, Jeremy. History of New Hampshire. Vol I, George Wadleigh, 1862
“Dover History.” Dover.NH.Gov, dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/library/research-learn/history/
“Dover Facts and History.” Dover.NH.Gov, dover.nh.gov/about-dover/dover-facts-and-history/

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of Historic Sites USA. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in New England after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism.

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