Dover, N.H.: Transforming Rust to Rustic

One of the oldest towns in the United States, Dover remains youthful and child-friendly. Mountains, rivers and nearby ocean shores provide abundant outdoor opportunities, while low unemployment creates an enviable economy.
By David Wann
October/November 2012
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Each week, crowds gather along the Cochecho River for Dover Night Out. 
Photo Courtesy Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce

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Among U.S. cities, Dover has seniority and wears it well. Established in 1623, it’s the oldest permanent settlement in New Hampshire and the seventh oldest in the nation. This vibrant little city took its present shape 200 years ago when the massive brick buildings of the textile mills went up at Cochecho River Falls. These days, the mill buildings are flagships of a new era; they’re still the town’s architectural anchors, but they now contain apartments, offices and businesses.

Dover could have been just another rusty mill town, but instead it’s evolved into an urban village with unique architecture, a deep sense of heritage, beautiful natural surroundings and a high percentage of well-educated residents. An underlying mission of the Dover Business and Industrial Development Authority was to keep the city youthful and child-friendly to attract upwardly mobile families who could earn — and spend — money in the community. Family-friendly cultural assets include the excellent Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, with programs ranging from LEGO workshops to an “Anyone Can Grow Food!” series and a family garden club. The city has successfully promoted benefits such as open space preservation and recent riverfront redevelopment as quality-of-life features to attract new businesses. In the past three years, 40 new businesses have come to town, and as unemployment hovered near 9 percent nationally, Dover’s was 4.4 percent.

Three rivers flow through town before emptying into Great Bay, a recessed, biologically abundant estuary just east of Dover. From Garrison Hill Tower, an iconic Dover landmark reconstructed by civic volunteers, you can glimpse the White Mountains — with more than 40 ski areas within 100 miles — to the west and the Isles of Shoals 6 miles off the coastline. On trails in and around Dover, hikers, kayakers, hunters and oyster-harvesters see oak forests, vintage farms, old-time stone walls, and moss-rimmed coves along the river.

Cooperation between citizens and city government has often resulted in money- and environment-saving initiatives. For example, by upgrading city facilities, Dover saves $300,000 every year on utility bills.

Along with the Strafford Rivers Conservancy as a partner, the city purchased the development rights for America’s oldest family farm. First tilled by John Tuttle in 1632, the 134-acre farm has been in the family for 11 generations. Though it’s for sale now, the farm will never be a subdivision or drive-in — Dover has seen to that by forging partnerships with various conservancy organizations.

Stats: Dover, New Hampshire

Population: 30,500

Climate: New England seasonal (including brilliant autumn colors); 42 inches avg. annual precip.; January avg. high: 33 degrees; July avg. high: 70 degrees

Median Household Income: $81,207

Median Home Price: $186,821

Check out the other towns featured in our 2012 installment of 8 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.

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