Dover, New Hampshire
33 Chestnut Street Dover, NH 03820
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Facility Ownership||City of Dover|
|Parking Lot Ownership||City of Dover|
|Platform Ownership||Pan Am Railways, New Hampshire DOT|
|Track Ownership||Pan Am Railways|
|30 Long Term Parking Spaces||30 Short Term Parking Spaces||Accessible Payphones|
|Accessible Platform||Accessible Restrooms||Accessible Waiting Room|
|Accessible Water Fountain||Dedicated Parking||Enclosed Waiting Area|
|High Platform||Pay Phones||Quik Trak Kiosk|
(301) 564-5760 (ph)
Local Community Links:
- City of Dover, NH
- Amtrak Downeaster
- COAST bus
- UNH Wildcat Transit
- Woodman Institute Museum
The Dover station is located north of the Cochecho River and a few blocks west of Central Avenue, one of the principle thoroughfares connecting the north and south sides of the city. The building was erected in 2001 for the inauguration of the Downeaster service between Boston and Portland. In the fall, riders receive a dazzling show as the leaves outside their windows turn colors and produce a fleeting mosaic of rich oranges, yellows, golds, and reds. On portions of the journey, the rail advocacy group TrainRiders/Northeast runs a host program in which volunteers assist customers on board by doling out useful advice about the train and the stations and towns along the route.
The parcel at Chestnut and Third Streets was donated for the new station by local developer and train enthusiast Joseph Sawtelle who was part of a team that oversaw the rehabilitation and reuse of downtown Dover’s famous mill complex along the Cochecho. The depot’s designers were inspired by the stations of the Victorian era; from a distance the structure appears to be quite old, and therefore it fits well into the city’s historic built fabric. When the building opened in December 2001, it replaced a low concrete block structure built in the 1960s that was in need of repair. The dedication ceremony included bagpipers and singers who helped the assembled crowd celebrate the reinstatement of passenger rail service in the Seacoast region.
Located within sight of historic St. Mary’s Church, which has seen numerous stations rise and fall, the depot is a simple rectangular structure with a hipped roof that extends over the edges to create a deep eave supported by brackets. The roofline is punctuated by gabled dormers which all bear plaques with the name of the town. Where the bases of the brackets join the building, a piece of trim painted deep green divides the wall into two sections. The upper portion features vertically laid board painted a deep pink while the lower section of the wall is covered in horizontal clapboard painted a light green. The varying angles of the siding and the mix of colors are reminiscent of Victorian aesthetics and can be found on many of the depots remaining from the late 19th century. To the northeast, an open-air, covered waiting room extends along the tracks and provides an outdoor lobby during the warm months. Inside, the waiting room is flooded by light that enters through the large floor-to-ceiling windows.
City of Dover
Prior to the colonization of coastal New Hampshire by European settlers, the Dover area was populated mainly by the Pennacook Native Americans. Their territory was focused on the Merrimac River Valley to the south in Massachusetts, and appropriately their name translates to “at the bottom of the hill or highland.” Similar to their neighbors, the Pennacook were part of the Algonquian language family found in the northeastern United States. They were divided into numerous smaller bands and were attracted to areas such as Dover due to the brackish wetlands that hosted a variety of plant and wildlife.
Many of the Pennacook sub-groups were severely affected by disease during the first decades of contact with European colonists. In general, the Pennacook were semi-sedentary, and different village sites were occupied during the year depending upon the season and the availability of food through hunting, fishing, harvesting, or planting. After decades of warfare with other American Indian groups and the growing colonial population, the remaining Pennacook moved north into Canadian territory in the 18th century.
Dover was one of the four townships originally founded along the 18 miles of New Hampshire’s Atlantic coast; in 1692 the area was permanently separated from Massachusetts. Established in 1623, Dover is considered one of the oldest towns in the United States, but the settlement migrated northwest over its first century. Houses were constructed on Dover Point at the convergence of the Cochecho and Bellamy Rivers, but the townspeople later moved to the area around the Cochecho Falls to take advantage of the natural power source to operate grist and saw mills. Appropriately, “Cochecho” is a Pennacook word that translates to “rapid foaming water,” and accurately describes the 33 foot drop in the river as it meets brackish waters.
Dover Point was early known as Hilton’s Point after brothers William and Edward Hilton who came to the area on behalf of business interests in England who were intent on developing the region’s fishing industry and creating an export market for dried fish. The Hilton’s little camp is considered the first permanent European settlement in New Hampshire. A decade later, a group of Puritan immigrants from England arrived and the village finally began its steady growth as a maritime center with access to the Atlantic Ocean 12 miles to the east by way of the Piscataqua River. Many of those settlers were natives of Bristol, and the community was renamed after their hometown until the local pastor decided that his birthplace of Northam deserved the honor. It was not until the town was incorporated in 1641 that “Dover” became official, putting an end to the name games.
The community, situated among extensive stands of hardwood forest, quickly developed a ship building industry to supplement fishing and the sale of furs. As early as 1661, a frigate was built at Dover for the British Navy; England was suffering from a dearth of timber, and the prized forests of the American colonies were a highly sought-after commodity. To cut and finish the wood, sawmills were erected around the lower falls of the Cochecho River five miles upstream from Dover Point; by the mid-18th century, the majority of settlers had moved to the new town site. Merchants constructed a landing below the roiling falls, but the tidal river was generally not deep enough for larger ships. A solution was found in the gundalows, flat bottomed vessels used to move goods between town and the ships further down river.
As the 17th century progressed and the English population grew, greater pressure was exerted upon the Pennacook tribes whose traditional hunting and agricultural lands were often taken by settlers for little or no compensation. The Dover population was generally on good terms with local American Indian groups, but fighting in Massachusetts resulted in the northward migration of new tribes to the Seacoast area. After years of tension between the colonists and the growing American Indian population, Dover became a flashpoint in 1689 and the community was attacked by hostile American Indian groups.
In the preceding decade of unease, the townspeople had fortified a number of existing garrisons which could shelter multiple families in the event of a battle. Most of these were overrun and numerous settlers—about 25 percent of the population—were killed or taken captive while the mills and houses were set on fire. One of the garrison houses from that period survives on the grounds of Dover’s Woodman Institute Museum, and is open to the public. Built in 1675, it is the state’s oldest intact garrison house and contains exhibits of period furniture and a display of early local history. The town soon recovered and continued as a shipbuilding, milling, and fishing center throughout the eighteenth century. Contributing men and provisions towards the Revolutionary effort, the ensuing warfare put a damper on the local economy, but it bounced back after the war.
Much of the cloth used in the United States came from Europe although the cotton was grown in North America. The War of 1812 with Great Britain disrupted trans-Atlantic trade and speeded up American attempts to develop a native textile industry. John Williams, a local merchant of imported goods, took the first step by gathering investors to found the Dover Cotton Factory. A downtown mill site on the Cochecho Falls was desired, but land could not be obtained and the factory was instead erected two miles upriver. In operation by 1815, it attracted laborers, mainly farm women, from the surrounding countryside who settled into a community around the factory that became known as Williamsville. The women attended the looms six days a week, 14 hours a day. The pay was good although the work could be rather repetitive and boring.
In 1822, the land around Cochecho Falls was finally available for purchase and a second mill was built; the company was renamed the Dover Manufacturing Company. Over the next few years, the operations at Williamsville were transferred to the downtown factory and the first mill was abandoned. The Cochecho Falls complex grew at a steady pace and other mill buildings were constructed to accommodate more looms.
Five years later, the Cocheco Manufacturing Company (a clerk misspelled Cochecho) was formed and in 1829 it bought out the Dover Manufacturing Company. The factories erected by these business, built with local red brick, became a defining feature of the city’s riverfront, and they remain today as a testament to Dover’s role in the Industrial Revolution. They quickly spread across the river to cover the north and south banks By the end of the century, Dover’s textiles, including calico prints and velvets, were not only popular in the United States, but were also sought worldwide. The Museum of Textile History lists more than 10,000 original patterns designed by the company over its century in business.
As the mills expanded and factory work lost some of the luster and decent wages that had early attracted young female workers, immigrants entered the labor force. At the dawn of the 20th century, the Cocheco Manufacturing Company could boast of more than 30 acres of workspace housing 1200 workers who operated 3,600 looms that wove 715,000 yards of fabric each week. The mills were rebuilt and renovated numerous times to accommodate new machinery and to maximize production. The Cocheco Manufacturing Company was Dover’s first mill, but it was not alone. It spawned imitators such as the Sawyer Woolen Mills on the Bellamy River in southwestern Dover.
Local waterways provided a shipping outlet for the factories’ goods until 1841 when the new railroad increased shipping speeds and efficiency and opened up markets across North America. In September of that year, the Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M) arrived in Dover from the south and directly connected it to the major international port at Boston 67 miles away. The railroad eliminated the time and labor needed to load goods onto the gundalows for transfer to ocean going ships.
In addition to the B&M, Dover was linked to the New Hampshire interior by the Cocheco Railroad and to the coast by the Dover and Portsmouth Railroad; in total, nine stations served the Dover area. Through a calculated campaign of acquisition and consolidation, the reorganized B&M bought or leased numerous regional short lines and competitors to become the dominant passenger and freight railroad in the far Northeast by the end of the century.
The first B&M depot, constructed in 1842, stood near the current station between Third and Fourth Streets where the Cocheco Manufacturing Company maintained a wood lot. Typical of other regional B&M depots, the wood frame building spanned the track so that a train could pull into it; this feature was especially appreciated in the cold winter months. It was painted a dark gray and contemporary observers noted that the front was framed by pillars, a rather gracious gesture at a time when the layout and form of train stations was still being determined by their principle users. This first depot served the community until 1875 when it was replaced by a larger brick structure.
The replacement station was a one-story structure with a spacious attic level housed beneath a hipped roof and lighted by small dormer windows capped by pediments. The overall composition was rather restrained and accented solely by a cornice and frieze at the roof line that were broken by the bottom of the dormers. The building was almost entirely circled by a fixed awning supported by brackets; it protected passengers from inclement weather as they waited outside for the arrival of the train. The awning extended along the tracks southwest from the depot and broadened to create a covered, outdoor waiting area.
A roundhouse was soon built nearby as was a water tower, an essential piece of railroad infrastructure in the days of steam locomotives. Northeast of the depot, a 1919 B&M roundhouse still stands by the tracks south of Oak Street. The brick station served passengers until service ended on the B&M in June 1967. It was demolished soon thereafter.
The textile mills kept Dover a bustling place well into the first few decades of the twentieth century, but a series of natural disasters and accidents soon undercut the productivity of the industry. In March 1896, several days of rain swelled the Cochecho River; the cold ground could not absorb all of the precipitation. Coupled with the winter ice, the swift, rising river swept away eight bridges, knocked out electricity, started a fire, and flooded a few blocks while also destroying buildings.
In January 1907, a 36-hour fire ravaged the Cocheco mill, the subzero temperatures freezing the water from the fire trucks before it did any good. Four people died and the mill owners suffered more than $1 million in damages. This followed on a less serious blaze the previous year, but the combined cost of rebuilding drained the company’s finances. Competition from southern mill owners had already affected the bottom line and the fires worsened the Cocheco Manufacturing Company’s ability to hold onto its market. In 1909, the company was bought out by a Lawrence, Massachusetts firm and eventually the majority of its operations were moved elsewhere and factories were demolished, particularly those on the south side of the river in what is now Henry Law Park. The remaining mills closed in 1937.
Wisely, the city bought the remaining structures in 1940 and leased parts of them out to small businesses. Further deterioration in the 1960s and 1970s seemed to spell the end for the industrial complex, but in 1984 the buildings were purchased by two developers who had a grand vision. They cleaned the facades, replaced 895 windows, added new entrances, and laid out landscaped courtyards between the structures. The interiors were modified to accommodate office space and new businesses were lured to Dover by the unique property. The public was encouraged to spend time in the area by the addition of an outdoor performing arts space.
Today the rehabilitated mill buildings are a symbol of Dover, and their red brick facades appear as a common backdrop in visitors’ photos. The historic downtown has experienced reinvestment, and Central Avenue’s tree lined sidewalks present the walker with a collection of restaurants, shops, and galleries. A new Riverwalk along the Cochecho River allows townspeople and visitors to admire the water and the activity along its shore and surface, including canoeing and kayaking.
In addition to the William Damm Garrison, the Woodman Institute Museum, established in 1915, offers an amazing collection of North American minerals, rocks, fossils and stuffed animals including a 10 foot tall polar bear that welcomes guests. The grounds also hold the Hale House, built in 1813 for John Williams, Dover’s textile pioneer. The home was later owned by John Parker Hale, a US Senator known for his staunch abolitionist views in the decades prior to the Civil War.
One of the most popular annual events is the Apple Harvest Day in early October that attracts more than 35,000 visitors to downtown. Children’s events, carnival games and rides, food vendors, a petting zoo, and musical entertainment ensure fun for everyone. The most delicious event—incorporating sugar and spice—is surely the apple pie contest; a separate category showcases the talents of young culinary masters under the age of 14.
* * *
The Downeaster is financed primarily through funds made available by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at the Dover station, which is served by 10 daily trains.