Valerie LaRobardier HistorianLaRobardier@TownofDoverNY.us
Caroline Reichenberg HistorianReichenberg@TownofDoverNY.us
Brief Overview of the Town of Dover's History
History first recorded that the hills and valleys of early Dover were areas of open forests, thick swamps and sparkling waters, inhabited by several groups of Indians. Those Native Americans were the Schaghticoke and remnants of the Pequots who lived in the rugged hills surrounding the narrow valley of the Ten Mile River.
Richard Sackett, "of Dover," was granted a patent for land in 1704. He became the earliest settler in eastern Dutchess County, but his claim fell to the Patents of Henry Beekman, (1697 and 1703). Settlement was sparse until 1731, when the Equivalent Lands agreement with nearby Connecticut added almost two miles along the New York border. The patent became known as the Oblong; its meandering river, the Ten Mile, became known as Oblong River. Shortly thereafter, while Quakers purchased and farmed the Oblong Lots, squatters and brigands settled in the hills, while legend claimed Martin Preston became the first white man to settle on East Mountain. Farming was the primary occupation. Dover was located on a direct route to New York City; rest stops like the Old Drover's Inn prospered as the roads swarmed with cattle and sheep, herded by drovers on their way to market. In addition, iron ore was mined as early as the 1750s. Area growth continued at a rapid pace up to the American Revolution, when local ore was used to manufacture weapons and munitions for the revolutionary arsenal.
During the Revolution, Washington's Army marched the Upper Road, from Hartford to Fishkill, which ran beside the Ten Mile River; they camped west of present day Wingdale. Near Church Hill, the Morehouse Tavern hosted General George Washington, and other leaders and dignitaries of the American Revolution, such as Generals Gates, Putnam, Arnold, Heath, Parsons, Lafayette. After the Revolution, new civil divisions in 1788, created Pawing Township from the Beekman Patent; Dover was then a part of Pawling.
The area continued to grow and local leaders gathered to discuss separation of Dover from Pawling. On February 20, 1807, the New York Legislature separated 26,669 acres from Pawling, creating the Town of Dover. The first designated town meeting took place in the home of John Preston, today's Old Drovers Inn.
Farming and iron continued to play major roles in the economy. As the town grew, small clusters of homes appeared near the mills and on the mountain slopes. Around 1850, the Harlem Railroad Division came to town and led to a decline in the drover's business.
During the Civil War, local men and materials made their impact. The Dutchess County 150th Regiment was organized and commanded by General John Henry Ketcham, who went on to become a seventeen term US Congressman. The radical revolving turret for the ironclad warship Monitor, was actually the brainchild of Theodore Timby, to whom Ericsson paid royalty fees. Iron ore from a mine in Deuel Hollow was used on the Monitor class warships while Benson J. Lossing documented the War of Rebellion. Lossing, a prolific writer and engraver, lived on Chestnut Ridge, where his home can still be seen today. The War's end saw growth in the marble industry as gravestones were hewn from Ketcham's quarries for monuments in cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery. By 1875, 50 farms in Dover spread across the valley and clung to the hillsides; their milk and produce quickly shipped to the New York markets by rail.
In the early twentieth century, the area became a haven for painters who captured the scenic beauty of our rivers, fields, farms and country life on canvas. Tourists flocked to enjoy the Dover Stone Church and the charm of our corner of the world, staying in small local inns for tourists, such as the Bend In The Road Inn. Quarrying, lime production, agriculture and milk-processing were the primary industries in the bustling community. Dover's pristine white marble was used extensively for government buildings in New York, Washington, DC and notable monuments, such as the Washington Arch in Greenwich Village, NYC, which boasts both kinds of Dover Marble.
After WWI, the 'Great Depression' was an era of growth in Dover as New York State built two mental health facilities in the area. Farming declined, but the local work force stayed to staff the growing population in the hospitals. In addition, new employees were drawn from the South and upstate New York.
During WWII, the federal government built a defense plant, which produced magnesium from the local limestone. An overhead tramway carried the ore four miles to the plant. After the war, farming continued to decline; the State hospitals became the major employers in the valley.
In the 1960's, a new era of Mental Health care minimized the need for mental health facilities. The Harlem Valley Psychiatric Hospital population shrank until it eventually closed in the 1980's. As the local economy slowed, New York State located a detention facility, run by the Division For Youth, on the hospital grounds; it was phased out in 2004. The main facility remained vacant for years.
Rapid developments in transportation and railroad industries allowed people to travel longer distances in a shorter time. A population shift began as new residents arrived from Westchester County, lured by beautiful scenery, small town appeal, inexpensive land and low cost residential development. Today, the Town of Dover is contemplating ideas to keep our unique environment with its scenic views, open space and rural character, while encouraging growth and working to rehab the crumbling State Hospital property into a vital economic force.
By Donna P. Hearn, Town Historian