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Dover celebrates its bicentennial

DOVER—Break out the birthday cakes and history. The town of Dover celebrates its bicentennial on Oct. 1–3.

“This celebration is not only a way for the community to come together and share everything that has taken place prior to now, but to get an understanding of where we’ve come from, where we are today and where we can go in the future,” says Mary Lou Raymo, chair of the Dover Bicentennial Committee.

Festivities will include a parade, art show, musical performance, a square dance, a play presented by Dover Elementary School students, and the rededication of the town war memorial.

As part of the celebration, the Bicentennial Committee took entries for the giant birthday cake contest. Entries closed on Sept. 24.

Residents, businesses and schoolchildren have built non-perishable birthday cakes out of a multitude of materials. Some cakes already grace the front lawns of Dover businesses.

Cash prizes will be awarded at Saturday’s parade and maps provided so people can see the cakes.

On Sunday, the town will hold a rededication ceremony of its war memorial, says Raymo.

The current memorial is dedicated to veterans of World War I and II and was dedicated by then-Gov. Ernest Gibson Jr. Two gray granite stones will be added. One stone commemorates the 27 Dover residents who served in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. The other will be for the names of soldiers currently serving in the Middle East.

“Would be nice if that’s all we ever had to add,” says Raymo.

The town’s early years were spent as a part of the South District of Wardsboro as decided by the Vermont Republic Grant in Nov. 7, 1780.

According to Raymo, Wardsboro and what became Dover were separated by an “inconvenient” mountain and thus operated as two sovereign towns with own governments from the start.

Dover residents petitioned the legislature to create a new town called Palmyra in 1788.

Twenty-two years later, the General Assembly granted their wish, foregoing the name Palmyra for Dover.

Raymo does not know where the name Palmyra came from but has two stories about the origins of “Dover.”

A resident, Amos Hayward, suggested at the time that they name the town after his dog, Dover.

That’s the legend, but Raymo thinks the town was named Dover because the town’s minister in 1810 hailed from Dover, N.H., and in those days, a town’s tax money went to the minister.

For a long time, Dover people “lived off the land,” Raymo says, with farms and a few mills. Like many Vermont towns, it lost many families to the West in the decades before and after the Civil War.

“The land is hard to farm here in the hill country, and they went West,” she says.

Sixty years ago, the Mount Snow ski resort opened.

“Mount Snow is a big part of our history,” says Raymo.

The eight-person Dover Bicentennial Committee, comprised of Raymo and a core committee members Leonard Hall, Patsy Bemis, Kandi St. James, Linda Holland, Judith Jones, James Dassatti and Elizabeth Brown, have spent two years preparing for the three-day celebration to mark the town’s incorporation on Oct. 30, 1810.

The bicentennial celebrations will also, in a way, be making up for lost time.

The residents didn’t celebrate their centennial.

“It’s something to celebrate and to bring history alive,” says Raymo.

Raymo, who served as town clerk and treasurer for 31 years — and a grandmother — are descended from original Dover families.

She remembers when a trip to Brattleboro was a big deal – most of the roads were dirt and the cars ran only 20 to 30 mph.

She says one of the reasons she wanted to work on the Bicentennial Committee was to help her fellow townspeople celebrate their town.

At town meeting last year, Raymo says she saw “all these new faces who had no idea what the town is about.”

Dover’s population at times has broken down into two groups, people who have lived in the town for generations and newly-moved-ins.

But, she says, Dover has a lot of community spirit and she hopes the bicentennial will help all to remember that “this is their home.”

“Dover is rich in community,” she says. “If somebody is down and out, people are willing to help. Of course, like in any community, there are differences of opinion. But in the end, people pull together.”

“As a committee, we believe that Dover has a bright future economically and socially and will continue to grow as an affordable place to live. It has everything a lot of people want for a good quality of life. Our celebration will highlight that.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #69 (Wednesday, September 29, 2010).

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