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Rich with colonial associations, Dover was established along the St. Jones River by William Penn in 1683, though not actually laid out until 1717, following Penn's original plan for the town. The second largest city in Delaware (32,100 population in the year 2000), it has served as state capital for more than two centuries (replacing New Castle in 1777). In the early nineteenth century, the community was torn by political divisions, abolitionists versus slaveowners. Modern Dover essentially dates from the completion of the Du Pont Highway (U.S. 13) in the mid-1920s, which attracted such industries as International Latex (1937; DV5). World War II brought the famous Dover Air Force Base, which today employs 6,000 people. After World War II, Dover grew rapidly, increasing by 137 percent in the 1960s alone, and growth continues with much new construction. The city shows a marked contrast between the sometimes unsightly sprawl belt on its perimeter and the charming historic neighborhoods and districts closer to the center.

With the rise of the automobile, springtime pilgrimages to old houses and gardens became widely popular, and, in 1933, the first “A Day with the Storied Houses and Gardens of Old Dover” (Old Dover Day) attracted 2,000 tourists. This annual event raised money for the Friends of Old Dover and continues today in a modified form. Construction of Legislative Hall (DV16) and a capitol complex in the 1930s developed the Colonial Revival theme already established in Newark at the University of Delaware campus (NK9), these two planned institutions firmly establishing it as a dominant twentieth-century style in Delaware. And when modernism fully arrived in the 1950s, Colonial Revivalists kept it at bay in Dover. Wesley College's Gothic Revival main building had been erected as Wilmington Conference Academy by a Philadelphia architect (1873–1874, James H. Windrim; 1876–1878 restored after a fire); now it got a Colonial Revival makeover by another Philadelphia firm (1941–1942, Wenner and Fink). Delaware Trust Bank was similarly converted from Italianate to Colonial Revival by a Philadelphian (1949–1950, Philip Thomas Harris).

A corollary to the stress on Colonial Revival was that the center of Dover was purged of much of its mid-to-late-nineteenth-century architecture, including Hotel Richardson (1881–1882, demolished 1954), one of Delaware's best Queen Anne–style buildings. Also razed was the High Victorian Gothic Post Office, later City Hall, designed by the U.S. Supervising Architect of the Treasury (1873–1878, William Appleton Potter). This important building was demolished in February 1973, in spite of some protest, and replaced with a Virginia-style Colonial Revival structure (1972–1974, R. Calvin Clendaniel). Dover lost another historic building in 2005 with the demolition of the Timothy Hanson House (c. 1730), a gambrel-roofed frame dwelling.

Writing Credits

W. Barksdale Maynard

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