The Hiltons' name survives today at Hilton Park on Dover Point, located where they landed near the confluence of the Cochecho and Bellamy rivers with the Piscataqua. They had been sent from London by The Company of Laconia, which intended to establish a colony and fishery around the Piscataqua. In 1631, however, it contained only three houses.
In 1633, the Plantation of Cochecho was bought by a group of English Puritans who planned to settle in New England, including Viscount Saye and Sele, Baron Brooke and John Pym. They promoted colonization in America, and that year Hilton's Point would receive an infusion of pioneers, many from Bristol. It would also receive another name. While Captain Thomas Wiggin was agent for the proprietors, granting small lots to keep the settlement compact, it was called Bristol. Atop the nearby hill, the settlers built a meetinghouse, surrounded by an entrenchment. To the east of it, they built a jail.
The town would be called Dover in 1637 by the new governor, Reverend George Burdett. With the arrival of Thomas Larkham in 1639, it would be renamed Northam, after Northam, England, where he had been preacher. But Lord Saye and Sele's group lost interest in their settlements, both here and at Saybrook, Connecticut, when their intention to establish a hereditary aristocracy in the colonies met with disfavor in New England. Consequently, in 1641, the plantation was sold to Massachusetts and again named Dover, in honor of Robert Dover, an English lawyer who resisted Puritanism.
Settlers felled the abundant trees to build log-houses called garrisons. The town's population and business center would shift from Dover Point to Cochecho at the falls, where the river's drop of 34 feet provided water power for industry. Indeed, Cochecho means "the rapid foaming water." Major Richard Waldron settled here and built a sawmill and gristmill. On September 7, 1676, Waldron invited about 400 Indians to participate in a mock battle against the militia. It was a trick; instead, he took them prisoner. He would free about 200 of them, but sent the remainder, whom he considered in some regard a threat, to Boston, where 7 or 8 were executed. The rest were sold into slavery in "foreign parts." Richard Waldron would be appointed Chief Justice for New Hampshire in 1683.
Thirteen years passed, and it was assumed that the incident had been forgotten. But then squaws began dropping ambiguous hints that something was astir. When citizens spoke their concern to Waldron, he told them to "go and plant your pumpkins, and he would take care of the Indians." On June 27, 1689, two Indian women appeared at each of 5 garrison houses, asking permission to sleep by the fire. All but one house accepted. In the dark early hours of the next day, the women unfastened the doors, and in rushed Indian men who had concealed themselves about the town. Waldron resisted but was stunned with a hatchet, then placed on his table. After dining, the Indians cut him across the belly with knives, each saying "I cross out my account." Major Waldron was slain with his own sword. Five or six dwelling houses were burned, along with the mills. Fifty-two colonists, a full quarter of the entire population, were captured or slain in the Cochecho Massacre of June 28, 1689.
Located at the head of navigation, the falls of the Cochecho River helped bring the Industrial Revolution to 19th century Dover in a big way. The Dover Cotton Factory was incorporated in 1812, then enlarged in 1823 to become the Dover Manufacturing Company. In 1827, the Cocheco Manufacturing Company was founded (the misspelling a clerical error at incorporation), and in 1829 purchased the Dover Manufacturing Company. Expansive brick mill buildings, linked by railroad, were constructed downtown. Incorporated as a city in 1855, Dover was for a time a national leader in textiles. The mills were purchased in 1909 by the Pacific Mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts, which closed the printery in 1913 but continued spinning and weaving. During the Great Depression, however, textile mills no longer dependent on New England water power began moving to southern states in search of cheaper operating conditions, or simply went out of business. Dover's millyard shut down in 1937, and was bought at auction in 1940 by the city itself for $54,000. There were no other bids.
Now the old mills have become fashionable, and redeveloped into waterfront offices, restaurants and other modern uses. As part of the mill town's commercial and cultural rebirth, the Cochecho River is scheduled to be dredged, which will allow increased boat traffic between the falls and Piscataqua River. Walking trails will line the water's edge. Another walking trail will be created from the rail bed of the defunct Portsmouth & Dover Railroad, established in 1866. The city currently schedules community events and entertainments, some staged in the new Rotary Arts Pavilion, a band shell at Henry Law Park.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of , of which is land and is water, comprising 8.06% of the city. Dover is drained by the Cochecho and Bellamy rivers. Long Hill, elevation above sea level and located northwest of the city center, is the highest point in Dover. Garrison Hill, elevation , is a prominent hill rising directly above the center city, with a park and lookout tower on top. Dover lies fully within the Piscataqua River (Coastal) watershed.
As of the census of 2000, there were 26,884 people, 11,573 households, and 6,492 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,006.2 people per square mile (388.5/km²). There were 11,924 housing units at an average density of 446.3/sq mi (172.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 94.47% White, 1.12% African American, 0.20% Native American, 2.36% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.35% from other races, and 1.45% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.14% of the population.
There were 11,573 households out of which 26.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.5% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.9% were non-families. 31.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.87.
In the city the population was spread out with 20.8% under the age of 18, 11.2% from 18 to 24, 34.0% from 25 to 44, 20.3% from 45 to 64, and 13.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 92.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $43,873, and the median income for a family was $57,050. Males had a median income of $37,876 versus $27,329 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,459. About 4.8% of families and 8.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.4% of those under age 18 and 5.7% of those age 65 or over.
Saint Mary Academy, a Catholic school, has been in downtown Dover since 1912, currently serving 400 students from pre-kindergarten to 8th grade. Many students at Saint Mary's subsequently attend St. Thomas Aquinas High School, a Catholic high school located on Dover Point.
In postsecondary education, McIntosh College, founded in 1896, offers Associate degrees in a variety of areas.
The museum's campus now includes three brick houses of Federal style architecture, one of which is the former home of noted abolitionist, Senator John P. Hale. Inside are exhibits of local history and natural history (encompassing the largest American rock and mineral collection north of Boston), in addition to art and antiques. One famous item is the saddle in which President Abraham Lincoln rode to review troops shortly before his assassination. A generous collection of artifacts showcases the nation's past, with a special emphasis on Dover's history.
Visitors can see the set of Samurai armor a Japanese delegate to the 1905 Portsmouth Peace Conference (Treaty of Portsmouth) gave to a waiter at the Wentworth Hotel, examples of Dover's textile output, relics from every war the United States has fought, an old 13 star American flag, a 10 foot stuffed polar bear from the Arctic, an old piano made with genuine ivory keys, and an impressive collection of stuffed birds, fish and mammals.
On the museum's grounds is the 1675 William Damm Garrison, the oldest intact garrison in the state, as well as the oldest house in Dover. It survived the Cochecho Massacre, and was later moved across town for preservation under a permanent shelter. Also within the shelter, visitors may see a Napoleon brass cannon used in the Civil War, one of only seven left in existence.