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Dover was founded in 1722 by John Jackson who utilized the availability of iron ore from nearby mines and the accessible water power provided by the brooks and streams in the area to create an iron forge. In 1722 the area was still inhabited by the Lenni Lenape Indians; they left by 1730.
The iron forging business was the center of growth for the Dover area and remained a viable industry until the middle of the 20th century. This industry made Dover a vital center for manufacturing war materials from the Revolutionary War through the Korean War. Along with the Morris Canal and the Lackawanna Railroad, it was responsible for Dover developing into a major commercial and industrial center. Between 1900 and 1960 Dover experienced a period of economic prosperity and was regarded as the center of retail shopping in western Morris and Sussex County.
There is no clear history of the acquistion of the name Dover for the town, but in 1753 Moses Hurd bought the original forge from John Jackson. Moses Hurd was said to have come from Dover, New Hampshire suggesting his influence in naming the area. Oldest written documents indicate use of the name Dover date back to the 1790's. Older documents refer to the area as Old Tye, which perhaps was a reference to Ticonderoga, New York and still other papers indicate the use of Bemen's, which was probably in reference to one of the earlier (1758) owners of the forge, Josiah Beaman.
By 1800 Dover was clearly established as an industrial town, its success tied to the iron mines of the area and the production of iron goods. In 1826, while the Morris Canal was being dug, Dover was incorporated as a village and the streets were laid out and named. The main street was named after one of the new (1817) forge owners from New York City, Mr. Joseph Blackwell. The canal was completed and in use by 1831 but was soon outclassed as a transportation mode when the Morris and Essex Railroad was completed in 1848.
In 1869 Dover was incorporated as a town and had a population of 3,300 inhabitants. By 1910 the population reached 9,000 and by 1960 was at 15,000.
The first post office in Dover was opened in 1820. The railroad came to Dover in 1848, electric lights in 1889, and gas in 1902. A library was established in 1902 and the first trolley went through town in July 1904. By 1903 Dover had its own water supply plant and in 1906 the Baker Theater, one of the finest playhouses in the State, was opened. The public schools had a high school program by 1885 and designated high school building in 1901. A new Dover Shopping Center with double decked parking lot and drive-in theater was opened in 1956.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Dover became a garrison town heavily defended against the threat of French invasion.
At first earthen batteries were built along the seafront and across the Western Heights of Dover to supplement the limited protection offered by the medieval castle against cannon and shells.
In 1804, with invasion expected at any time, a massive programme of defensive building in stone and brick began on the Western Heights creating two forts and deep brick-lined ditches.
The Western Heights of Dover are one of the most impressive fortifications in Britain. They comprise a series of forts, strong points and ditches, designed to protect the country from invasion. They were created to augment the existing defences and protect the key port of Dover from both seaward and landward attack. A unique 140ft triple staircase, the Grand Shaft, linked the town to the forts ‘...the new barracks...are little more than 300 yards horizontally from the beach...and about 180 feet (55 m) above high-water mark, but in order to communicate with them from the centre of town, on horseback the distance is nearly a mile and a half and to walk it about three-quarters of a mile, and all the roads unavoidably pass over ground more than 100 feet (30 m) above the barracks, besides the footpaths are so steep and chalky that a number of accidents will unavoidably happen during the wet weather and more especially after floods. I am therefore induced to recommend the construction of a shaft, with a triple staircase....the chief objective of which is the convenience and safety of troops....and may eventually be useful in sending reinforcements to troops or in affording them a secure retreat.’