by kind permission of the Dover Mercury, (KMG )
published :13 August 2009
Kansa was called after the Kansas River, which was derived from a Sioux tribe of the same name. Shawnee County, in which Dover is situated, is in the northeastern part of the State and along with the Kanza and Shawnee people, the State was originally inhabited by the Osage and the Pawnee. Indeed, at Echo Cliff, two miles southwest of Dover, artefacts from around 1,000AD have been found. However, as land was taken from the native Americans in the east, the Delaware and Shawnee native Americans, moved into the area. With the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854, took the land away from them and European settlers moved in.
The township of Dover started life as a wagon train settlement on the Southwest Trail, which ran from Topeka, the capital of Kansas as well as Shawnee's county seat, to Council Grove, connecting the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails. It was also the primary route for the European pioneer settlers to Texas. The trail ran along the Kansas River that the pioneers had to cross and one crossing place was at Mission Creek. It was here that Mark and John Sage built an inn for their brother, Alfred, about 1856, which was one day's journey, by horseback, to where both of the main trails met. Four years later and the township had grown helped by the fact that the Sage brothers were successful builders/stonemason's - they also built the East Wing of the Kansas Capitol in Topeka.
Why the town was called Dover is somewhat of a mystery and at least two theories exist. The first, and most likely, is that nearby Echo Cliff reminded the original Sage family of the White Cliffs of Dover. The surname Sage is not uncommon in East Kent. However, according to another source, James Bassett, who arrived in the area about 1857 from New York, is said to have been born in Glastonbury, Somersetshire, which was believed to be near Dover, although some 200 miles away!
However, the story of Dover, Kansas, revolves around the Sage family, who became the main landowners in the area. They were also were active abolitionists of slavery and on 29 January 1861 Kansas was admitted into the Union as such. Six years later Dover was officially recognised as a township and Alfred Sage built a general store. This he called Somerset Hall and he also became the townships first postmaster. Author Debra Shufflebean has captured both the township's early history in the story of Alfred's two wives, both called Mary Ann, 'Goodnight Mary Ann: The Lives of Mary Ann Sage'.
As the 19th century wore on, because of its strategic position on the stagecoach trails, Dover boomed. Boasting of a match factory, a wagon making business, general store, bank and its own newspaper, called the Dover Herald, it also had three cheese factories, two of which were the largest in the US. At the height of its prosperity there were over 1,000 residents.
Then around 1900 a railway was built and as we have seen in the case of several other Dovers in the US, as it bypassed the township, the place went into rapid decline. Luckily for this Dover, road transport was in its ascendancy and a new road, Highway 4, was laid roughly following the Southwest trail. A petrol station was built and there was hope for Dover. Then a new, wide straight road was built and again Dover was bypassed. The petrol station closed and although the local volunteer fire department used it for awhile.
The township is on the edge of the beautiful Flint Hills, which was featured in the April 2007 National Geographic and attracts many tourists. The old Sage House has become a bed and breakfast. The petrol station is now an antique and gift shop. The scenic Highway 4 is a popular bicycle route especially on trips from Topeka. It has also become a popular with motorcyclists, as it is now a part of the Scenic Byways Tour.
The old general store in Sommerset Hall is now the town's cafe/convenience store. Connie Miller, whose family also has a long history in the area, manages it. The cafe took off in a big way when pie baker, 88 year old Norma Grubb, won a national contest for her Coconut Creme Pie, which has also brought in many tourists. Upstairs the fraternal lodges still hold meetings.
88 year old Norma Grubb, won a national contest for her Coconut Creme Pie
The old Dover High School closed in 1975. It is now used as a recreation centre and also houses a local famous artist's studio, Dana Hassett. Known for her paintings, these can be seen on phnxgallery website There is also a community foundation that focuses on things that will keep Dover viable and awards scholarships to residents for higher education.
Finally, amongst the many other activities, there is an Annual Heritage Day on 3rd Saturday in June. Packed full of activities, including the honouring of Mr and Mrs Heritage and a Grand Marshall, the day rounds off with a huge fireworks display.
Judy Thomas and Debra Shufflebean.