by kind permission
of the Dover Mercury, (KMG)
7th February 2008
Traditionally Cherokee and Shawnee country, the Europeans first arrived in Tennessee in the late 17th century. Although nominally part of the British colony of Carolina, it was mainly French traders that occupied the land. However, a number of Treaties quickly led to the loss of the indigenous American Indian lands and European emigrants established small farms.
The town of Dover, the county seat of Stewart County, has a population of 1,442 and is 67 miles north of Nashville on the Cumberland River. It was first settled in 1805, when it was called Munroe. However, a group of settlers from England argued that the limestone bluffs on the Cumberland River reminded them of the White Cliffs of Dover, so when the township was incorporated in 1836, it was renamed. Albeit, the charter of incorporation was repealed in 1887 but in 1895 it was again incorporated only again repealed in 1901, incorporated in 1913, repealed again in 1919. In 1931, the townsfolk voted against incorporating Dover again, but this has now been overturned!
From the outset, the community thrived with the first school opening in 1806 and fourteen years later a brick school was built. To meet a rapidly growing population, the school was extended in 1830 and ten years later an academy was established. The first church in the town was a Methodist and was built in 1836. However, in 1820 the Missouri Compromise established the Mason-Dixon Line on the 36° 30' parallel, so called because it was surveyed (1763-67) by two British astronomers, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Although the survey was taken for entirely different reasons, the line became synonymous as separating the so-called free states of the North from the Southern slave states.
In 1861, the American Civil War (1861-1865) broke out between the North and the South with both sides confident of an early victory. The Southern Confederacy soon showed that they were the stronger. Although a military stalemate prevailed for much of 1861, the North (Unionist) needed to secure several strategic sites, one of which was the Cumberland River valley in Tennessee, if they were to break the dead lock.
Fort Donelson, near Dover, was the key to the Cumberland River valley and capturing this was of paramount importance to the Northern Unionist. At what is now known as the Dover Hotel/ Surrender House, on 16 February 1862, the Confederates surrendered but the terms were said to be "ungenerous and unchivalrous" and the Unionists went on to capture the Mississippi Valley.
The hostilities, however, were not over. By February 1863, the Confederates having failed to stop the Unionist's sending boats down the Cumberland River turned their attention to Fort Donelson.
They began their attack began on the morning of the 3 February although the ensuing battle was fierce little was achieved and the Confederates withdrew. The estimated casualties were Unionists 126, Confederates 670.
In July that year, the Unionists gave authority, to establish cemeteries "for all soldiers who shall die in the service of their country." The cemetery opened shortly after and is now regarded as an important monument, along with the Dover Hotel that stands in the heart of Dover. Following the war life turned to trying to make a living, which was predominantly the production of cash crops such as cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane. In the 1930s, as part of President Franklin D Roosevelt's New Deal, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was established. This resulted in the Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River, opening in 1944. The dispossessed farmers, who had worked the land, moved to less remote area helped by compensation.
Following the success of the Kentucky dam, attention turned to the Cumberland River, and it too was dammed just north of Dover.
Two lakes of the same elevation with a connecting canal were built to create a fast shipping route to the Gulf of Mexico and also to produce hydroelectric power. This was completed in 1964 and an unexpected result was that the land between the two lakes has now become a major tourist attraction of considerable beauty, varied recreational facilities and also for the 1850s homesteads, where the occupants live an authentic 19th century lifestyle.