DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine – It took five trials and women’s suffrage to form the combined city of Dover-Foxcroft, but it finally happened in March 1922.
A group of businessmen and lawyers introduced a bill in the Maine Legislature in December 1914 calling for a new town and merging the properties and services of the single towns of Dover and Foxcroft.
From 1916 to 1920 the article about the town was either postponed or the people of Dover – all men – rejected it. “They had five years to do it or forget it,” said Mary Annis, president of the Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society. “Then things changed drastically. Women got the right to vote.
Prominent businessmen, including several editors of the Piscataquis Observer, lobbied for the union of Dover and Foxcroft for years because they saw no benefit in duplicating government services, schools struggling with high costs and other functions.
Left: The 91-year-old Dover Bridge, which crosses the Piscataquis River on Essex Street, is pictured in an undated historic photo; to the right is a newspaper clipping from the Bangor Daily News which briefly recounts what happened at the first town meeting of Dover-Foxcroft in March 1922.
The two cities, although separated by a line of demarcation and a certain rivalry, had in common populations of similar size and the meandering Piscataquis River. Some townspeople were stuck in their ways and didn’t care about change, but the experiment seems to have worked – Dover-Foxcroft turned 100 this year and is preparing to celebrate with a historic parade, beach party and other activities on August 6.
It took women to change things – “these are women with a capital W,” said Chris Maas, director of the historical society and involved in other local groups.
Townspeople came to Central Hall – a large venue at the time that still stands on East Main Street and functions as a gathering space – in record numbers on March 14, 1921, to try one last time. “A total of 665 people voted (311 more than ever before, many were expected to be women) with 292 more ‘yes’ votes – surely women,” Annis wrote in the Shiretown Conserver, a quarterly newsletter from the historical society.
A mock wedding took place on the eve of the actual union – March 1, 1922 – where a bride from Dover and a groom from Foxcroft shook hands and said, “Yes, accepting a union which would bring prosperity to the new city and happiness to its inhabitants.”
“In union there is strength, and may your future be crowned with glorious accomplishments,” said Harvey R. Williams, who rendered the service.
Every 25 years, the city performs this skit in a citywide celebration, Annis said. Dover and Foxcroft, although explored and settled at different times, were incorporated in 1821.
At the first town meeting, just days after the fake wedding, residents voted on 90 items. They declared Lancaster Avenue a public street, approved funds for a new oven and bathroom for the town farm, and agreed to pay tuition at Foxcroft Academy for town high school students, according to research by Annis published in the Conserver.
“Incidentally, in 1920 there were about 4,000 people in the two towns,” Maas said. “There were about 100 more at Foxcroft. They were a good match for each other.
People began to realize that pooling services and resources could help them operate more efficiently. There were talks about consolidating schools because those in rural areas cost more per student than schools in the city and children weren’t getting a quality education, Maas said.
At one time, there were five fire stations between the two towns. In 1920 they were down to two, and by 1927 Dover-Foxcroft had only one, and the building is now the town’s fire department.
“They were already functionally integrated,” Maas said. “It was just a question from a group of conservative old men who didn’t want this to happen.”
There were things before the union that weren’t so nice that could have delayed the merger for a few years.
For example, between Dover and Foxcroft, there were once six post offices in the United States, and people took seriously where they went in their neighborhood to send and receive mail. There was no delivery and few people had horses or carriages, according to an issue of the Shiretown Conserver, titled “The Great Post Office Scandal of 1917”.
“The administration in Washington has appointed a Democrat, BB Anderson, [to serve as postmaster] who had the brilliant idea that we should only have one post office for Dover and Foxcroft,” Maas said. “These are very republican cities. The whole year has been spent discussing and fighting to merge the post offices.
There was also the story of Judge Elias Hale, adored by many who died by suicide in 1895. He also served as treasurer of Foxcroft and killed himself because city officials wanted to see his books, Maas said.
The city’s budget at the time was about $15,000 — and Hale had swindled townspeople about $160,000, he said. It took more than a decade to fix the mess, and the people of Dover had no desire to be part of it, he said.
Encapsulated in the last century of the city’s history are buildings such as Central Hall Commons and the former Piscataquis Observer building – now home to the historical society – with years of antiquity and histories. Two bridges were built to connect the towns – the Dover Bridge along Essex Street and the Foxcroft Bridge along Main Street. And there was the closure of Brown Mills and Mayo’s Mill and the transformations, good and bad, that followed. Both became properties of the American Woolen Company in 1899 and 1914, respectively, then closed in 1953.
Dover-Foxcroft survived the plant closures, which other places in Maine did not quickly shrivel up in, Maas said. This was because it was the seat of county government and had Mayo Hospital and good schools supporting the population.
From around 1910 until today, the number of inhabitants has remained fairly constant, according to historical society records. US Census data for 2020 lists the population at 4,422.
Dover-Foxcroft was also within driving distance of Bangor, so people found opportunities there.
“It just happened,” Maas said, noting that in 1922 it was natural for the services to merge. “That was right. From then on he was known as Dover-Foxcroft.
Celebration on August 6
Throughout Dover-Foxcroft, a variety of events are planned for Saturday August 6, including a 10 a.m. parade with a wedding float and a wedding ceremony to represent the union of Dover and Foxcroft. To see a map of the day’s festivities, visit the Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce website.
A beach party begins around 4 p.m. on the public beach at the end of Greenley’s Landing Road, said Phyllis Lyford, who sits on the reunion committee. There will be a concession stand and a DJ. The fireworks begin at dusk.
The Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society will host a walking and bus tour at 1 p.m., highlighting highlights along a stretch of West Main Street from Merrick Square to Mayo Hospital. Reserve a spot by emailing Chris Maas — [email protected]