The Dover Area Historical Society had its origin on May 4, 1966 when Mr. Willy Penderson called a special meeting at town hall for any citizens interested in local history. Fifteen people were at the first meeting and from this nucleus the society was born. The society was incorporated as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization named the Dover Historical Association. The name was changed to the Dover Area Historical Society in 1967.
From the very beginning, a museum location would be a problem. Two different store front locations were tried in the downtown, but abandon a short time later. The Johnson Storage Building on East Blackwell Street, the second oldest building in Dover at the time, dating back to before the Civil War, was being considered when Dover General Hospital offered the Bonnieview Estate located next to the hospital.
The Bonnieview mansion was built in 1876 for Alpheus Beemer and his wife Margaret. Mr. Beemer established a silk mill and Hurd Park and was the founder of the Nation Union Bank of Dover. Upon his death, the widow sold the property to Edwin Ross in 1885, a descendant of Betsy Ross, designer of the American Flag.
In the early part of the 20th century, Bonnieview becamse the popular Pine Terrance Inn, a gracious country retreat visited by such notables as President Grover Cleveland, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and well known personalities of the day. With the onset of Prohibition, the estate was sold to Harry Schwarz who later sold it to Dover General Hospital.
The historical society moved into the mansion house on June 18, 1970 with a 10-year lease with the hospital. Just one year into the lease and after over $30,000 in repairs and renovations, the hospital terminated the agreement and ordered the building be vacated in three months. For the next 27-years, the historical society would remain homeless, hosting its montly meetings in various churches and meeting halls around town.
In 2004, the First Presbyterian Church of Dover was trying to decide the fate of the old doctor’s house, known as the “church house” at 55 W. Blackwell Street. Knowing the historical society had been actively seeking a museum, the church offered to site to the organization for a 25-year period provided the group pay for all expenses of operating the house and performed repairs and renovations bringing the house up to town standards.
Today, the historical society meets at the museum house the third Tuesday of each month. Anyone wishing to become a member or wants further information can call the society at 973-361-3525.
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