Dover strikes a chord with songwriter and author Dar Williams, who features the city in her book

Sunday News Correspondent
October 06. 2017 8:46PM
Dover's bustling downtown and sense of community was noticed by renowned folk musician Dar Williams as she performed in the Garrison City over the years. She writes about the city in her new book. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Sunday News Correspondent)

"WHAT I FOUND IN A THOUSAND TOWNS: A Traveling Musician's Guide to Rebuilding America's Communities - One Coffee Shop, Dog Run & Open Mike Night at a Time" by Dar Williams. Basic Books. 288 Pages, hardcover. $18.99 w

DOVER -The city of Dover is featured in a new book written by folk musician and composer Dar Williams.

In "What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician's Guide to Rebuilding America's Communities - One Coffee Shop, Dog Run, & Open-Mike Night at a Time," Williams describes what makes some towns and cities thrive. She said recently that as she toured the country over the years, she started making notes in her mind about which communities are creating a sustainable path for the future and have a sense of civic engagement.

Williams said Dover came to mind when she secured a deal with Hachette Book Group in New York City. It's included in Chapter 4 of the 272-page book, released Sept. 5. It's the only New Hampshire community highlighted in such a way.

"This is the first project of its kind I have done in my life," the 50-year-old said. "The publishers were supportive, telling me to stand up strongly for what I thought. They said, 'Don't be afraid to illustrate your ideas with stories.'"

It took Williams a year to conduct all of her interviews, and the editing process took another year, she said.

Past and present merge

In the book, Williams writes of visiting the huge renovated downtown mill complex on Central Avenue, and being struck by how the past is blended with the present through pictures, placards and preserved mechanical details.

"Outside, near the mill's clock tower, is a sign that commemorates the first women's strike in the United States. Unlike the mill girls of Lowell, these young women were crushingly unsuccessful. They suffered humiliation on top of defeat because the local newspaper sympathized with their employers and came out with a blistering, smackdown editorial against their even daring to strike.

"Still, Dover chooses to remember this first strike, which was followed by more successful ones in another mill town decades later, not many miles away, in Lowell.

"I asked Bethany, my server at Blue Latitudes [a restaurant in the mills], why she thought there were so many signs and symbols of Dover's history around us.

"She said without hesitation that there were many independent businesses around Dover, and they wanted to keep it that way. The businesses in town sponsored all the signs. The interest in and curation of history out on the streets galvanized the network of people who loved going into Dover's past when it came time to decide how to populate its extensive campus of historic buildings. The industry of the past is now matched by postindustrial freelancers, small businesses, and local stores throughout the town."

'We work very hard'

Williams said she was attracted to historic Dover - which was founded in 1623 - because of the small businesses and sense of civic engagement.

Dover Mayor Karen Weston, who is the owner of Janetos Superette on Main Street, said Monday afternoon that local leaders work hard to maintain their small-town charm.

"We work very hard as a community to remember our small businesses," Weston said. "As a small business owner, the personal contact you have with folks that come into the city is impactful and that personal touch is important."

Angela Baggetta of Goldberg McDuffie Communications in New York City said the book by Williams "shows that our most important social network isn't online, but right outside our front door. This is a beautifully written and optimistic book."

Williams will play at The Wilbur in Boston Oct. 26, and Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 29.

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