The next town north: Dover, Colo.
April 14, 2006
The last of its kind, once used by area children, this decaying country schoolhouse sits not far from Dover. Photo by B. Todd Stampfli
by B. Todd Stampfli
Fort Collins, Colo.
Driving north from Greeley on U.S. Highway 85 brings a traveler to several towns located at intervals of about every five miles. Running south to north, these towns are Lucerne, Eaton, Ault, Pierce and Nunn. The even proximity of one town to the next is no accident, but was intentionally done by railroad companies that built sidings, stops and towns every five miles or so.
But, if this is the case, one might ask, then shouldn’t there be a town located five miles north of Nunn?
Where’s the next town? Well, it’s there … or at least it was. Five miles north of Nunn ” and just where it should be “are scattered foundations near a set of railroad tracks; the same tracks that run through Lucerne, Eaton, Ault, Pierce and Nunn. Nearby stands an enduring, weather-beaten sign that proclaims this locale as “Dover.”
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Annie Laura Murray VanWhy Magill, or “Laura” for short, came to this place a century ago and wrote of its history while she lived here. Her document has been preserved by her descendants, and it helps us piece together the story of a forgotten little community that lost its post office more than 70 years ago.
According to Laura, many of the first settlers arrived and began filing homesteads here in 1905. Upon arrival at their new home, tenderfoots were forced to stay in the railroad section house, “there being no other place to put up at,” wrote Laura. “Looking eastward from the Union Pacific track, the buttes along Lone Tree Creek were a welcome sight,” she added, referring to a newcomer’s first view of their new home.
Along with the influx of homesteaders in 1905 also came a post office. This came as a relief because of the ordeal that had previously been involved with mail delivery. Prior to 1905, mail for the Dover area was carried by train to a larger, more established town called Carr, which lies just to the north. There, Dover’s mail was separated from Carr’s mail, tied in a bundle, and thrown onto a returning southbound freight train.
The package of mail was thrown off the southbound train after reaching Dover without stopping. Each person had to go to the section house and sort through this cluster of mail for his or her own correspondence.
Life on the plains was a humbling experience for most. Not only did the prairies seem like an incalculable and boundless sea of grass, a team of horses, a plow, and a few farm animals made up the pioneers’ entire belongings.
Although their material possessions may have been meager, Laura attested that the early homesteaders were “mostly happy and contented,” their social life consisting of little parties at different homes. Despite the small size of Dover, the hamlet wasn’t immune from personal tragedy.
When the first death in the community occurred (C.F. VanWhy) in 1907, no minister was available, so a local resident took it upon himself to deliver the sermon. The pioneers often found themselves improvising for services that were taken for granted in larger communities. The first post office, school and church were all located within settlers’ residences, usually 10-by-12-foot houses. However, an improved school building was constructed and completed at Dover by Thanksgiving of 1913. The usual holiday conviviality was doubled to also commemorate the new school.
Dover was also officially platted that year by a long-time resident named Elmer Merritt. In 1905, the prairie surrounding Dover was described as being “unbroken,” with an occasional flock of sheep and free roaming antelope. By 1920, Laura wrote that all of the surrounding land had been fenced, divided and plowed. “Automobiles have largely taken the place of the spring wagons or buggies of earlier days. All day long the hum, hum of the tractor header could be heard harvesting the golden grain,” wrote Laura.
Unfortunately, Laura stopped writing after the early 1920s. This action was synonymous with the end of prosperous times in Dover, as was the case with many other diminutive towns in northern Colorado during that dismal era. Bigger towns to the south of Dover, such as Ault and Eaton, held proximity to large agricultural centers and survived. Dover was simply built too far north and was too isolated.
The post office closed in 1931. Today tumbleweeds blow past a few remaining foundations that sit unplowed in a farmer’s field. A few new homes have gone up in the area, perhaps lending to the creation of a new life at this place. But for now, the Dover railroad sign continues to stand undisturbed and unaccompanied. It is but a subtle reminder of a town that once existed five miles north of Nunn. The name was Dover, and it was the next town north.