In 2003, several City of Dover departments lent their considerable talents and efforts to the Dover Main Street program to stage a historic re-enactment event called “The Factory Revealed: A Guided, Interpretive Tour of Dover’s Historic Cocheco Mills.”
Dover Main Street, affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, devised the “Revealed” concept with a two-fold goal: to raise additional funds for the organization, and to enlighten, in an entertaining way, Dover’s citizens about the unique history of their community.
Dover, NH was the site, in 1828, of the first strike by female workers in the United States: these were the 800 girls employed at the Cocheco Manufacturing Company’s cotton mills, and the “Revealed” would focus on that seminal event. With extensive help from librarians at the Dover Public Library and members of the Dover Historical Society, the strike and local political, economic and social conditions of that era were researched. The Library Director wrote a lengthy script consisting of 20 scenes and requiring a cast of 100 actors. The mills, still extant in Dover’s downtown, were retrofitted in many areas to resemble the work spaces of 175 years before. (The mills were refurbished in the 1980s and now house nearly 1000 employees in dozens of smaller high-tech and service sector companies.)
Over two weekends and six days in April and May 2003, performances of “The Factory Revealed” were held. Each featured a guided group tour for 20-25 people, through the mill, with a stop at each scene to watch the story unfold. The tour culminated in the re-enactment of the strike and its aftermath.
When tickets went on sale every one of the 72 scheduled performances sold out within days. Organizers then sold tickets to the nine dress rehearsals and these too were snapped up quickly. The production was awarded “Best Special Event” by New Hampshire Main Street in 2003.
“The Factory Revealed” required the cooperation of not only the mill owners who allowed their modern spaces to regress back to the early 19th century, but also the individual businesses inside the mill and many downtown merchants who donated props, costumes, food, printing, flowers, and sponsorship money.
Organizers utilized the services of the Dover Fire Department in securing the safety of the tour: most lighting was done with oil lamps and participants climbed nearly 200 stairs in the course of the tour. The Dover Police Department supplied extra officers for parking details and the Community Services Department loaned several pieces of equipment and props. Many city employees volunteered for acting roles in the production including library staff, police officers, fire and rescue personnel, the city clerk, the building inspector, a city planner, two city councilors, and two former mayors. Several city departments loaned video projectors for various multi-media slide presentations along the route, and the Economic Development Director’s spouse, a videographer, filmed the entire production and edited it for television. It was broadcast repeatedly on Dover’s local government access channel over the next several months. The Library Director was invited to give a presentation at the New Hampshire Main Street Conference in 2004 on “How to Develop a Historical Reenactment Event in Your Town.”
“The Factory Revealed” was originally planned as a one-time event, but due to overwhelming public acclaim, glowing editorials in the local newspaper, and the numbers of people who asked “what are you doing next year?”, the “Revealed” event became an annual tradition in Dover for several years.
In September 2004, the production was entitled “Grave Yarns: The Cemetery Revealed” and was held outdoors in Dover’s oldest municipal cemetery, dating from 1731. Over four days and two weekends, hundreds of people toured three dozen historic grave sites where, wrapped in black shrouds, famous, infamous, and notorious Dover citizens came “back to life” to regale visitors with tales of their former lives.
In September 2005, the third “Revealed” event was a one-day historic and music-filled extravaganza called “Garrison Hill: The Panorama Revealed” atop Dover’s highest point, a city park. Again, a large cast entertained in character and the 19th century atmosphere of the original Garrison Hill Park was re-created with old-time food, band music, a barbershop chorus, and a children’s games area. Besides being fortunate to have extraordinary weather for this event, it could not have come together so successfully without the outstanding cooperation of many city departments working together with pride in their city.
In May 2006, Dover Main Street sponsored its fourth annual “Revealed” event: “Factory on Fire! The Cocheco Mill Blaze of 1907 Revealed”. The lead headline in the local paper Foster’s Daily democrat of the January 26, 2006 issue read: “Dover’s devastating mill fire to be ‘revealed’ in history project” and included a large photograph of the 1907 mill ablaze, and an interview with one of the project directors, a Dover police officer.
In its first three years, the “Revealed” events raised almost $23,000 for the Dover Main Street program and its downtown revitalization efforts. Without the dedicated involvement, enthusiastic cooperation and community spiritedness of every city department working together, none of these complex historical reenactments would have been possible. And the fruits of everyone’s labor are still visible in the projects implemented by Dover Main Street: an annual downtown clean-up day, improved facades and signs on our storefronts through the Design Assistance program, a holiday lighting and banner project in the urban core, and over one dozen historical markers on downtown street corners.