Last year, Dover Bicentennial chair Mary Lou Raymo approached music teacher Andy Davis to discuss plans to get students involved in the celebration. Raymo asked Davis if he was interested in writing a play with music. He said yes and and began writing over the summer. He based the script on Nell Kull’s “The History of Dover, Vermont: 200 Years in a Hill Town.” Davis wrote lyrics to the songs four weeks before the performance and encouraged students to participate as performers, narrators, or singers.
As the show approached, Davis informed students about the upcoming play and musical. He asked if there were any willing participants and an overwhelming number of students tried out. “We had well over half of the school,” said Davis. “There are only 85 kids in school, but up to 50 wound up with speaking parts or singing.”
“The History of Dover” opened with the Abenaki Nation. Students sang a Native American welcome song while actors talked about the Abenaki history and their significance to Dover and northern New England. The narrators talked about the American Revolution and Dover’s early settlers including Abner Perry, Daniel and Hazelton Rice, Aaron Thompson, and David and Luther Johnson.
The next scene took place at Town Meeting where Justus Gale, the town’s first postmaster, was introduced. Gale presented a letter to Dover’s first selectboard members, Timothy Gillett, William Haskins, and Elijah Sterns. The letter was from the Legislature informing the selectboard that the south district of Wardsboro was now the town of Dover. The Legislature granted Dover’s request and it was officially established on October 30, 1810. Mill owner Ebeneezer Cheeney, Goose City’s Phineas Wood, and innkeeper Thankful Knapp were introduced. The play continued with “The Vermont Farmers Song,” emphasizing the role agriculture played during Dover’s early years.
The play then covered the years from 1840 to 1920. Farming was on the decline and many settlers left Dover for factory jobs in the cities. The Civil War took place in the 1860s and Dover sent 60 soldiers, 13 of whom never made it back, to fight for the Union. During that time, Dover also inherited “The Handle,” a piece of land that once belonged to Somerset and Wilmington. In the 1900s, vacationers from Connecticut and Massachusetts made their way to Dover during the summer months and the town became a vacation destination.
The final scenes, from 1920 to the present, featured summer recreation and skiing. More people moved to the area and Dover grew. Walter Schoenknecht developed Mount Snow as a ski resort. Stoyan Christowe emigrated to the United States, moved to Dover, and became a well-known author, state representative, and state senator. Both of their characters were introduced in the play. Kelly Clark, Dover’s gold medal winning snowboarder, was also introduced, and the play ended as students sang a happy birthday song written by Davis.
Davis said the play was a success because students learned new information about Dover’s history and they identified with the town’s central characters that they played. He added that students were eager to play the roles they were given.
The production also went beyond student participation. Davis said parents assisted with painting the background scenery and creating props and costumes.
“The History of Dover” became a townwide project and Davis was impressed with the level of participation.
Davis also received support from faculty and staff, including Dover School Principal Bill Anton. Anton allowed Davis the time and space to rehearse and set up. Davis said that Anton knew how much the play meant to everyone, especially the students, who benefited the most from the experience.
“The kids felt like they got involved in it. They got a sense that the town they live in has a long history and I developed an appreciation for all of my students. They rose to the challenge and they took it seriously,” said Davis. “We live in a modern era of standardized-test schooling and here was a creative musical project that included the town and the school was behind it. It’s living-based education. It was a good example of using the environment of the school and the community as a resource to learn about history.”