Jesse Fried • Jul 30, 2017
Located in Morris County on the Rockaway River, in the middle of the NJ Highlands, Dover is a former mill town with a beefy industrial past. Today it's an immigrant community that, unlike many post-industrial towns, is actually pretty nice.
Dover is a familiar name in the context of "Dover train." It's the westernmost station served by the full schedule of the Morris and Essex NJ Transit line. One often sees conductors stepping down from an arriving westbound train and yelling "Dover train." One often sees the name Dover written in lights in Hoboken terminal, Secaucus junction and other important NJ Trainsit stations.
As a personal aside, I grew up along the Morris and Essex line, taking Dover-bound trains. So Dover always had an aura of mystery, as the answer to the childlike question "what happens when you take the train to the end of the line?" The last stop on a west-bound train also has some Americana associations with it: would I arrive at some sort of Jersey frontier? Open green countryside filled with youthful promise?
A recent visit provided an answer in these questions in the form of a real New Jersey town. Passing hills and lakes on the train, one arrives in a medium-sized downtown area whose physical aspect is very typical of northern NJ. It resembles some of our more coherent suburban downtowns - Summit or Westfield maybe. The main difference is that most of the businesses are Latin American immigrant oriented: Columbian bakeries, taquerias, storefronts to send money internationally... There is a Bravo supermarket that is integrated really nicely into the main street. Without going in, it looked relatively shiny, new, and nice.
To make a sweeping generalization, Dover seems more middle class and prosperous than some of NJ's more urban Latin enclaves like Elizabeth, Paterson or Union City. It falls squarely in the category of "suburban." True, the cars on the road were older and more basic than what you might see in, say, Millburn, and fewer of the houses looked luxurious, but Dover did definitely seem like a homeowner and car owner type of place.
A working class vibe was definitely confirmed by the fact that I was stopped on the main street and offered a construction job. I was wearing hiking boots, old jeans, and a neon yellow t-shirt so I must have looked the part.
Is this the American Dream, or am I sugar-coating Dover?
In any case it was heartening to see a post-industrial town that was neither decrepit nor gentrified. A brief walk around an industrial area revealed a furniture showroom still inhabiting an old factory complex, and another large factory building now subdivided into a kind of strip mall, which was neither especially appealing nor especially ugly.
Located in the Rockaway River valley, Dover's residential neighborhoods are on the steep slopes surrounding the downtown. This gave the town a somewhat Appalachian vibe to it. There was also a bit of a New England mill town vibe too. Walking up County Route 513 south out of the town, one sees increasingly nice houses, including some with concrete lions, Catholic religious scuptures, and other ornaments. One hilltop house had a pool party going on, which seemed pretty enviable. Reaching the border with neighboring Mine Hill Township, the houses spread farther apart, into a familiar exurban NJ suburban borderlands scene.
Nice nature is not far away from Dover - rushing streams, rocky wooded Highland hillsides. This area is a kind of humble New Jersey idyll, in the author's mind.