Upper Square in perspective

Upper Square makes for some delightful shopping. The horse trough in the median is a nod to the past.


Central Avenue, while walking from the river toward Upper Square.


A glimpse at Fourth Street, one-block long, illustrates the challenge in creating an inviting neighborhood. At the moment, there’s nothing to entice passers-by to turn down the street. The old county courthouse is vacant, and former storefronts are used for storage. At best, it’s a shortcut to the parking lot at the Amtrak station.


In contrast, as Fifth Street demonstrates, side streets can add much to a downtown’s usefulness and appeal.

Yes, it’s small potatoes in the big scheme of things, but I’m still fascinated

One wing of the new Orpheum overlooks the library, city hall, and St. Thomas Episcopal on Locust Street.

I appreciate your patience as I examine the transformation taking place in my small city. I know this construction and planning would go unnoticed in big metropolises, although these moves could play pivotal roles in anchoring vital neighborhoods and their identities within them.

Actually, that was something I watched happen in Baltimore under Mayor William Donald Schaeffer in the early ’80s, and the results I saw were exciting, especially where I lived in Bolton Hill.

What’s really at stake is quality of life. Pleasing visual variety can be part of that, but healthy urban life and community are a mix of much more, and that’s what I see happening in Dover. The fact I don’t have to get in a car for many things is a delight, though I do drive more than I’d like, mostly for time factors.

In its smaller scale, Dover is a kind of laboratory, one enhanced by a savvy economic development director and city manager. What’s happening now – and about to happen on a site on the other side of the river – is the result of many touches earlier, including the construction of a central parking garage to eliminate some of the lots around downtown. As these seas of parked cars become actual walkways with stores  and services leading to more options, the retail center becomes ever more integrated into its surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Here’s how downtown looks coming up Locust Street from the south. The Greek Orthodox church is tucked in on the left. The new parking garage is straight ahead.
And you turn around and look up at this, the Captain Moses Paul House.


Lower Square as the center of town

The old Masonic temple, new Orpheum, and old Strafford County Bank dominate Lower Square, where northbound traffic is peeled off to circle up around the old mills before rejoining Central Avenue. The photo was taken in front of the former newspaper plant, now named Foster Place, and the children’s museum.

It’s been like a downtown waiting to happen, if only the right neighbors moved in.

And now, actually, they are, thanks to the new Orpheum project and what’s happening at the old newspaper plant now dubbed Foster Place.

Historically, some dramatic fires shaped the street, too, removing an imposing city hall that included the largest auditorium in the state (“opera house,” as it was known) and a Baptist church. Mills across the street were also razed over time, making the entire scene airier.

It’s not as alone as it looks here. There’s a former firehouse now serving as a fine restaurant and a parking garage behind it. The new Orpheum diagonally across the street adds some vertical unity along Washington Street.


Along with the Cocheco Millworks, this has been the center of town.


Like the restaurant renovations I had considered in fiction

A pocket courtyard and stairwell tower now face Central Avenue in what had been unused space where an addition joined the original building. The windows, caps, and doorways are new.

I’ve been watching the renovation of the former newspaper plant downtown with special interest. Remember, I am a retired journalist.

To begin with, the existing edifice was highly problematic, beginning with the question of what to do with the former industrial pressroom and moving on to the way the structure had been expanded wily-nily over the decades. Apart from its first (modest) construction, the evolving building was never exactly what you’d call planned. Not with a long view.

Apartments, many of them overlooking riverfront Henry Law Park, are rising atop what had been the newspaper’s press.
As it was before.

Owned by one family for generations, the daily Foster’s Daily Democrat was headquartered on a prominent corner of Lower Square. In fact, the publisher and his family even lived in quarters in the flat-iron style building where traffic now curves from Central Avenue onto Washington Street and then Main as it winds around the historic mills and river.

The longest side of the plant, though, stands along Henry Law Avenue but has never interacted with it. Nope, it was just a concrete block wall with a few slits. Or fortress, meaning until recently, the street was largely a traffic siphon. But that’s changed now that the children’s museum on the other side draws thousands of families and school groups each year, as do free concerts in the small park. People actually stop and pay to park their vehicles along the street, and not because they have jobs nearby.

Facing the park.

Again, with the city planner’s goal of making downtown both pedestrian- and family-friendly, the interface has been changing.

At last, a developer has realized that to make the old newspaper office viable to new tenants, big changes were needed. And finally, that’s happening. Naturally, it’s a multi-use approach.

This is what’s emerging. The intention, I’d say, is to make the unified structure look like smaller, traditional side-by-side buildings. I do like the recessed balconies overlooking the park and its state-of-the-art destination playground.


And, at the far end, this, emphasizing the views.


In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s family members also realize they need to upgrade their restaurant, and that leads to an ambitious project to repurpose the building next door. It’s not that unlike what’s happening on Henry Law Avenue as the blank concrete block wall is opened to pedestrian traffic.

What do you think?


Filling in a modest skyline

What would otherwise be the rear, on the south, instead projects its own grandeur as it fronts on the lawns of the community center and public library. The blank brick wall on the right is the side of the old Masonic temple. 

Fitting the new Orpheum into an essentially triangular site made for an interesting design challenge. Fitting into an existing downtown look and scale of size was another. And optimizing return on investment and budget was a third.

The footprint led to an interesting solution as well as an emerging new skyline.

The developer’s results look like two parallel buildings when seen from the west, as well as a long backdrop for the existing downtown when seen from the east.

And this is before the landscaping kicks in.

From the front, facing north, varied textures suggest narrower side-by-side buildings rather than a single monolith. I find it rather busy, but maybe that was the intention.


From the bank drive-thru, two new buildings seem to be rising. The existing city hall sits to the right, and then the new district courthouse. 


Another look from the bank drive-thru.


Sitting back a block from Central Avenue, the new Orpheum adds depth to an urban view.

Let’s not get nostalgic

The quirky arch inspired the name of the new project as well as a design element retained in the new, larger structure.

I’ve been posting images and commentary on the big changes taking place in my small city’s downtown. The biggest project is the new Orpheum, replacing a storefront block and taking its name from a tiny movie house that once occupied one corner.

This is what occupied most of the site.
And this.

Does a book cover really convey a ‘promise’?

Back in April, Smashwords co-founder Jim Azevedo presented a six-hour writers conference via Zoom for ebook authors newbie and long-standing. I found it a rich experience and must applaud his stamina in sitting in front of his computer screen camera that long.

From this to …

His candid advice about rival Amazon prompted me to bite the bullet and look into reformatting my novels for Kindle Direct Publishing as one more digital retailing site for my work. I am, after all, fiercely loyal to Smashwords. Still, with Amazon, the most exciting thing is that I can now offer my work in print-on-demand paperback editions as well. I’ve come to love ebooks, but paper is, well, a special world to me.

Amazon has cleaned up many of its earlier formatting issues, and I can say my maiden foray went surprisingly smoothly. The one hiccup came with the paperback cover – my existing one was too small to run full-size. I compromised by reducing it within the glossy black background field.

I recently posted about tweaking that cover, which I did back before the online conference. Fortunately, it holds up to the new twist that’s been added to my thinking.

Azevedo spent some time covering the importance of covers, something I’ve previously blogged on. Frankly, from a design point of view, I find most book fronts to be cluttered and unfocused, combined with artwork that often strikes me as soft.

The making of a hippie

Maybe it’s all my years in journalism, but I’ve long leaned toward photographs as having more impact than paintings or drawings, and I want a strong graphic element other than type. Ebooks have an additional challenge of appearing, as Azevedo said, like postage stamps at the digital retail sites. That means any cover graphics have to pop if they’re going to catch your attention at all. You can’t be the least bit subtle.

What really struck me in Azevedo’s pitch was his insistence that a good book cover makes a promise.

What? The cover doesn’t mirror the story?

No, a promise.

As I started pondering potential new fronts for my paperback releases, his point kept kicking in. The result is a slew of new ebook covers already. Here I thought I’d be keeping what I had, but instead felt a need for improvement.

There was no escaping the necessity for a cover to have an emotional appeal, a gut-level reaction from a potential reader. Just who am I trying to entice? I’m not a famous writer, like Tolstoy or Stephen King or even Kurt Vonnegut, whose name alone could sell copies.

Still, thanks to an earlier project, I have a clearer concept of my ideal reader than I had in the past. So I’m not simply trying to stop a shopper for a moment’s reflection, as I might with a “literary” appeal. No, I’m trying to connect with her soul and spirit. Whew! So much for that calm bookish repose.

From this to …

Let’s jut say I’m aiming for real readers rather than schoolteachers or librarians.  You know, the kind of readers who just might turn into not just fans but superfans, as Azevedo touts, the ones who tell everybody they know about the hot unknown book they’re devouring.

Flash forward and look what’s happened to my Subway Visions cover. The previous one set the underground urban tone, but just what’s the promise? It looks pretty static. Waiting for a train to somewhere, but what then?

The new cover, though, gives a totally different impression. Its brightly tagged subway car goes careening into the depths. We’re not just standing around, waiting, but off into the action. The typeface and solid color provide a retro take on old-fashioned paperbacks. Whoopie! As a reader, I expect to be entertained. We’re in for a wild trip. Well, there’s the promise. Come along with me.

Finding the right image, of course, is a challenge. I lucked out on this one, even though it required a long search and then winnowing down the other options. One where the photos all ultimately lost out.

Along the tubes to nirvana

I do hope that big piece of graffiti doesn’t say something truly embarrassing.

Daffodil Uprising was a bit more wrenching.

I’m quite fond of the clean appearance of that single bloom, but as I came back to the question of promise, I didn’t see the cover suggesting anything. It just stands there, like a monument.

The new cover, though, suggests a row of daffodils blazing into full bloom. It’s colorful and happy, reflecting much of the hippie expectation, without getting caught in the time warp. Yes, the story includes Flower Power but it’s more about youth and shared discoveries rather than Sixties. I’m surprised how fresh this new cover feels.

That’s appropriate, since my extensive revisions of these works sought to move them into being more about NOW than exclusively back THEN, even when the tale is full of what has become ancient history to most of the populace.

As I hunted for the new image, I wound up sorting through thousands of MsMaya’s mesmerizing abstract flower creations before finding one that captured something resembling daffodils. But then it blooms into something much more. Once again, the photos failed to make the final cut.

I hope you agree. But there’s more.

Read More »

From the post office parking lot

A post office is a major traffic draw to a downtown, and Dover is lucky the operation hasn’t been moved out to a suburban site. Here’s a sense of how it fits in.

The front entrance with a view of the neighboring hardware store and new Orpheum. This gives a sense of the scale of our redefined city core.

The new police station sits across Chestnut Street. A new parking garage rises behind it. Public housing with restaurants and offices stands to the left, along the river, and a bus stop has protective covering.