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Located in the center of Dover's downtown for more than a century.

the “Richards Building”?

There are many names for the building located at 1 West Blackwell Street.

Many call it the “Newberry Building”, because for many decades the JJ Newberry chain operated a department store in the building. This tends to be the name used by Dover natives when they reminisce about going to JJ Newberry’s to shop with their parents, often with a stop at the lunch counter to drink a milkshake.

Still others still call it “Berkeley College”, which was the most recent tenant (during the 2010s).

Those more deeply steeped in Dover History tend to call it the “Richards Building”. We like this name best, as it reflects the building’s original use and ownership, and also evokes a period when the building was in its prime, as the premier store in Morris County delivering goods throughout the region. It also recognizes a guy who played a key role in Dover’s history: George Richards, who was Dover’s first mayor and played a key role in the town’s incorporation.


The era of iron and steel

To understand the life of George Richards (1833 - 1900), we must try to comprehend just how important the iron and steel business was to Dover in the second half of the 19th century. Iron from nearby mines was brought into Dover and fabricated into a wide variety of goods.  The presence of the industry can clearly be seen in this wonderful 1903 hand drawn map of Dover, with numerous large factories located in what we might call central Dover today. (The red star indicates the location of the Richards Building.)

George Richards, an extremely busy guy

George Richards got his start in the iron and steel business at a very young age and had an extremely successful career as a businessman; his obituary states that he was “one of the wealthiest and most prominent business men in New Jersey”.  In addition to managing the Glendon Iron Company’s mining interests in NJ for 40 years, he held a dizzying variety of roles as per this 1899 biography:

President of the Dover Iron Company; the Dover & Rockaway Railroad Company; the Morris County Machine & Iron Company; the Ogden Mine Railroad Company; the Hibernia Mine Railroad Company; the Hibernia Underground Railroad Company; the National Union Bank; the Dover Lumber Company; the Dover Printing Company; and the George Richards Company, controlling four of the largest stores in Dover. He is a director in the following: Delaware & Bound Brook Railroad Company; East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad Company; Cranberry Iron & Coal Company; Chester Iron Company; Ross & Baker Silk Mill, at Port Oram; the American Sheet Iron Company; and Lincoln Lithia Water Company, of North Carolina.

Somehow, he also had time to be very active in Dover politics. He was part of a group that pushed for the Village of Dover, then part of Randolph Township, to get its own town charter in 1869.  After Dover was incorporated, Richards was elected mayor and served for most of the next 16 years.

Confusing matters somewhat, George Richards had a son also named George Richards (Junior) who was very active in business. Since much of the expansion of the building happened after the death of the original George Richards, it is almost certainly true that Junior deserves much of the credit for what we call the Richards Building today.

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A place to buy provisions… and mining materials, pipe fittings, etc.

As early as 1872, advertisements show George Richards operating a store at the corner of Sussex and Blackwell, selling a wide variety of goods. Old fire insurance maps also show a building located on the corner of Sussex and Blackwell, within the footprint of the current structure, as early as 1884.

A construction date shrouded in mystery

Many think the building was built in 1869, because that number is displayed prominently on the pediment on the building’s façade. But that is also the date that Dover became incorporated as a town – an important event for both Dover and George Richards.  And if we look at old pictures, we see that the building actually had two pediments; in at least one sketch, the second pediment displays the number 1870, the year that the Iron Era newspaper (also owned by Richards) was founded. So, it isn’t clear that these dates on the façade have anything to do with the building’s construction.

Even if it isn’t clear exactly when construction began, it does seem like the front section was built by the late 1800s.  For example, this old engraving, dated to the late 19th century, shows the front section of the building is already in place.


The building gets bigger

Around 1900, the building doubles in size with the first of two additions.  The larger building shows up clearly in this vintage post card, as well as fire insurance maps from as early as 1901

The largest store in
Morris County

Early on, at least, the building was more than just a retail store. For example, this sketch, a detail from the 1903 map, describes the building as the office for the Iron Era, a local newspaper. 


The retail operation seems to have grown, however, and by 1909, the maps are clearly marked “George Richards Department Store”.  Per the Dover Area Historical Society, this was:

a modern department store offering a wide array of goods including stationary, groceries, shoes, sporting goods and home furnishings. For deliveries, the store used a large fleet of attractive red and gold painted delivery wagons pulled by teams of horses, with annual revenues of $300,000 [roughly $10 million in current dollars], the department store was considered the largest in Morris County.

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The building gets bigger (again)

Another addition was added between 1909 and 1916, and the 1916 fire insurance maps show that the historic part of the building has taken its current form.  (One more addition, on the corner of Warren and Bassett, would be built in the 1950s.)

Parades in front

Old pictures frequently show the Richards building as backdrop for a parade, decked out in patriotic bunting.


Canals out back

Meanwhile, the Morris Canal ran directly behind the building, where Bassett Highway is located today. But by the time the George Richards Department Store hit its peak in the early 20th century, commercial traffic on the canal had virtually stopped.  (The canal would be dismantled in the 1920s.)  This picture, from sometime in the early 1900s, shows the canal with the Richard Building just to the left.

After George Richards – the transition to JJ Newberry

In 1927, the building was sold and became home to a store called Swingles Five and Dime. It would then become JJ Newberry Five and Dime by the time of this image, dated 1940. 

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The JJ Newberry era

This old postcard shows the distinctive red and gold lettering of the JJ Newbery storefront.

Newberry’s lunch counter

Many Dover residents have fond memories of shopping in this store, or more particularly they remember getting shakes and pieces of pie from the Newberry’s lunch counter. The menu might have looked like this old Newberry’s menu (from Arizona).

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The building gets bigger
(one last time)

JJ Newberry would remain in the building for decades, adding the annex section—with its large finished basement—in the 1950s.

After JJ Newberry

The JJ Newberry company owned the building until the early 1990s, when the parent company went bankrupt.  After Newberry's left, the building remained vacant for a few years. Starting in the mid 1990s, the ground floor and basement retail spaces became a hub for antiques, home to businesses like the Iron Carriage Antiques and the Dover Antique Center. After the year 2000, the upper floors would become Dover Business College, which would later merge into Berkeley College in 2013.  Berkeley embarked on a substantial renovation of the academic spaces in 2014.  Rent-a-Center and Zufall Health took leases occupying most of the old Newberry annex space, and they continue as tenants today.

When Berkeley closed its Dover campus in 2018, the building was purchased by the town of Dover. Plans to convert the building into town hall did not come to fruition, and the building was sold again, in 2022, to West Morris OZF Property Development Company II. 

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