Dover Forest has been in the news recently, because of the possibility of it being cleared for public housing.
I decided to go back to old maps and piece together its history, and see if there is anything more to it other than being a 33-hectare green lung in the southwest of the island.
In the early 20th century, there was a large area bounded by Ulu Pandan Road and Holland Road to the north, Reformatory Road to the west, Ayer Rajah Road to the south, and Buona Vista Road to the east. The northern part was part of the Mukim of Ulu Pandan; the southern part was part of the Mukim of Pasir Panjang.
The present Dover Forest is a small fragment of this larger, nameless area, and its story should begin from here.
This was the area in 1923, outlined in light blue:
The hills were mostly covered by rubber plantations, while the more low-lying areas around rivers and streams were used for coconut plantations.
The area in 1953:
Reformatory Road had been renamed Clementi Road.
The rubber and coconut plantations had largely been replaced by “unclassified and mixed tree cultivation”, and grass and brush.
From 1932, the Keretapi Tanah Melayu railway track crossed the area. There was a railway station called Tanglin Halt just east of Buona Vista Road, but was largely disused by 1953.
The kampungs of Tua Kang Lye and Holland Village covered the north of the area. In the south, there was a British presence in the form of a military cemetery, and the black and white bungalows of Rochester Park, housing military officers.
The area in 1972:
The Sungei Ulu Pandan had been realigned, cutting across the area.
North of the river, the private housing estates of Mount Sinai and Holland Grove had joined Tua Kang Lye. South of the river, Dover Road had been laid down to connect Clementi Road and North Buona Vista Road. Because of the British presence in the area, Dover Road took its name after Dover, the town in southeast England.
Singapore Polytechnic had just opened a campus at the former Princess Mary Barracks.
The curvy stretch of Ayer Rajah Road between Clementi Road and North Buona Vista Road had been straightened.
The area in 1984:
Decades of abandoned cultivation in the area had gradually given way to secondary forest and bush, but large swathes were cleared for public housing estates such as Ghim Moh to the east, and Ayer Rajah to the south.
Commonwealth Avenue in neighbouring Queenstown New Town had been extended west to Clementi New Town; the new road was Commonwealth Avenue West, which cut the area in half.
Meanwhile, the Sungei Ulu Pandan had been straightened and canalised.
By now, the rough boundaries of what is presently the Dover Forest were in existence (marked in light blue). However, at the time, the forest might have been called Commonwealth Avenue West Forest, or just Commonwealth Forest, as it lay next to Commonwealth Avenue West; Dover MRT Station, which gave the forest its present name, would open only in 2001.
The area in 2000:
The last pockets of empty land around the Commonwealth Forest (marked in light blue) had filled up - Pine Grove and other condominium developments to the north, Singapore Polytechnic and Warren Golf Course (presently University Town) to the south, Buona Vista MRT Station to the southeast.
The East West MRT Line had been laid down along a good part of Commonwealth Avenue West; Dover MRT Station was nearing completion atop the tracks. Curiously, even though Dover Road was some distance away from the station, the latter took its name from the former.
In the south, Ayer Rajah Road had been upgraded to Ayer Rajah Expressway.
Formerly the Commonwealth Forest (my name), now the Dover Forest, today:
In the last 20 years, the forest bounded by the Sungei Ulu Pandan, Clementi Road, and Commonwealth Avenue West saw further retreat all around. To the west, the School of Science and Technology moved into a new campus in 2012. To the east, Ghim Moh Valley was first completed in 2013, then Ghim Moh Edge in 2017. And in the middle, a covered walkway was built to connect Dover MRT Station to Holland Grove.
Now, I think it’s more accurate to see the Dover Forest as two parts - Dover Forest West and Dover Forest East.
And thus concludes a short, 100-year history of Dover Forest - a story of abandoned agriculture, urban redevelopment, the laying down of transport channels, and a gradual but relentless encroachment on natural heritage.
What will be the forest’s eventual fate? We’ll find out very soon.