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The intricately detailed and varied landscape of northern New England is a result of its complex geologic history. Prominent hills and ridges of granite and other hard rocks remain from episodes of mountain building million of years ago. Scraping and rounding by advancing ice during the ice ages altered their profiles, and glacial melting left rocky rubble strewn throughout the lower elevations. The Upper Valley, in which Hanover lies, has been further shaped by the Connecticut River and its dozens of tributary streams. (For a more detailed description of Hanover's natural setting, see 'Natural Resources', Hanover Master Plan, December 16, 1986, page XI-1-15.)
Three centuries of settlement and development have also left their mark on the local landscape. Farming, forestry, residences, businesses and Dartmouth College have all affected what we see around us today. Natural and cultural elements, singly or in combination, comprise our fund of scenic assets.
Hanover is bounded to the west by the Connecticut River, and to the east by the ridge and slopes of Moose Mountain. The Town of Lyme lies to the north, and the City of Lebanon to the south. Hanover's landscape is defined by a series of hillsides, ridgelines and valleys running roughly parallel to the Connecticut River.
Land use in the more rural areas is evolving from forest, wood lot, and low-density agriculture to more intense suburban residential uses, with some light commerce and industry. Historically, Hanover Center and Etna were the residential centers of the town. In more recent years, the focus has shifted to the downtown Hanover/Dartmouth College area.
Hanover's Master Plan (1986) states that "the special quality that distinguishes Hanover from other communities in the region is the dual development of a college and a town comprised of both village centers and rural areas. Elaborate, architect-designed structures expressive of the tradition and wealth of one of the nation's first colleges coexist with the modest one and two-story frame dwellings of early settlers sporadically dotting the rolling landscape, corresponding to the original land grants. The planned community of the college contrasts sharply with the evolutionary development of the town itself, yet the two are intimately interwoven." ('Historic Resources', Hanover Master Plan, December 16, 1986, page X-1). The Master Plan also emphasizes that "Hanover's natural resources and open space lands contribute significantly to the character of the Town." ('Land Use', Hanover Master Plan, December 16, 1986, page XII-23).