At the mid point of the 18th Century, roads leading to Stoddard, Vermont, and places beyond passed through what was destined to become the Town of Hancock. In1764, John Grimes, believed to be the first settler of European descent, lived for a time on the shore of Half Moon Pond, very close to the Peterborough town line. Other settlers, many of them Revolutionary War veterans, soon followed and took up residence along the King’s Highway, the Forest Road, the Antrim Road, and the road that connected Dublin to the King’s Highway. In 1779, the Town of Hancock was incorporated without a designated center. Although named for John Hancock, signer of the Declaration of Independence (who happened to own nearly a thousand acres within the town boundaries), there is no evidence that Governor Hancock ever visited or benefitted the community in any way.
"Glimpses around Old Homestead - Skatutakee Valley, Hancock, N.H. - 1784 to 1887
Birthplace of three, and permanent home of four generations of the Salmon Wood Family
(Autoglyph print, W.P. Allen, Gardner, Mass.)
The 19th Century
Hancock accepted a gift of land on what was called Norway Plain from Deacon James Hosley in 1785. The Town Pound was constructed and land cleared for a common grazing space. The first meetinghouse and a burying ground were established. By 1800, Hancock’s population numbered over a thousand yet only four to six buildings had been constructed on Norway Plain, which would become Hancock’s Main Street. Rapid construction of homes and businesses followed. By mid 19th Century, the village of Hancock was a busy and thriving place. In 1851, the Meeting House and its bell made by Paul Revere and Sons, was moved to its present location in line with the Vestry. Main Street was lined with residences, most of which also contained a business. Open pastureland and farms flourished outside the village.
In the latter part of the century, the railroad brought tourists seeking fresh air and country living to vacation in Hancock and carried away the crops and products of Hancock’s approximately sixty family farms Returning sons and daughters came to attend Centennial celebrations of the town and the church. The work on the celebrations led to efforts to preserve the story, papers and artifacts of Hancock’s past. Those efforts resulted in the publishing of Hayward’s History of Hancock, New Hampshire in 1888, and eventually to the formation of the Hancock Historical Society by 1903. Soon, the annual Symonds Family Picnic turned into the Hancock Town Picnic, and eventually became Old Home Week, a time to welcome back the many people who left the farms of Hancock for life in other places.
The 20th Century
The 20th Century brought change to Hancock’s agrarian way of life. Sons and daughters continued to seek their fortunes away from Hancock. The property of their parents was often purchased by “city people” or “summer folks” seeking vacation homes. The once cleared pastures and farmland began to revert to forest. The Depression and weather events of the 1930s, as well as the end of railroad service to Hancock Depot impacted the remaining farms. Another generation of sons left to serve in World War II, many finding a life elsewhere after the war. More farms were sold, now to year-round residents who were able to commute to jobs in nearby towns thanks to the automobile and paved roads. By the 1960s, few farms remained, the high school was closed, and Hancock became part of a larger, regional economy.
By the end of the 20th Century, recognition and appreciation of the unique character and architecture of Hancock’s Main Street resulted in most of its buildings being listed in The National Register of Historic Places, which has helped to preserve the 19th Century atmosphere of the town’s center.
The 21st Century
By the dawn of the 21st Century a new mix of young families, retired persons, artists, authors, and people who choose to live close to the land had populated the town.
Today, a stroll down Main Street makes it possible to imagine the bustling, prosperous life of a former time. But make no mistake, the Hancock of the present hums with the activities and events of its many organizations, clubs and societies. At any given time, a resident or a visitor to the village might choose to attend a cultural event or a craft fair at the Meeting House or Vestry, hear a speaker or join an activity at the Hancock Library, tour the Historical Society, climb the steeple to view the Paul Revere and Sons bell, sit on the lawn in summer to hear a band concert, swim in Norway Pond, grab lunch at the café or general store, attend a Sunday night supper or a wine tasting at the Inn, or roam through the village and cemeteries. Outside the village, the timeless activities of the past continue to thrive with opportunities to swim, hunt, fish and hike available to those who love the outdoors.
Prepared by the Hancock Historical Society
Photos: The History of Hancock, Hayward - Hancock Historical Society - Town of Hancock Photo Collection - The Common by Karen Dudra