The Hancock Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The Hancock Village Historic District encompasses the historic core of the village of Hancock, New Hampshire. At the west end of the village is found the large Common, an attractive open space, which also serves as the site of the town's major 19th century public buildings, the Hancock Meetinghouse (1820), the District No. 1 Schoolhouse (c.1836) and the Grange Hall (c.1876), as well as the town's first cemetery, Pine Ridge Cemetery (c.1783) at the west end of the District. The village's major street is Main Street, an east-west street running from its beginning on the northerly portion of the Common, easterly to the foot of Norway Hill at the east end of the village. Main Street's west end is marked by its intersection with two roads, Stoddard Road, which continues the basically westerly run of Main Street and then bears to the northwest as it leaves the Hancock Village Historic District and heads towards Stoddard and Old Dublin Road, which heads south from the intersection, then rounds the southeast corner of the cemetery to head west and then southwest towards Harrisville and Dublin. On the north side of the Common, two short dead end streets head north from Main Street. Norway Pond Lane heads northwest as it descends to the shore of Norway Pond. The Cemetery Road heads north to the Norway Plain Cemetery (located outside the District). On the east edge of the Common, Main Street intersects with Sand Hill Road, which heads southwest and then south towards Peterborough. Sand Hill Road is also connected to Main Street by an unnamed road across the Common, which intersects Main Street west of the Sand Hill intersection. (Off Sand Hill Road is Hosley Road, a short dead end street to the southeast.) Towards the east end of the village, two roads head north from Main Street, School Street, a residential side street which heads due north, and Bennington Road, which heads north and northeast as it leaves the village and heads toward Bennington. At the east end of Main Street is another three road intersection. Norway Hill Road continues the easterly run of Main Street, but then bends southeast as it climbs Norway Hill and leaves the Hancock Village Historic District, as it heads towards Greenfield. Forest Road curves to the south, from this intersection, as it heads towards Peterborough. (Two state highways run through the village. Bennington Road, Main Street, and Sand Hill Road are parts of Route 137. Forest Road, Main Street, and Stoddard Road are parts of Route 123.)
All the roads are paved with the exception of the northerly portion of the Cemetery Road. The usual telephone poles and street signs are found along the highways (with the exception of the Cemetery Road and Norway Pond Lane). Shade trees grow along Main Street, Stoddard Road, Old Dublin Road, School Street, and Bennington Road. Main Street has a wider right of way than the other streets, and is generally bordered by wide grass strips on each side. These grass strips are distinguished by the village's only sidewalks, which run from Bennington Road to Norway Pond Lane on the north side of the street, and from in front of the Alcock House property on Main Street to the east edge of the Common on the south side. The sidewalks are unpaved, save in front of the Grange Hall, and the Meetinghouse on the Common and the village store (Hancock Cash Market) on the south side of the street. Near the center of Main Street, the grassed strips are narrowed by paved and unpaved parking spaces, in front of the hotel (John Hancock Inn, probably late-18th century), an office building and the Hancock Town Library (1882) on the north side, and the village store (Hancock Cash Market), two neighboring houses (Fox House and Baldwin House), and the former post office (Bullard-Fowle-Seymour House) on the south side. Just west of the former post office stands a wooden community bulletin board, in a case with double glass doors, set on two posts, and decorated by a simple moulding and the town name in raised letters. Grassed triangles mark the intersections of Main Street with Old Dublin Road, the cross-Common road, and Bennington Road. (The first two triangles will be described as parts of the Common, the last as the Bennington Road Triangle.)
The village is relatively level, as it sits on Norway Plain, a flat plateau bounded on the north by the 49-1/2-acre Norway Pond and on the east by Norway Hill. Steep slopes are found on the north and south sides of the plateau, but the Hancock Village Historic District only includes portions of these slopes. On the north side, the Hancock Village Historic District includes that part of the Common that slopes down to the shore of Norway Pond, and, on the Cummings House and Rev. Paige House properties, parts of a shallow valley to the north of Norway Hill Road and the east of Bennington Road. The plateau's south slope comes close to Main Street, so the southern portion of the Common and of some Main Street properties include parts of the slope, notably a deep ravine to the south of the Whitcomb-Manning House, Bullard-Fowle-Seymour House, Goughlan House and Whitcomb-Dodge House properties. Both Sand Hill Road and Old Dublin Road descend steeply as they leave the Hancock Village Historic District. Forest Road descends slightly to the south. Norway Hill Road and parts of the Rev. Paige House and Temperance Bullard House properties climb the west slope of Norway Hill. Aside from some small intermittent streams in the ravines cutting the plateau's slopes, the only water body touching the Hancock Village Historic District is Norway Pond, part of its south shore being included in the Common.
The Hancock Village Historic District's 47 numbered properties includes four sites (the Common, the Pine Ridge Cemetery, the Tombstone Territory right-of-way and the Bennington Road-Main Street triangle), 43 major buildings, 13 outbuildings (for a total of 56 buildings) and 3 objects. The Hancock Village Historic District includes 3 contributing sites, 1 non-contributing site (the right-of-way), 47 contributing buildings, 9 noncontributing buildings, and 3 contributing objects. Most of the buildings face Main Street, the Common, and Bennington Road. (Hosley Road and Norway Hill Road can each claim only 1 building apiece.) Generally, the buildings are placed to face the street, but the four houses (Upton House (1906), Tubbs House (c.1836), Rev. Burgess House (c.1840) and Rev. Bassett House (c.1840)) on the west side of Bennington Road are set east to west (corresponding to the orientation of their lots), with their main facades facing south or east, rather than directly towards the road. This gives the west side of Bennington Road a staggered appearance, but otherwise the buildings, which are set behind fairly shallow front lawns, create fairly consistent facade lines. With a few exceptions, the buildings are set on suitable lots with comfortable side yards. Towards the center of Main Street, some buildings are set closer together, with only narrow spaces between them. Save for this slightly denser area near the center of the village and the wider spaced public buildings on the Common, the density of buildings is rather consistent throughout the Hancock Village Historic District.
The dates of some of the older buildings are obscure, but it is clear that only a handful of the Hancock Village Historic District's buildings date from the late-18th century, and that the majority were built in the early-to-mid-19th century. Only 9 of the 43 major buildings were built after the Civil War. Only 3 are productions of the 20th century. Some of the pre-Civil War buildings have been remodeled to include later architectural features, but most of the buildings are in the vernacular tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries or show, to varying degrees, the influence of the Federal and Greek Revival styles. A few major buildings can be described as Victorian in character; the other major late-19th century buildings are simpler vernacular buildings. The 20th century has seen some remodellings and additions, but the Colonial Revival style has been the dominant influence in this century, and the village has retained its "early American" character.
In form, material, and color, the village shows the same consistency. The buildings are short, half (including most of the outbuildings) being 1 or 1-1/2 stories high, with the other half being 2 or 2-1/2 stories high. The only true 3-story building is the Baptist Seminary House, although the towers of the meetinghouse and its vestry and the mansard roof of the hotel (John Hancock Inn) do rise above the other buildings of the village. Virtually all of the buildings have gable roofs, although the Hancock Village Historic District does have 3 hip-roofed buildings and 1 example each of a shed roof, a pyramidal roof, an octagonal roof, a gambrel roof, and a mansard roof. More variety is seen in the form of the buildings, particularly in the commercial and public buildings, but most of the houses, 7 of the 1- and 1-1/2-story houses, and 15 of the 2- and 2-1/2-story houses, use the standard Cape or house form, being gable roofed buildings with the entry in the lateral side (usually in the center of that facade). A half dozen houses, mostly Greek Revival in character, use the gable end as the main facade with a central entry. Four houses, all of late-19th or early-20th century design, are gable end, side-hall plan houses. The commercial and public buildings usually use the gable end as the main facade (embellished on the meetinghouse and the vestry by a tower, as well as an entry pavilion on the meetinghouse, and on one former hotel (Forest House) by a temple-style portico). There are also other forms, the mansard roofed hotel with its monumental portico, the gable roofed District No. 1 Schoolhouse with its gable-roofed entry pavilion and its central belfry, the hip-roofed Hancock Town Library with its shallow gable roofed entry pavilion, the gambrel-roofed ice cream stand (Quinn Stand, Main Street) with its T-shaped plan. Wood is the dominant material among the Hancock Village Historic District buildings, the only exceptions being five brick buildings and one wooden house with brick ends. Clapboards are the most popular sheathing, used as the primary sheathing on all but one of the major wooden buildings and on most of the outbuildings. The exception among the major buildings is the school, now covered by vinyl "clapboarding." Other materials used on some seven outbuildings and on portions of the other buildings include flush and vertical boarding, wooden, asphalt and metal shingles, novelty siding, latticework, plywood, and board and batten. White is the village's dominant color, appearing as the primary color on 33 buildings, nearly three-fifths of all buildings in the Hancock Village Historic District. Red is the next most popular color, appearing as the natural color of the 5 brick buildings and as paint on another 5 buildings. One outbuilding is unpainted, and the other buildings are painted a variety of colors, yellow, green, brown, gray, and beige. Despite the variety seen in each attribute, the Hancock Village Historic District is unified by the consistency of style, and the dominance of particular building forms, the gable roof, clapboarding, and white paint.
Of the major buildings, 26 began their careers as residences (including one, the Baptist Seminary House that served as a school dormitory). Nine buildings apparently started as stores or shops, and one as a tavern. One major building (Quinn House, Bennington Road) was originally a barn. Public buildings included an academy, the town library, the meetinghouse, its vestry, and an armory. (The four sites included a road intersection, a private way, the town common, and the town cemetery.) Presently, the primary use in the Hancock Village Historic District is overwhelmingly residential, with 35 of the 43 major buildings functioning as residences. (One residence also serves as the local historical museum.) Public buildings include the post office, an elementary school, the town library, the village church, and its vestry. (The four sites continue in their past functions, save that the road intersection now also serves as a small park.)
The Hancock Village Historic District is significant in the areas of community planning and architecture. In the area of community planning, the Hancock Village Historic District is a good example of a late-18th century village plan based on a Common, which was modified in the 19th and 20th centuries to become a public park as well as the site of public buildings. In the area of architecture, the Hancock Village Historic District is significant for its fine buildings, ranging in date from the late-18th century to the early-20th century. The Hancock Village Historic District's period of significance begins in 1785 when the town center was established on Norway Plain and the town Common formally accepted. From this beginning, the district grew up as the town's village center. The period of significance terminates in 1937, consistent with the fifty year cut-off and encompassing Colonial Revival design from the early-20th century.
Community Planning — The typical New Hampshire town was granted as a township to a group of proprietors, who, in turn, subdivided the land, often setting aside lands for community needs. In a portion of the Contoocook valley, then known as the Society Land, now the towns of Hancock, Antrim, Bennington, and Deering and parts of the towns of Francestown and Greenfield, this common practice was abandoned by the Masonian Proprietors (who had purchased the Mason family claim to the colony of New Hampshire). Here the fifteen Masonian Proprietors granted themselves fifteen "great lots" and fifteen large "intervale lots" along the river, and also granted "a mile square" to their agent. Each individual Masonian Proprietor then subdivided his "great lot" and "intervale lot" as he pleased. The southwest portion of the Society Land, which would become the town of Hancock, was first settled in 1764. By 1767, there were only 2 families in the future town, and by 1778, there are said to have been only 8 families. If so, the area grew rapidly in the next 2 years, as by 1779 there were 30 or 40 families located there, a population large enough to require a town government. In June of 1779, the residents of this southwest area, west of the Contoocook River, petitioned for incorporation as a town, a petition granted by the legislature in November of the same year.
The new town, named for Gov. John Hancock of Massachusetts, one of the largest landowners in the township, therefore came into existence without any land reserved for public use, no place to site a meetinghouse or even a graveyard. The new town quickly faced the question of establishing a Common for the meetinghouse and graveyard. A town meeting in April of 1780 decided to located the meetinghouse and the graveyard on Norway Plain, a level plateau south of Norway Pond and near the center of the township. However, in October the Town voted to reconsider the April vote, and a long debate over the proper location of the town center began. A surveyor was hired to find the exact geographic center of the township, but even his report did not settle the question. Norway Plain remained a popular choice. In June, 1783, a town meeting did vote to clear a graveyard on Norway Plain, but the townspeople simply could not agree on the site for the meetinghouse and the Common. Finally, in December of 1784, a special town meeting voted to petition the legislature for a committee to make the decision for the Town. As the petition explained, "we have been at pains and cost to find the Center of our town in Order to build a House for Publick Worship, but Unfortunately it falls in a Bogg where it is not possible to buld; and altho we have Meetings called Reppitedly for that purpos; yet we Cannot all Agree where to move it to find the Ground that will be most Suttable and Convenient." In response to the petition, the legislature appointed a 3-man committee that reported to a Hancock town meeting on May 3,1785, with its recommendation that the town center be located on Norway Plain. The town meeting accepted the decision, probably with some relief, and then established a committee to meet with James Hosley, the owner of part of Norway Plain, who had already offered land for a Common. The Town formally accepted the new Common, a 4-sided piece of land at the east end of the Plain as a gift from Deacon Hosley in November of the same year.
In its early years, the Common was used primarily as the site for public buildings and facilities. In the late-18th century and early-19th century, the Common became the site of the town meetinghouse, the village schoolhouse, the town pound, the town cemetery, and privately owned horsesheds for those attending services and meetings at the meetinghouse. In 1836, the Town voted to allow the erection of an academy building for the Hancock Literary and Scientific Institution on the Common. A view of the Common, drawn in 1840, shows an almost treeless expanse with a small central open space, surrounded by scattered public buildings, the private horsesheds and the cemetery. Although the major buildings, particularly the new Meetinghouse of 1820 and the academy building of 1836, were of high architectural quality, the Common itself appears as a purely functional space, with no aesthetic pretensions.
In the mid-19th century, a new view of the Common began to emerge. In 1851, the meetinghouse was moved back from the center of the Common to the north side, so that its front was aligned with the front of the Congregational Vestry, a move that freed the center of the Common and brought some order to the surrounding buildings. In 1852, the town voted to set out shade trees on the Common, indicating a new interest in the aesthetic quality of the town's major public space. In the late-19th century, the Common was still seen as a building site for public structures. In 1875, a local militia group was given permission to erect an armory and public hall, now the Grange Hall on the Common. In the 1890's, the old academy building of the Hancock Literary and Scientific Institution was moved to a new site on the Common and remodeled as the village schoolhouse, but by then there were many townspeople who wished the Common to be treated as a public park and who favored the removal of the numerous buildings on the Common. The plan to retain the schoolhouse on the Common was a controversial one, and, although the school did remain there, the Common was never used again as a site for a major public building.
The conversion of the Common to a public park was encouraged by A.C. Whitcomb's $10,000 bequest for the enlargement and improvement of the Common, accepted by the town in 1889. The bequest was used in 1890 to buy a large piece of land on the south side of the Common. The early 1890's did see the removal of the old village schoolhouse and of the town pound. In 1894, a Common Committee was established and authorized to employ a landscape specialist to develop plans for the Common. The committee hired Boston landscape gardener Ernest W. Bowditch, whose plans were presented to the 1895 annual town meeting. Bowditch proposed the purchase of additional land on the east and north sides of the Common, the removal of all buildings except the Meetinghouse and the new school, the construction of new horsesheds behind the Meetinghouse, the rerouting of the numerous cartways that crossed the Common, and the general landscaping of the Common as a public park with walks and shade trees. Many of Bowditch's recommendations were carried out. The 1890's did see the purchase of additional land on the east side of the Common, the removal of the horsesheds, and the construction of the more elegant curved horsesheds behind the Meetinghouse. The streets were rebuilt to generally follow Bowditch's plan. The removal of the hearsehouse and the acquisition of land on the shore of Norway Pond did have to wait until the 1930's. The Grange Hall did remain on the Common, and the town beach developed in the 1930's is not the shoreline walk envisioned by Bowditch. Essentially, Bowditch's plan is recognizable in the Common as it is seen today. The early-20th century did see some new embellishments on the Common, the Eaton Fountain of 1907, the Shingle style Bandstand of 1909, and the War Memorial of 1925-26. These changes have only reinforced the Common's present day use as a public park. Today, the Common, while still housing the Meetinghouse, the elementary school, the old town cemetery, and now the post office (in the Grange Hall), is a spacious, attractive public space that adds much to the charm of the village.
The Hancock Common does stand out as one of the best in Hillsborough County. Many communities in the county do have commons. Most are relatively small, such as those in the villages of New Boston, Deering, Francestown, Pelham, and Hudson Center. A small common can serve as the major focus of the community plan, as those in Milford and Hollis demonstrate, but these small Commons, because of their scale, cannot have the same impact as the larger Commons, such as Hancock's Common do. The Hancock Common's size does give it a spaciousness which is one of its most notable qualities. Only the commons in Amherst, Temple, New Ipswich, and Greenfield are really comparable in size and importance in the community plan to the Hancock Common. (The commons of Manchester and Nashua, although similar in size, have essentially evolved into urban parks, and no longer function as village commons.) As each of these five substantial village Commons have evolved in different ways, it is difficult to make comparisons. The Amherst, Temple, and New Ipswich Commons are, for example, somewhat more formal in character, with public buildings clearly separated by roads from the lawns of the Common, which are now enclosed by fences and rows of trees. The somewhat more informal layout of the Hancock Common reflects its continuing use as a site for public buildings, and, to some extent, the romantic landscape design favored by Bowditch and the late-19th century improvers of the Common. Although design comparisons may be hard to make, it is clear that the Hancock Common ranks as one of the finest village commons in Hillsborough County.
Of course, the Common is only part of the village plan. It may be that some informal road or path across Norway Plain was in use before the Common was created, as the town did not formally lay out most of its highways until 1785-88, when a large number of roads, many no doubt in use since the settlement of the area, were legally established as public highways by the selectmen and the town meetings. These new road layouts were generally sketchy in their descriptions, so it is not clear if Main Street was included in the 1785 layout of Forest Road, or in the 1786 layout of Norway Hill Road, both of which were continued to the Common. The Norway Hill Road layout does refer to the highway as already in use, as does the 1786 layout of Stoddard Road. So, the road across Norway Plain existed in 1786, and perhaps much earlier. The new meetinghouse site quickly became the focus of other new roads, Sand Hill Road, laid out in 1786, and Old Dublin Road, laid out in 1788. In 1790, Bennington Road was laid out from the east end of the village. The roads serving the village quickly became the most important roads in the town. In 1806, when a map of Hancock showing the major highways was prepared by the Town (as required by the state legislature for a new map of the state), the surveyor and the selectmen chose to depict only those roads radiating from the village. They were the town's primary highways, and the village that developed in the 18th and 19th centuries grew up along the principal roads, Main Street, and in the mid-19th century, Bennington Road. Additional village streets were laid out later, Cemetery Road to the new town cemetery in 1874, School Street in 1901, and Norway Pond Lane in 1951. Hosley Road, although in use as a private way by the end of the 19th century, was not established as a public highway until 1952. These new streets, however, had little effect on the development of the Hancock Village Historic District, although more recent residential development has occurred on School Street and, to a lesser extent, on Hosley Road. The basic road system in the Hancock Village Historic District has remained as it was established in the brief 6-year period from 1785 to 1790. (There have, of course, been some changes to the roads. Beginning in 1925, the streets were paved, and in 1909, the fountain on the Common was matched by a new fountain (East Fountain) at the east end of the village on the grassed Bennington Road Triangle at the Bennington Road and Main Street intersection.)
Today, the Hancock Village Historic District still has the village plan developed in the late-18th century-- a common with the major public buildings and town cemetery at the west end, a broad main street bordered by buildings stretching east from the common to the foot of Norway Hill at the east end of the village, and roads radiating from the two ends of the village, the Common and the east end of Main Street. It is a very simple plan, but one that has created a very compact and cohesive village. The plan and, to some extent, the topographical constraints of Norway Pond to the north, Norway Hill to the east, and the plateau's steep slope on the south, prevented the village from sprawling. The buildings are all concentrated around the Common and along Main Street and Bennington Road. The concentration and regularity of the buildings with their consistent facade lines along Main Street and the Common helps to give the village a unity that accounts for much of its charm and beauty.
Architecture — Hancock Village developed in the last two decades of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century as the commercial, social, governmental, religious, and educational center of the farming town of Hancock. That growth was assisted in the 19th century by the location of the village on one of the major routes for teamsters from the Connecticut River valley and Vermont to Boston. There were some small mills in the town, but the industrial development of the 19th century had little effect on the growth of the village, which had little available water power. Although in a farming community, the village was not the home of the farmers. Its residents were the merchants, craftsmen, innkeepers, and professionals (clergymen, doctors, and educators) who served the farmers of the area. Their prosperity is reflected in the architecture of the village, dominated as it is by buildings of the Hancock Village Historic District Federal and Greek Revival styles, which architectural historian Bryant Tolles has called "a striking collection of buildings which represent southern New Hampshire's best late-18th and early-19th century architecture."
The late-18th century and early-19th century village buildings used the Federal style or the vernacular of the time, as can be seen in the village's two earliest late-18th century houses, the Federal style Stone House (Main Street, 1780's or 1790's)) and vernacular Grayham House (Sand Hill Road, probably 1790's). The vernacular buildings were the simpler structures, such as the pleasant Grayham House, with its asymmetrical 4-bay facade, the charming Davis-Titus House (Main Street, late-18th or early-19th century) with its asymmetrical roof, and the Whitcomb Store (Hosley Road, c.1813), which, in its early days, was a rather simple building with a gable end front. (The John Hancock Inn began its career in this period, but little of its early exterior has survived later alterations.) The more imposing 2- and 2-1/2-story houses used the Federal style and were distinguished by their symmetrical design and fine ornament. The Stone House is notable for its elaborate entry, embellished by a blind arch with intersecting tracery, pilasters, and a fine Doric pediment. The impressive Rev. Paige House of the 1790's has lost its original main entry, but still has fine window trim and side entry. The Charles Symonds House (Main Street) of c.1809 is the village's best brick house, distinguished by its arched doorways, the independent sidelights flanking the main entry, and the excellent cornice framing its hip roof. Now the home of the local historical society, it is a superb example of the provincial Federal style. So is the John and Henry Whitcomb House (Main Street) of 1813, a unique double house with bricks ends and wooden lateral facades beneath a hip roof and graced by tall corner pilasters, a fine cornice, arched doors in the brick ends, and two identical main entries topped by fanlights and framed by pilasters and cornices. The fine double house reflects the craftsmanship and skill of its builder, Jacob Ames. Ames's work can also be seen in the Hancock Meetinghouse of 1820, which he built with Samuel Kilburn of Fitzwilliam. Closely modeled after earlier churches in Dublin and Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and Templeton, Massachusetts, the Meetinghouse is one of the best Federal style churches in New Hampshire. Graced by fine architectural details (monumental pilasters, elaborate cornices and entablatures, moulded frames and arches, oval and Palladian windows, paneled cornerboards, railings, and finely carved ornament), the Meetinghouse has an impressive form, with a 2-1/2-story main block, a 2-story pedimented entry pavilion, and a tall 4-stage steeple. The Meetinghouse, which dominates the Common, is, without question, the finest building in the village. The Federal style continued to influence buildings into the 1820's and 1830's. The 2-1/2-story Wheeler House (Main Street) of c.1836 boasts a fine entry with sidelights, moulded frame, and semi-elliptical louvered fan. The brick Low-Davis House (Main Street) of the 1820's was built as a store, but has a domestic form and details, the usual gable roofed house form and a fine entry with sidelights and semi-elliptical louvered fan. In the 1830's, one can already see the influence of the Greek Revival style. Both of the two academy buildings erected in the late 1830's reflected the transition from the Federal style to the Greek Revival style. The Hancock Literary and Scientific Institution was later substantially remodeled to house the District No. 1 Schoolhouse. The attractive Congregational Vestry of 1836 seems little changed. It combines a Federal form (a rectangular, gable roofed building with a 2-stage belfry) and some Federal details, such as the semicircular arched doorways and belfry louvers with fine Greek Revival details, such as the frets on the door frames and belfry cornices.
The Greek Revival style came into its own in the 1830's and 1840's, although some Greek Revival buildings still use the customary forms and some of the details of the Federal style. The traditional Cape form was adapted in the Temperance Bullard House (Norway Hill Road) of the 1830's and the Rev. Bassett House (Bennington Road) of c.1840. Both have higher fronts than the traditional Cape, and both can boast fine Greek Revival entries. The entry of the Temperance Bullard House has sidelights and a fine outer frame with fluting, cornerblocks, and a panel above the door. The more elaborate entry of the Rev. Bassett House has sidelights and moulded frame and is set in a recess with paneled walls and a moulded outer frame with cornerblocks. A very similar entry appears on the fine Fox House, which has a traditional 2-1/2-story, gable roofed house form with central entry in the lateral facade, as well as moulded window trim and semicircular louvered fans in the gables. The Rev. Burgess House of c.1840, another 2-1/2-story, gable roofed house, shows the influence of the style in its pedimented box cornice and, to a lesser extent, in the design of its entry. The impressive 3-1/2-story Baptist Seminary House (Sand Hill Road), built as a school dormitory about 1838, used the traditional form, but also has a wide box cornice that is pedimented in both gables and a commanding entry with sidelights, tall pilasters, and deep entablature. The building is notable for its size, as 3-story residences were quite rare in New Hampshire in this period. The Greek Revival style introduced a new house form, with a gable end front featuring a central entry, to the village. The Alcock House of c.1840 and the Whitcomb-Dodge House (Main Street) both have 5-bay wide, 1-1/2-story, gable end front main blocks. The somewhat simpler Whitcomb-Dodge House now has a Colonial Revival entry, but remains a very pleasing building..The charming Alcock House is a little more elaborate, with a pedimented box cornice, moulded window frames, and a fine entry with sidelights, fluted trim, and a moulded outer frame with ornamented cornerblocks.
The Greek Revival period also saw the renovation of earlier buildings. Attractive entries in the new style were installed on the Davis-Titus House and the Rev. Paige House. The John Hancock Inn also received two new Greek Revival entries and a 2-story, columned porch covering two of its facades. The Flint House (Main Street) and the Forest House (Main Street) had even more complete remodellings. Originally built with its gable roof parallel to the street, the Flint House was given a new roof with a new pedimented gable facing the street. The Forest House, originally a traditional, 2-1/2-story, gable roofed house, was doubled in size and also saw its roof reoriented to the street, behind an impressive 2-story, temple style portico. Ornamented with fine details, such as the pedimented box cornice and the two front entries, the Forest House was totally remodeled into the village's most impressive Greek Revival style building.
The mid-19th century also saw the construction of vernacular buildings, which, if ornamented, used simplified details taken from the Federal and Greek Revival styles. Of the two vernacular Capes, the Cummings House of the mid-1850's is the more modest but least changed, with an asymmetrical, 4-bay street facade and a simple entry with sidelights and a "peaked" lintel. Part of the Wilkins-Wilds House (Sand Hill Road) was moved into the village in the 1840's or 1850's to become the basis of the present simple but pleasing Cape, which has some later embellishments, a Colonial Revival entry and dormers. The Whitcomb-Fuller House (Main Street, early-19th century) and the Tubbs House of c.1836 use the traditional 2-1/2-story, gable roofed house form, and were relatively unornamented save for their cornices and entries with sidelights. Still, their symmetrical designs do give them a basic dignity. The Mitchell-Alcock House (Main Street, 1820's or 1830's) started as a blacksmith shop, but acquired a 2-1/2-story gable end front built of brick in the first two stories, its design distinguished by its symmetry and wide box cornice. The Davis-Jaquith House (Main Street, mid-19th century) began its career as a shoemaker's shop, but was later enlarged and remodeled as the village's only example of the Carpenter Gothic, notable for its scalloped and scrolled bargeboards. These simpler houses, although not as architecturally significant as the grander Federal and Greek Revival buildings, do contribute greatly to the historical and architectural character of the village.
The town of Hancock reached its population peak of 1,345 people in the census of 1840. The population declined to 1,012 in 1850, in part because of the loss of a portion of the township to the new town of Bennington in 1842, but also because of the general decline of New Hampshire agriculture. This decline continued in Hancock through the 19th century and the early-20th century, as the population dropped to 844 in 1860, 692 in 1870, and to a low point of 531 in 1930. Not until 1960 could the census again report more than 700 persons in the town. This loss of population was reflected in the slow growth of the village in late-19th century and early-20th century. The village did continue to grow and change, even while farms were being abandoned in the rural areas of the town. The railroad, which began service to Hancock Village in 1878, brought some measure of prosperity, and new stores, public buildings, and a few houses were built.
The simpler buildings of the late-19th century continued the vernacular tradition. The Coughlan House (Main Street) of 1890, although a small house, was embellished with a heavy box cornice, moulded lintels above the windows and door, and wide hip-roofed veranda. The two new stores, the Hancock Cash Market, built in 1878 and enlarged in 1890, and the Eaton Store (Main Street) of 1894 were both narrow, gable-end front buildings with recessed entries in their storefronts. The Grange Hall, erected as an armory and public hall in the 1870's, is another simple building with few embellishments, but, like the two stores, it is a modest and compatible companion for its more impressive neighbors. The best vernacular structure of the period is the horsesheds of 1895, whose unusual curved shape was suggested by Ernest Bowditch and was carried out in the local vernacular by Hancock builder W.D. Fogg. (Two other 19th century outbuildings, the barns of the John and Henry Whitcomb House and the Cummings House, which, although of uncertain date, are both excellent reminders of the village's past.)
Some late-19th century buildings did reflect the more ornate Victorian styles. The Victorian Italianate style was used in the building of one house, the Goodhue House (Bennington Road, probably 1870's or 1880's), and in the rebuilding of two other houses, the Davis-Goodhue House (Main Street, c.1829) and the Rand-Hunt House (Main Street, c.1836). The Rand-Hunt House, rebuilt in 1887-88 by Lewis Hunt, is the most elaborate of the three houses, but all have at least some of the elaborate ornament of the Victorian age. The three houses use the same form (having 2-1/2-story, gable-end front, side-hall plan main blocks) and share other similar features, such as the hoods on the main entries of the Davis-Goodhue House and the Goodhue House, and the shingling of the 2-story bay windows on the Rand-Hunt House and the Goodhue House.
The three buildings are all fine Victorian houses, but none are so ornate that they appear out of place in this early village. The Victorian influence was also seen in some changes to buildings, such as the veranda of the Fox House (Main Street, c.1830) and the mansard roof on the John Hancock Inn, and smaller features such as the oriel window and balcony on the Wheeler House (Main Street, c.1836-38). The old academy building of the Hancock Literary and Scientific Institution was remodeled as the village schoolhouse in the early 1890's, receiving in the process a new form, with an entry pavilion in the center of the lateral facade and a relocated balcony in the center of the roof. The remodeled schoolhouse was a charming, but somewhat simplified Victorian building, less ornate than the Hancock Town Library, built in 1882 to the design of architect A.R. Esty. The fine brick library building is now obscured by a later Colonial Revival addition, but still retains the elaborate masonry of its rear and side walls.
The early-20th century saw changes to some buildings, including the enlargement of 4 buildings. The Whitcomb Store, now relocated to Hosley Road, was rebuilt to enclose its late-19th century porch, a change that actually brought the building closer to its earlier appearance. Three one-and-a-half story houses, the Whitcomb-Manning House (Main Street, c.1806), the Baldwin House (Main Street, early or mid-19th century), and the Bugbee House (Main Street, early 19th century),were all raised to 2-1/2 stories, and were changed in the process from the 19th century vernacular to the not dissimilar 20th century vernacular. Again, these simpler buildings contribute quietly but effectively to the historic character of the village. The vernacular tradition was also used for 3 more modest outbuildings, 2 garages and a chicken coop, but the charming Bandstand of 1909 turned to the Shingle style. The attractive Upton House of 1906, while using a Victorian form, foretold the coming of the Colonial Revival style in its columned porch. The Colonial Revival did become popular in the village during the 1920's and 1930's. No new buildings were erected in the style, but it did serve in many remodellings and additions to older buildings. The Wheeler House received a columned front porch, and the Greek Revival columns of the portico on the John Hancock Inn were replaced by monumental, 2-story, square pillars of Colonial Revival flavor. Colonial Revival entries replaced the plainer entries on a number of houses. The best of these new entries is the main entry of the Whitcomb-Dodge House with its sidelights, moulded frame, and blind arch with tracery and rosettes. Colonial Revival entries also appeared on the Baldwin House, the Flint House, the Wilkins-Wilds House and the Whitcomb-Fuller House. The most significant Colonial Revival alteration was the 1924-25 addition on the front of the Hancock Town Library, designed by the architectural firm of J.D. Leland & Company. The addition effectively hid the original Victorian building, undoubtedly regarded as old fashioned in the 1920's, but it is in itself an excellent example of its style, notable for its dignified design and its restrained but effective ornament.
The last 50 years have been kind to the Hancock Village Historic District. There have, of course, been changes to the buildings, but these have usually been minor changes and almost always limited to the rear facades and rear portions (the ells and barns) of the contributing buildings. The public facades of the main blocks have typically been left unchanged. Victorian porches and bay windows were removed from the Flint House and the Rev. Burgess House. One small building, the Bullard-Fowle-Seymour House was so thoroughly remodeled in the 1940's and 1950's that it is now considered non-contributing, although the house is actually compatible in style and design with its neighbors and does not seem out of place. Similarly, a portion of the Rev. Paige House was detached to make a shop, later converted into a house, the Quinn House, which, although not detrimental to the Hancock Village Historic District's historic character, is still too new to merit recognition as a contributing building. The village has been spared many of the unsympathetic renovations that are too often found in other communities. Only one building has been resheathed with modern siding, the school, which is now covered with vinyl "clapboarding." New buildings have been few and, with one exception, limited to outbuildings located behind the major buildings. The outbuildings include 3 garages, a summerhouse, a playhouse, and a studio. The other new building was the Quinn Stand of the late 1940's, a small, 1-story ice cream stand, later converted to a dwelling. The Hancock Village Historic District was spared any further commercial development, when a new section of Route 202 bypassed the village in 1959. In 1975, the Town of Hancock acted to insure the future preservation of the village by creating a local historic district that encompasses all of the buildings included in this National Register Hancock Village Historic District, as well as four neighboring modern buildings not included in this district. Today, the village is quite well preserved and appears well protected from threats to its historic character.
In summary, the Hancock Village Historic District is notable primarily for its late-18th century and early-to-mid 19th century buildings in the Federal and Greek Revival styles, including many excellent houses, a superb Federal style church, and a fine transitional church vestry. The Hancock Village Historic District also has many pleasing vernacular buildings (houses, two stores, outbuildings and the grange hall), a few fine Victorian houses, a Victorianized school, a fine Victorian/Colonial Revival library, an interesting hotel that combines the Federal, Greek Revival, Victorian, and Colonial Revival styles, and one good early-20th century house. The later buildings add variety to what is basically a fine group of early New England buildings. The dominance of the early styles, traditional building forms, the gable roof, and white paint gives the village an architectural unity that combined with the high quality of many individual buildings makes Hancock an unusually attractive and pleasing early New England village.
(At this point, we should consider the contributing Historic District properties that would not normally be allowed on the National Register. These would include the town cemetery, two buildings used for religious purposes (the Hancock Meetinghouse and the Congregational Vestry, and six moved buildings (the Whitcomb Store, the Wilkins-Wilds House, the Bandstand, the District No. 1 Schoolhouse, the Hancock Meetinghouse, and the Davis-Titus House. All of the buildings and the cemetery are integral parts of the Hancock Village Historic District. The buildings line the Hancock Village Historic District's streets and are essential parts of the streetscapes. Three of the buildings (the Hancock Meetinghouse, the Bandstand, and the District No. 1 Schoolhouse, stand on the Common, one of the most important elements of the Hancock Village Historic District. The cemetery is actually one of the oldest features in the village, dating from the 18th century. The cemetery has marked the west end of the Common and of the village since their establishment, for from its beginning, one of the main functions of the Common was to provide a burying place. The two religious properties, the Meetinghouse and the Congregational Vestry derive their primary significance for their architectural character. Indeed, they rank among the finest buildings in the Hancock Village Historic District. The 6 moved buildings are also included for their architectural significance. Indeed, 4 of these buildings, the Whitcomb Store, the Wilkins-Wilds House, the District No. 1 Schoolhouse, and the Davis-Titus House, were remodeled, sometimes completely, as in the cases of the Schoolhouse and the Davis-Titus House, after their moves, so that their present architectural significance postdates the moves from their original locations.)
William W. Hayward, The History of Hancock, New Hampshire 1764-1889, (Lowell, Mass.), p.95.
Bryant F. Tolles, Jr., New Hampshire Architecture, (Hanover, N.H., 1979), p.112.
"Annals of the Town" (manuscript, Hancock Historical Society, Hancock, N.H.).
Samuel Chamberlain, Six New England Villages, (New York, N.Y., 1948).
Orland Eaton, "History of Hancock" in D.H. Hurd, ed. History of Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, (Philadelphia, Pa., 1885).
Dorothy Grim, untitled notes (manuscript, David Ruell, Ashland, N.H.).
Dorothy Grim, Hancock Walking Tour, (Hancock, N.H., 1984).
Hancock History Committee, Hancock, New Hampshire, 1779-1954, In Commemoration of the One Hundred Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Incorporation of the Town, (Peterborough, N.H., 1954).
Hancock History Committee, The Second Hundred Years of Hancock, New Hampshire, (Canaan, N.H., 1979).
William W. Hayward, The History of Hancock, New Hampshire, 1764-1889, (Lowell, Mass., 1889).
Thomas B. Rhines, "Summary of Hancock Town Meeting Actions Pertaining to Streets and Roads" (manuscript, Hancock Historical Society, Hancock, N.H.).
Eleanor Scott, untitled notes (manuscript, Frederic and Virginia Gleason, Hancock, N.H.) Bryant F. Tolles, Jr., New Hampshire Architecture, An Illustrated Guide, (Hanover, N.H., 1979).
Town History Committee, A Prelude to Hancock's Second Hundred Years, (1976).
Town of Hancock, Hancock Historic District Ordinance, (Hancock,N.H.,1975).
Nancy West, "Historical Statistics in Memory" (manuscript, Hancock Historical Society, Hancock, N.H.).
Photographic Collection, Hancock Historical Society, Hancock, N.H.
Correspondence, Edward Burtt to David Ruell.
Correspondence, Edward Burtt and Gloria Neary to David Ruell.
Correspondence, Dorothy Grim to David Ruell.
Correspondence, Gloria Neary to David Ruell.
Interview, Dorothy Grim by David Ruell, February 25,1987.
Interview, Thomas B. Manning by David Ruell, February 25,1987.
J. Chace Jr., Map of Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, (Boston, 1858).
Arthur W. Dudley, "Plan of Hancock, N.H. Made for the Hancock Water Works 1906" (manuscript, Hancock Town Offices, Hancock, N.H.).
Arthur W. Dudley, "Plan of Hancock, N.H. Made for the Hancock Water Works 1907" (manuscript, Hancock Town Offices, Hancock, N.H.).
D.H. Hurd & Co., Town and City Atlas of the State of New Hampshire, (Boston, 1892).
"A Plan of the Town of Hancock," dated May 30,1806, in "New Hampshire Town Plans," volume 2, item 123, (manuscript, New Hampshire State Records and Archives Center, Concord, N.H.).
‡ David Ruell, Hancock Historical Society, Hancock Historic District, Hancock, NH, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Bennington Road • Hosley Road • Main Street • Norway Hill Road • Norway Pond Lane • Route 123 • Route 137 • School Street • Stoddard Road