The small town of Hancock, New Hampshire, is a classic working New England village which is also a time machine into the past. By “working” I mean that it is more than just a New England show piece. Most of the buildings that line its Main Street are on the National Registry of Historic Places, and it has all the necessary prerequisites of a lovely New England
village: an iconic white Meeting House, a village green with the required war memorial and gazebo, and a classic old country inn. But a stroll down Hancock’s informal walkways reveals an active community with the emphasis on life and social interactions and it even has a 10-story tall radio telescope (I’ll let that settle in for a while). Hancock is located North of Peterborough, NH, at the intersection of routes 136 and 123. It is a bit of a drive from my home near the Vermont border, but I love exploring the town center and the countryside whenever I can. In my travels photographing throughout the Monadnock Region and Southern Vermont I feel I have come to know a great deal about my home territory, but whenever I choose to focus on an individual community I am always surprised by how much more there is to learn. That has certainly been true of my explorations around Hancock.
For more images of Hancock, check out my blog Hancock Photo Album.
Hancock was first settled in 1764 and was incorporated as a town separate from Peterborough in 1779. The town was named after John Hancock who was the first governor of Massachusetts and the president of the Continental Congress. He was also a successful business man, a notorious smuggler and the most attention seeking signer of the Declaration of Independence. Hancock owned over 1800 acres in Hancock, but otherwise devoted little attention to the town. Inexplicably, the village folk kept the name, although there were rumblings about a switch to “York.”
Hancock is a great place for New England photography in all seasons with opportunities both in its village center and the lovely surrounding countryside. Let’s explore.
The majority of the historic building in Hancock’s center are compactly arrayed along its Main Street.
Hancock Meeting House
The Hancock Meeting House was built in 1820 and has recently been undergoing extensive renovations. The tower has an original 1820 Paul Revere bell which weighs over 1000 lbs. and continues to toll hourly day and night. The Meeting House can be nicely pictured from across the town green, along the street or from across Norway Lake which sits at its back. Happily there are many angles that are not scarred by ugly wires. Some years ago the town voted to bury the wires in key locations. Thank you, thank you! You may still need to wait for parishioners or pesky workmen to move their vehicles for the classic perspectives, but that is the price of an active, vibrant community. The Meeting House tower has an original 1820 Paul Revere bell which weighs over 1000 lbs. and continues to toll hourly day and night.
Listen to the Hancock Meeting House’s Paul Revere Bell
Read about the caretaker of the Meeting House clock from Yankee Magazine.
The small village green is across the street from the Meeting House. The green features a classic gazebo and a war memorial with the names of residents who served in conflicts dating back to the French and Indian War. Photographically, angles can be found which include the features of the green with the Meeting House in the background and right now there is the bonus of a colorfully illuminated Christmas tree in the gazebo.
The Hancock Inn
The Hancock Inn is the oldest original inn operating in New Hampshire. It was opened in 1789 by Noah Wheeler and served travelers with food, accommodations and of course libations. Over the years the inn has seen over 15 owners and has been known as: the Fox Tavern, The Jefferson Tavern, Patten’s Tavern, the Hancock House, the Hancock Hotel, and the John Hancock Inn. Franklin Pierce, the only U.S. President from New Hampshire, was a good friend of one of the inn keepers and spent many nights at the Inn when he was a US Senator. The Inn’s history and tradition of hospitality is now warmly maintained by Jarvis and Marcia Coffin who bought the Hancock Inn in 2011, and have supervised a couple of important renovations. The inn
now is a wonderful mix of modern accommodations and classic old New England charm. Each room is uniquely decorated with period furnishings and many have unusual wall paintings and stenciling. In the Amos Porter room you can see the restored, full room mural (circa 1825) by the artist, inventor and journalist Rufus Porter. Whether in the dining room or tavern the inn offers wonderful food. On a recent visit I had an especially sumptuous Pumpkin Soup and I enjoyed meeting the owner’s Golden Retriever as he went on his evening rounds carefully searching for any treats that might have accidentally found their way to the floor.
The Hancock Inn is beautiful inside and out, but photographically it can be a challenge. The facade is often blocked by parked cars, but there is much to see in the details along the wonderful front porch. Don’t forget the inside as well. Time permitting, the friendly staff will be proud to take visitors on a tour of this wonderful example of traditional New England warmth and hospitality.
Across the road from the Inn is the Hancock Market. Locally owned, the market has a surprisingly broad selection of local products as well as all the other staples that you would expect in a classic New England country store. Of course, while you are there or at the Inn you should remember to pick up a few copies of my New England Reflections Calendar.
Fiddleheads Cafe is a great place for a quick snack or lunch. You can also pick up something to bring home for dinner. The Cafe displays local art on its walls. While I was getting caught up on Hancock for this article, I stopped by Fiddleheads and got signed on again for a show of my work starting on December 22 and continuing until January 19th, 2015. Just one more reason to visit.
To fully appreciate the special character of Hancock’s center, it is necessary to take the time to slowly stroll its Main Street. The houses, alone or in combinations, make wonderful subjects for photography. Almost all of the structures are on the National Registry of Historic Places and by concentrating on the classic buildings and their detail, the modern world can be made to melt away and you can step into New England’s classic past.
Pine Ridge a Cemetery
Pine Ridge Cemetery is located west of the Hancock Town Offices and is the oldest cemetery in the town. A stroll through the grounds reveals the stories of many of the town’s earliest settlers as well as many revolutionary and civil war veterans.
Hancock’s attractions go far beyond its Main Street. The town has abundant farm land and wild areas. It has a number of lakes and ponds including Nubanusit Lake to the west and Powder Mill Pond on the east. At just over 2,000 feet, Skatutakee Mountain is its highest point. Photographically Hancock is a great place in which to allow yourself to get lost as you wander down its many winding back roads, but for a more structured natural experience you can head to the Harris Center for Conservation Education.
The Harris Center
Since 1970 the Harris Center has been dedicated to environmental education, conservation research and land preservation. Every year their school-based educational program collaborates with schools throughout the Monadnock Region to provide environmental education experiences for students both in the classroom and in the natural world. The Center is also a local land trust which has been responsible for the conservation of over 21,000 acres as part of a 33,000 acre “Supersanctuary” of clustered protected land in 8 towns. The conservation lands provide critical wildlife habitat while a system of hiking trails promotes a sense of connection to the land for the members of the community. Come by the Harris Center’s headquarters for more information about their programs and to pick up trail maps.
County Covered Bridge
What’s a New England village without a covered bridge? The County Covered bridge was built in 1936 and connects the towns of Hancock and Greenfield across the Contoocook River.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory
A Window on the Universe
As I was doing my research on Hancock, I came upon a reference to the town’s nearly 10-story tall radio telescope. What! Yes, Hancock is home to a giant radio telescope which is one of ten dishes scattered across the United States, stretching 5,000 miles from Hawaii to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The “Very Long Baseline Array” is the largest astronomical instrument in the world. When the signals from all ten telescopes are coordinated, it acts like a single dish nearly equivalent to the diameter of the earth and can focus on a point in space no larger than the size of a football sitting on the moon. The VLBA gives scientist the opportunity to study many aspects of the far reaches of our universe, including the nature of black holes and the process of planet formation in distant galaxies. Closer to home it helps to pinpoint the location and behavior of potentially threatening near earth asteroids, and the positions of the telescopes are so precisely known that they are used to monitor continental drift. All this from Hancock.
The telescope is located on land leased from the Sargent Camp in a small clearing in the woods off of Windy Row. The observatory is easily approachable down a short dirt road. On my first visit the station operator was leaving for the day, but he invited me into the fenced area for a closer look. At that time the dish was in its upright resting position, but on another visit I was able to watch it move as it oriented toward a new observational coordinate.
That’s Hancock, New Hampshire, a time machine which allows visitors to look back on our nation’s colonial past, but also provides a glimpse beyond to the origins of our Universe. What a deal! Drop by sometime and don’t forget to bring your camera.
The Very Long Baseline Array, National Radio Astronomy Observatory
~ Jeff Newcomer