The village of Hancock, New Hampshire, is certainly resplendent in autumn, and spring and summer show off the lush green of the common, and the full canopy of the many mature trees. A fresh coating of snow gives the place a Currier & Ives vibe in winter. But here in early November, though the leaves have nearly all fallen and the light is changing, this little town (population 1,650 or so) in the southwest corner of the Granite State is still a postcard in the making.
The town charter was granted on Nov. 5, 1779 and though it was named after that John Hancock of Declaration of Independence fame, dear John showed little interest in the emerging village despite having been among the original proprietors of its land. As William W. Hayward wrote in The History of Hancock, New Hampshire, 1764-1889: “…it was but natural that our fathers expected he (Mr. Hancock) would bestow upon the new town that had honored itself by adopting his name a substantial present. In this they were disappointed; and after soliciting him and his heirs, year after year in vain, they made an attempt to change the name of the town to York.”
Well, that didn’t fly. Hancock it remains today.
Almost every building along Main Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1820 meetinghouse is home to an authentic Revere & Son’s bell, which chimes on the hour, day and night. (What does it take to keep the bell chiming? Find the answer in “Caretaker of the Clock” by Howard Mansfield, published in Yankee’s Jan/Feb 2012 issue.)
Continuing up the road, Main Street Cheese is a rather new enterprise in the village—an honor-system shop. Follow the signs to the entrance alongside the red barn to find your way to the cheese room. Make your selection from the fridge and leave your payment. Then, who can resist a stroll out back to visit the kids?
At the Hancock Inn (c. 1789—the state’s oldest continuously operating inn) proprietors Jarvis and Marcia Coffin provide a warm welcome, whether you’ve just popped in for dinner, or have a room reserved for the weekend. Tavern fare or fine dining—the options are many. Choose from one of the most enticing servings of fish-n-chips this side of the Atlantic, to lamb, duck, sea scallops, and irresistible homemade desserts. Notice the many local connections to the menu: apples from nearby Norway Hill Orchard, cheese from the neighborhood shop, and beef and lamb from area farms.
Though steeped in history, the Hancock Inn’s amenities are modern and comfortable. Yet, the authentic charm of its heritage remains. Circa. 1825 wall murals were discovered during renovations in the early 1900s, credited to Rufus Porter, a traveling artist and journalist. Book the “Rufus Porter Room” and see them up close for yourself.
Rounding out the gems along Main Street is Fiddleheads Café. Come here to enjoy hearty entrée’s, hefty deli sandwiches and hot pressed panini’s, or soups, salads, ice cream, wonderful baked goods, and coffee anyway you like. Don’t feel like cooking when you get home? Bring a small cooler with you, and select your night’s dinner from the freezer case knowing it’s full of homemade goodness. And, let’s not forget the ever so convenient Hancock Cash Market. Clearly, it’s impossible to go hungry on Main Street.
Ready for some outdoor adventures? Visit the The Harris Center for Conservation Education, for hiking and snowshoeing trails. The East Side trails range from .5 to 1.5 miles or so and make for a pleasant excursion. The West Side trails can be over 4 miles, with enough climbing to assure you’ve earned dessert back at the Inn. The Center also organizes talks, classes, and various nature walks on site and throughout the region. Check their online calendar for a complete listing of current offerings.
Before heading out of town, make a stop at Sarah’s Hat Boxes. Their gorgeous showroom is housed within a modest brick building on Forest Road and features boxes of all sizes, made from recycled materials, and covered in beautiful fabrics. What better gift idea for those folks who seemingly have everything than a colorful, quality, made in New Hampshire box for storing their treasures? Boxes can hold knitting supplies, photographs, scarves, belts, keepsake cards and letters, crafting materials, or hats, of course…and so much more.
A stay in Hancock places you in the heart of the Monadnock Region and all it has to offer—a postcard perfect place to start and end your days.