City Center (p1)

The community of Hancock was given life by the Quincy Mine, whose agent Samuel Hill first platted the village in 1859. That original platt consisted of just 14 blocks, situated between the current streets of Reservation on the east and Montezuma to the west. In those early days the village center was located at the corner of Reservation and Quincy Streets, where the town’s first fire station and Post Office were located. As the mine prospered, the village was expanded to accommodate. That first expansion to the west included a large plot of land between Quincy and Franklin streets donated by the mine for the construction of the village’s high school.


The high school was a rather impressive three story wood-framed structure topped by a soaring cupola – seen in the 1880’s era sketch of the village above. This impressive structure replaced an earlier school building – known as the Union School – built along Franklin Street in 1869. The new high school was built in 1875, and would continue to serve the village up until its destruction by fire in 1922.

As Quincy continued to grow, the new school became too small for the influx of immigrant families, and a second building was erected next door to house the elementary aged students.  By the 1890’s the large platt of land on which these buildings stood became a focal point for the growing village, and had become its impromptu city center. The role became official when in 1898 the city’s first village hall was built just to the east of the school yard – at the head of Montezuma Street.


In the following decade this stretch of land along Quincy Street had matured and grown into the metropolitan view seen in the 1910s era panoramic seen above (click on the image to view the entire panoramic). By this time the sprawling village had divided itself up into two zones along Quincy Street. At the main avenue’s easter end – around the village’s original platt – congregated the village’s commercial district. Meanwhile the area around the school grounds became home to the community’s cultural centers – the public schools, several churches, a parochial school, the city offices, and even a Finnish College.  Hancock’s impromptu city center had become official.


This line of cultural entities begins at the head of Montezuma street – where the village’s town hall was erected in 1899. We’ve featured this building before in greater detail here on CCE, so for today we’ll just give it a quick passing. Originally Montezuma continued through this spot, meeting up with Franklin Street a block to the north. When the village hall was being planned available real estate along Quincy was almost non-existent, so it was decided that this section of road would be closed and the new village hall built in its place. It didn’t hurt, of course, that the village’s other public buildings were already located nearby.


Another benefit of such a location was the new village hall’s impressive  visual gravitas, thanks to its placement at the head of the wide roadway that was Montezuma. For a time this roadway was nothing more then an incredibly wide avenue, until a narrow medium park was established within its center and the road was divided in two. That tree-lined medium was part of the newly established Montezuma Park, which extended from city hall southward towards the Portage. Later the park was paved over to make room for the parking lot that exists in the spot today.


A portion of that old grassy medium still exists, however, located up along neighboring Quincy Street. Today it is occupied by very little save a few landscaped bushes and planters along with some picnic tables. The park’s main purpose seems to be the soldiers memorial set within the park’s center.


Unfortunately I failed to shoot the monument myself, but thanks to our time-traveling explorer Tom Roberts we get to see that monument as it existed about thirty years ago. The monument was originally erected in 1920 to honor those local soldiers who died in the Great War, only to find that there would be many more great wars to come and many more names to add.


Continuing southward past the park and past the adjacent parking lot and you find a large city park at the road’s southern end. Originally the wide avenue of Montezuma would have continued on down the hill here, making its way within yet another narrow gully cutting its way through the village’s platt. In time that gully would be filled in, the space along its top converted into a public green space. Thus around 1900 Montezuma Park was born.


For most of its life the park was nothing more then an empty lot with a band shell erected at its north-west corner. Over time the space was given further love and attention, adding a line of trees to its perimeter and a small playground at its southern end. A large rubble-stone bench was also added to the scene, most likely the result of yet another Depression-era works project. The need for the bench seems odd here but becomes clear when one turns around to take in the view both the bench and the park offers…


There the view opens up onto a grand panorama overlooking the Portage Valley and the Houghton waterfront beyond. The park was later connected to a major trail running along the waterfront by means of a tall wood staircase which winds its way down from the park to the trail below.


Sitting in the middle of the park sits this large concrete star, which today is filled with bushes. This may have been the original base of the Great War monument noted early, a monument that was placed in the park original around 1920 but was later moved to its current location across the street from city hall.


With the alignment of city hall and the two block length of Montezuma Park, the city of Hancock had unofficially received its impromptu “city center”. Though the city’s public and religous institutions would establish themselves throughout the growing city, a large portion of them would end up taking root in this narrow “L” shaped corridor in the center of the city. This institutions included three churches (a Catholic, a Methodist, and a Lutheran), two schools, the city’s main public park, and its city hall. After the destruction of the city’s original high school, even more green space was created in this area – creating a large public green space stretching three blocks in length.


Leaving Montezuma Park behind we head back up to Quincy Street to find another resident of the city’s center. Sitting next door to the village hall we find this impressive brick church. This is the First United Methodist Church of Hancock, originally known simply as the First Methodist.  It was begun in 1860, and has the distinction of being the village’s oldest church. Its first house of worship was a modest wood framed affair built at the north-east corner of Ravine and Hancock Streets, where the Best Western Inn currently resides . In the early 1900’s the congregation moved out of their old digs and erected this brick behemoth within the city’s up and coming cultural center.

Since then the old church has underwent numerous expansions, additions, and renovations – all of which have greatly eroded the church’s original gothic character. Today the church looks more brutalist then gothic, a design the looks to be a poorly executed modern facsimile of an old-school house of worship. But history just has not been kind to the old gal, as once she looked far more impressive then she does today.


A century ago the church looked like this – a far more impressive structure then its modern incarnation would seem to suggest was the case. Most damaging was the removal of the church’s battlements – notched parapet walls which once graced the top of the towers and the front facade.


A closer look at those towers would suggest something even more sinister once had befallen the old cathedral – as an entire face of the eastern tower is covered in corrugated steel. Perhaps a fire or lightning strike once struck the towers – resulting in both the removal of their battlements as well as the need for the new sheathing.


From behind we can see even more of that tower damage, as it looks like the entire rear of the west tower is also missing and now covered in more metal sheeting. You can also see the lower quality brickwork used along the church’s backside, a cost saving feature to be sure.



Moving on from the Methodist Church we continue westward along Quincy in search of the next buildings from our panoramic, the old Hancock High School and Elementary School. These however, are a bit more elusive to find then city hall or the Methodist Church…

To Be Continued…

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  1. Mike & Vic – Did the monument actually get moved? I’m wondering if the monument referred to is the one still standing at the north end of Montezuma Park. It’s just behind the flagpole in the fourth photo down. (The monument is across the street from City Hall. Facing south from Quincy Street, the flagpole is behind it.) I hadn’t heard about the possible moving of the monument before. Hopefully some other readers can chime in on this. I’d like to learn more about the star Mike has pointed out, too. There’s a great aerial view of it from the 1950s in the MTU Archives (MTU Neg 04126 – you might need a high res version to see it well). It’s a star surrounded by a circle, near the middle of the southern half (below Hancock Street) of Montezuma Park. As Mike has shown, it’s now hosting some bushes.

    1. I though the current monument up near the city hall could possibly be the one from the park, but since I didn’t get a picture of it and no longer liver nearby to check on it I’m not sure what that monument if for. Yet since that small park at the head of Montezuma didn’t exist in 1922 I doubt it was originally put there. Also my source noted the monument was placed in “Montezuma Park” specifically, which would place it somewhere in the actual park.

      I assumed it was moved after World War II and a new monument including those killed in both wars was probably added.

    2. The confusion here may simply be the definition of Montezuma Park. The City considers Montezuma Park as extending to Quincy Street. Hence the current monument (which is intended to contain Hancock’s honor roll for all conflicts) is in Montezuma Park. Specifically the northern half of Montezuma Park, which is largely a parking lot. That said, I have no idea when the monument was placed there. It’s not something that I’ve ever researched. If you know for certain that it wasn’t originally placed near Quincy Street then it remains a mystery. Presumably one that some long-time residents can shed light on.

    3. Sanborn maps – which I used to write the post – clearly define Montezuma Park as being between Hancock and Water Streets with a band stand at its north-west end – which would make the current parking lot just a road. However, Polk Directory defines Montezuma Park as between between Quincy and Water Streets, which would put the parking lot as part of the park. Also the Polk directory labels city hall as being across the street from Montezuma Park. So perhaps our monument across the street from the city hall is the 1922 memorial in question.

      Though if that is the case, it means that at some point in Hancock’s history the powers-that-be decided to pave over half of Montezuma Park and put up a parking lot.

    4. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. :-) It’s a city-owned property and the city concurs with Polk. So, if you extrapolate from your last paragraph, now that the tori (market) is no longer in the southern part of Montezuma Park, what’s to stop “the powers that be” from seeing it as a development opportunity right in the city center? I can’t remember the last time I saw anybody enjoying the park as a park. I had hoped that the Big Louie Moilanen monument erected last year would be placed in the southern part of Montezuma Park and, subsequently, the park could have been renamed Moilanen Park. (What did Montezuma ever do for the Copper Country?) Having a historical monument there would be a deterrent to development. The monument looks great outside of the Finnish American Heritage Center, but southern Montezuma Park remains underutilized.

  2. Mike – I like where you’re going with the “impromptu city center” and the two zones circa 1910 being divided by Quincy Street. Good stuff. I’ll play devil’s advocate and say that there were also a lot of churches and schools east of Montezuma, in what you’re calling the “commercial district.” St. Patrick’s Catholic Church was on Quincy, with its school somewhat behind it. The Twin City Commercial College was also developing on Quincy Street. (And, appropriately for a commercial college, in the “commercial district.”) Though not on Quincy Street, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Portage Lake Baptist Church, the First Congregational Church, and Sts. Peter and Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church and its adjacent school were all east of Montezuma as well. And at that time, just as today, there was a secondary (arguably to the chagrin of proprietors then and now) commercial district west of Mesnard and Ryan Streets on Quincy. Which in a roundabout way validates your city center concept, with commercial districts on each side. The churches, and to a lesser extent the schools (including the Edward Ryan School which was operating and the E.L. Wright school which was opening) , were spread out all over the city.

    1. Oops. The end of the first sentence should read “divided by Montezuma Street.” Sorry for the sloppiness.

    2. John…

      You are absolutely correct, there were numerous churches and public institutions outside my arbitrary “city center”. And you are also correct to note that various commercial districts popped up all across the city, to the west and along Hancock Street as well. For me the presence of both City Hall, Montezuma Park (the city’s only real public park at this time), and the city’s public schools made a compelling case for my generalization, though I know it is far from perfect. To be honest my assertion had more to do with creating a convenient “wrapper” around which to write my story (a way to organize the photos and information I had) then to argue a specific theory on Hancock’s development.

      But with that in mind I would argue two points. First the presence of both the Ryan and Wright schools outside of the city center is to be expected in a city the size of Hancock – all the schools couldn’t be within one block of each other. Also as far as the churches are concerned St. Paul’s was on Montezuma so I would consider it also in the city center, and only St. Patrick’s (which would be later absorbed by St. Joseph’s) was in that commercial district I note. You do have me on the other ones however, especially the two way out by the old Stamp Mill.

    3. Yeah, I don’t necessarily disagree with your “impromptu city center” designation. Just stirring the historical pot a bit. :-) There were plenty of churches to the west then, too, including the Swedish Lutheran Church and the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church (on Franklin St). Also the Norwegian Lutheran Free Church up on the corner of White and Finn. You could hardly kick a can in Hancock without hitting a church. I will disagree with Montezuma Park being the only real public park at the time. Driving Park was city owned and was hopping with activity. Horse races, baseball games, football games, air shows, etc, were all staged there but it would also have been available for a lot of “pick up” games, too. The city viewed it as the main public recreation area. (Arguably one of the best purchases the city council has ever made.)

    4. Hancock did have a good supply of churches, the 1917 Polk directly lists eleven within city limits – only three of which I would consider within my city center designation.

      I would hardly call the driving park “downtown”, considering its location far outside downtown and away from the streetcar service. I probably should have been more specific and noted that Montezuma Park was the only city park downtown, and thus was an important focal point for visitors and residents alike.

  3. Gotta get this in, too, because I’m hoping that someone can shed some light on the subject. I believe that the Franklin Street School aka the Union School has been misrepresented in virtually all histories of Hancock as being built in 1869. The building appears in pre-1869 photographs and survived the devastating fire of 1869. It’s possible that the building wasn’t utilized as a school until 1869, but I think it’s more likely that it was and its construction and origin as a school dates closer to 1863. I’d love to learn the real story here, but I’ve not yet been compelled enough to wade through 1860s newspapers and other publications in an attempt to learn the history. Anyone know? Thanks in advance.

    1. It may not be misinformation, Mike. It’s a situation with many possibilities. The school building is visible in pre-1869 photos and prominently visible in some of the immediate post-fire photos from 1869. Thus I’m convinced that the structure dates to earlier in the 1860s. But I can’t say for certain that it was a school before 1869. Some accounts written much earlier seem to feel that a lot of the school info was lost in the 1869 fire. That’s certainly possible, but based on the lack of availability of many records from later on (specifically the early 20th century), I think that many school records were also lost in the 1922 fire. Whatever the case, at some point in time Hancock lost it’s early public school history and has not yet regained it.

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