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…