Hancock’s precarious perch along the steep slopes of Quincy Hill greatly constrained the young village’s original platt. As such the only suitable space for building existed along a very narrow plateau sandwiched between a rugged cliff along the lakeshore and a increasingly steep topography to the north. It was a space that could only support a trio of east-west avenues – Hancock Street to the south, Franklin Street to the north, and Quincy Street between them. Connecting the village to its mine overseer perched atop the hill was a pair of rough wagon roads. The first connected the mine to its mill on the east end of town – a road that took a rather steep approach up the hill roughly paralleling the Quincy Ravine in which the mine’s tram road also ran. A second road took a far more leisurely route, making its way to the west towards the Hancock Mine property before climbing up the far less steep western flank of the hillside. These two routes were connected atop the hill at the mine site itself, while down in the young village they crossed paths a second time at an intersection that would become the de-facto head of Hancock’s commercial district.
In town these two wagon roads were known as Reservation and Quincy Streets, their intersection sitting at the far eastern end of Hancock’s original platt. Above we find that intersection in its earliest configuration (located just across from the fire hall) – about 1880. At this point Quincy street ended at Reservation, as the bridge crossing the adjacent Quincy Ravine had yet to be built. Instead the street stopped at the village’s first fire hall, a simple two-story wood framed structure built around 1875. Joining it were a pair of masonry structures occupying the other corners of the intersection – the Cardell Building at the south side of Quincy and the old Mining Journal Building on the north side. The Cardell Building would house the Holland & Cardell Hardware store before being given an impressive stone facade to become the first home of the Superior Savings Bank (now known as Superior National Bank). Across the street the Mining Journal Building housed Hancock’s early newspaper – the Northwestern Mining Journal. At the point the village was still in its infancy, and the Quincy / Reservation intersection was at its most mundane. Yet as the village expanded and grew from mining town to full-fledged city the intersection would grow in importance and stature as well.Fast forward several decades and we find an intersection of far more grandeur. This is a modern 20th century crossroads complete with trolley tracks, electric transmission lines, and most importantly a set of impressive soaring masonry structures framing the city’s now booming commercial center. To the south the old hardware store and bank building has been replaced by an incredible canvas of sandstone known as the Wright Block while to the north the newspaper office has been transformed into a three story brick and terra cotta opus known as the First National Bank building. This was the height of Hancock’s prestige, an image that continues to this day largely unaltered from what can be seen above.
The first of these monster masonry blocks to arrive to the corner was the First National Bank Building, originally built in 1888. That building was not exactly the same structure which graces the corner in the photo above, as originally the structure was only two stories in height and looked more similar to the drawing seen to the left.
As the name suggests the building was built to house the First National Bank of Hancock which resided within the corner storefront. The building’s chamfered corner featured a oversized pediment rising up from the roofline with the words “bank” spelled out in large letters.
Though impressive, the building was not nearly large enough to support the growing city around it. To meet demand the building received a major upgrade in 1903 with the addition of another 40 feet to its backside and a new third floor to its top. As a result the building’s original oversized cornice and “Bank” pediment would be removed, replaced with far less grandiose elements.
Here’s the new and improved First National Bank as it appeared after its alterations. While still a rather stately building, its third floor is missing all the architectural flare that frame the rest of the building’s facade. But what the building lost in charm it gained in rental space, which was far more important to its owners. In addition to its own bank lobby, the First National Bank building also featured a plethora of office space on its upper floors. Here the Northern Michigan Building and Loan Association takes up prominent position on the second floor, while doctors and lawyer offices along with office to the Hancock Mine also called the building’s expanded space as home.
Fast forward over a century and we find the old structure as she appears today. Today the building is known as the “Old” First National Bank Building, as the First National Bank would outgrow its offices here and have to build itself a brand new home (the “New” First National Bank Building) along Quincy further to the west around 1914. After the bank’s departure the old elaborate bank lobby became a library for a short time before being converted into another standard storefront. Meanwhile the Quincy-facing storefront was home to drug store and clothier before become home to the city’s Post Office for a time.
Though its banking roots are far removed from the building that graces Hancock’s main thoroughfare today, one can easily see the influence that such an institution had on the building’s rather ecclectic facade. When first built the First National Bank Building followed accepted guidelines for bank buildings of its era, namely its need to show a certain image of power, money, and stability. To promote such aspects the building’s architect elected to adorn the building with an almost gratuitous amount of architectural flare in the form of intricately carved ceramic accents.
Known as terra-cotta, these accents are most prominent along the building’s second floor windows. There these ornate lintels adorns their tops, while an accompanying terra-cotta frieze joins one window with the next.
Another similar terra-cotta frieze can also be spotted above the first floor windows. This one replaces the circular pattern of the upper frieze with a more angular motif.
Above the Quincy Street storefront we find a pair of these oversized pilaster caps anchoring both ends of an enlarged frieze spanned between them – more terra-cotta goodness.
But wait there’s more! Along the second floor we find within this brick-lined alcove more terra-cotta decoration, including another large window lintel and frieze. Here we also find a pair of oversized brackets, also built out of even more terra-cotta.
At the building’s unique chamfered corner we find a few more examples of our ceramic highlights including an interesting arched plaque with what appears to be a pair of dragons etched into its surface. Below that we find something surprisingly rare on this particular building – sandstone!
While terra cotta may be king on the First National Bank Building, there is at least one spot that features something a bit more classic. Around the old bank entrance we find a carved sandstone frame complete with a shallow pediment. Unfortunately time has not been good to these sandstone highlights, as they are heavily damaged by water erosion. This is an unfortunate condition often suffered by the maroon stone due to its sedimentary nature.
The “Old” First National Bank Building is a eclectic building to put it mildly. Its facade is a bit haphazard and undisciplined, hampered by a few missing elements and modern “updates”. Its third floor looks unfinished and hurried, while its terra cotta decorations seem overwhelmed by the buliding’s convoluted multi-facetted facade. While not having aged too gracefully, the old First National Bank Building continues to stand proud at the old wagon-road cross roads still today and serves as a reminder of Hancock’s more illustrious days.
Of course the building’s legacy isn’t helped by what sits just across the street. That’s because the First National Bank Building’s neighbor is nothing less then one of the grandest buildings to be found in the city – the Wright Block.
To Be Continued…
Information for this series was partially obtained from the book “Images of America – Hancock” by John S. Haeussler – local Hancock historian extraordinaire, fellow copper country enthusiast and good friend to CCE.