Downtown Hancock (p2)

Quincy Street’s 100 block grew quickly, forming a dense commercial corridor early in Hancock’s history. Most of that was due to location, as the block was bookended by a pair of relatively busy thoroughfares. To the east was the wagon-road connecting Quincy Mine’s mill and surface plant while to the west oddly named Tezcuco Street connected the city to a collection of docks and wharfs on shore – starting point for most visitors to the city. In many ways this western avenue was the more important of the two, which is probably why when Ryan and Ruppe erected their stores closer to Tezcuco then to the Quincy wagon road (now Reservation). In fact Tezcuco was such a high traffic road that a third store would rise along its route – this one home to another famous Copper Country businessman – Joseph Wertin.

Joseph Wertin hailed from the Slovenia, and first arrived to the Copper Country in 1864. He would get straight to work almost immediately, partnering with Peter Ruppe to open a general merchandise store in the young village of Hancock. The two would end up parting ways just a couple years later as Ruppe headed out to start his own enterprise down the street. Unfortunately in 1869 a massive fire would sweep through the village, destorying Wertin’s store and the entirety of its contents in the process. Undeterred Mr. Wertin would rebuild, financing new stock and a new store completely on credit. This new store would be placed at the head of Tezcuco Street, at the far western end of Quincy’s 100 block.


The Wertin Store can be seen off to the left in the photo of Tezcuco Street above.  The importance of Tezcuco Street is fairly evident here, considering the storefront faces that street and not neighboring Quincy. As the city grew and prospered that would change however. Wertin would end up abandoning his Hancock location for a more favorable one further up the peninsula in the booming town of Red Jacket. There he would partner with his sons, who eventually went into business on their own as the famous brothers of the Vertin Brothers Department Store.


Zooming forward through a century a time we take a current look at that same intersection, finding what appears to be the old Wertin building still intact and standing. This isn’t entirely the case, as a closer look at the current building’s facade reveals a good deal of differences in both layout and design. Most notably is the missing curved stone headers over the windows and the addition of the geometric brick design along its frieze, a feature not seen in the original building. Yet both buildings feature three windows along their second floor, and today we can still see where that first floor storefront once was though it has since been bricked in.


Walking around the corner we take another view of the mystery structure, this time along its Quincy Street facade. The building has obviously underwent some modern alterations, including the installation of smaller windows on its second floor and the glass block sills under the storefront windows. Considering the building is brick veneered I would postulate that the building underwent a facelift at some point in its life, an upgrade which rebuilt its exterior walls.

This alterations most likely happened during the building’s second life, where it was home to another Hancock icon – Kerredge Hardware. William Kerredge would move into the old Wertin Building and use the space for his hardware store around 1890. Nearly half a century later the store would move down the street into the Scott Hotel, then known as Hancock Hardware. The old building would end up in the hands of the Community Arts Center in 1995 – which has occupied the building ever since.


Looking past the old Kerredge Building and we find another long line of unbroken commercial buildings, similar to what was seen on the opposite side of the street.  This time, however,  we find buildings of far greater heights then what we came across previously, anchored by a trio of massive three story buildings. Closer up we find the three story Ruppe Building, which along with the Ryan Block across the street constituted the two earliest all masonry structures to grace Quincy Street’s 100 block. Further along we find the narrow three story Epstein Block, followed by a new addition and a pair of older wood-framed buildings that date back to the city’s youth.


Here’s another look at the same side of the street, though from an opposite angle. The year is about 1900, and the Wright Block can be seen off to the left. Next up are a pair of old storefronts that would be demolished to make room for the Wright Block’s later addition. After that can be found the Jennings and Mayworm buildings followed by the now missing Rourke Building and the old Epstein building which will later be replaced by the three story monolith seen today. Last we have hiding behind that second utility pole the three story edifice of the Ryan Building.


Standing alongside the expanded Vitrolite-encassed Wright Block are the first two buildings from that view that remain standing. The older of the two stands to the left, a building which originally graced the scene by 1888. Though today it houses a restaurant it was predominantly occupied by a millinery (hat maker) for most of its life. In 1917 that millinery was operated by a pair of sisters with the last name of Jennings. In addition to hats, the Jennings Sisters store also sold children’s dresses and suits along with “art needlework” and hair accessories. Next door stands a two story wood-framed structure erected around the turn of the century. It housed a jewelry store operated by F.C. Mayworm for many years, but for the past 30 years has housed a bridal shop.


Following up those older structures we find something a bit more modern, a building erected around 1927. This rather plain an uninspired brick veneered commercial block is all business, with not a drop of architectural flare to be seen. Originally the oriel fronted Rourke Building occupied this space, a hodgepodge of a building that housed a saloon and a restaurant during its short lifetime. It would end up being destroyed by fire around 1927, subsequently replaced by the building seen above.

The unfortunate replacement block was a far cry from the normal type of building to be found along this section of Hancock’s downtown. Such a fact is made even more obvious with the towering architectural gem that sits just alongside – the Epstein Block.


The Epstein Block is a tower of a building, its thin profile looking to be literally stretching itself into the sky. On the ground floor the building features a hearty facade of alternating smooth and rough faced sandstone while up on its two upper floors can be found an interesting juxtaposition of red and cream colored bricks which provide the building with a rather regal and stately demeanor. The building was built in 1906 replacing a far smaller and less hearty wood-framed structure that first occupied the space. The building’s first floor would become home to a five and dime store while its upper floors housed professional offices. Later the towering building would become more famous as the home to the Twin City Commercial College.

This private business school had its start down the street in the First National Bank building but an expanding student body forced the college to find a larger space. It was a search that brought the school to occupy the upper two floors of the Epstein Block around 1920. The school featured three full time faculty and had an enrollment of about 120 students who attended either night or day classes. Those students would learn basic business skills such as typing, penmanship, shorthand, and bookkeeping.

The school would end up going out of business and the old classrooms and offices of the Epstein Block would be subsequently converted into apartments. In 2009 a deadly fire would engulf the structure tragically killing four of its residents. The building was salvaged and was given a lengthy and expensive renovation – the results of which can be seen today.


Next up is another towering building, this one doing away with Victorian age ornamentation in favor of a more mission-style influenced brick facade. This interesting brick commercial block was built to house the mercantile firm of Peter Ruppe – an Austrian born businessman who first arrived to Hancock in 1864. After his arrival Mr. Ruppe partnered with Joseph Wertin who operated a store in the city for a couple years until Ruppe struck off on his own to form his own general merchandise business. Ruppe’s business would take off, and in short order the Austrian was able to build himself quite the expansive empire including a large warehouse and wharf at the base of Tezcuco Street along with this three story brick business block on Quincy Street.

The building is two-and-a-half stories in height, the upper half story set within the building’s tall gabled roof. The facade has been changed multiple times during the building’s long life. Originally its upper floors featured only a sprinkling of small windows similar to the pair of arched  openings found at the building’s top. Later as the business grew Ruppe opened up the second floor with the addition of two large floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows. Along the way a false front was added to the third floor which featured a pair of faux window openings designed to mimic the large windows found down on the second floor. This gave the building the illusion of being three stories in height even though in actuality it was only two.


The Ruppe empire would grow even further in the years ahead as a pair of satellite stores were opened in both Calumet and L’Anse. His Hancock store would survive up until at least 1917. Later it would be home to Miller’s Department Store. In its later years the building upper floor would be converted into apartments resulting in the closing off of those large plate glass windows with smaller and more energy efficient window openings. For the past twenty years the structure has been home to the Northwoods Trading Post – an outdoor sporting goods store.


Moving past the Ruppe Block and the already explored Kerredge Building we look out at the next block of Hancock’s main thoroughfare. This block looks fare different then what we’ve explored so far, its edges featuring a far less dense streetscape. The reason for that is fire, a constant scourge that has haunted Hancock for generations and shaped its commercial corridor into the scattered hodgepodge that it is today.

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. 


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One Comment

  1. It’s worth noting that the Epstein Block and the Scott Hotel were both saved by Mike Lahti, a leader in historical preservation and rehabilitation within not only Hancock but the Copper Country in general. Mike is also responsible for the Nichols/Waara building – which was also the de facto village hall until 1899 – included in the previous post. It now houses K.C. Bonkers.

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