The Copper Empire hit its peak in the early 1910s, a time when employment and opportunity was at its greatest fervor in the region. This was a time before the great strike of 1913 would put a knife into the empire’s side and far before the Great Depression would stick a second into its heart. This was also a time when downtown areas of the region had reached a pinnacle of metropolitan flavor with grand masonry commercial blocks standing shoulder to shoulder along busy thoroughfares catering to hundreds of flourishing businesses. Yet like the empire itself, these downtowns would began to shrink and contract as the decades unfolded and the region’s fortunes became muted and diminished. To make matters worse was the constant threat of fire, which would periodically wipe portions of those downtowns off the map. And with the economy fluttering those missing commercial blocks were often never replaced, leaving large gaps in what was once a dense and packed street scape.
Thats why dense Copper Country commercial blocks are somewhat a rarity today. Economic stagnation, population declines, and the scourge of fire have damaged the integrity of the region’s commercial centers. No where is this fact more true than along the sprawling downtown of Hancock, where massive holes and vacancies within the streetscape have taken a heavy toll on the town’s architectural integrity over the years. That’s why what can be found along the city’s first block – its 100 block – is so unique and impressive. Here is a streetscape that is almost completely intact, save for just one missing and one replacement structure out of over seventeen existing commercial blocks. It’s a density only Houghton can muster, and it’s an impressive sight for those entering Hancock’s downtown for the first time.
Over a century ago this block was not so dense of course. Back then Hancock was in its adolescence and most of the structures to take up residence along its Main Street were simple wood framed structures. As time progressed, however, masonry business blocks began to crop up along the way. Some of the earliest of these were erected by the town’s more prominent – and successful – businessmen: Edward Ryan and Peter Ruppe. Both these men were in the general merchandise trade, and both would erect masonry blocks to sell those goods along the first block of Quincy Street. In the ultimate form of competition they would erect their stores directly across from each other. Those stores take up prominent position in the 1890 era photo seen above, beginning a trend that would only accelerate as the new century approached.
Nearly a decade later and another view of the scene brings to view even more grand commercial blocks. To the left sits the same Ryan Store we noted earlier, but now those wood-framed buildings which neighbor the store have gained new and improved exteriors themselves. Another half a decade later and this view would be further enhanced by the inclusion of the Scott Hotel at its far end – bringing Hancock comfortably into the realm of a modern metropolis.
Today that metropolitan view continues, the streetscape almost unchanged since its pre-twentieth century roots. Though their facades are a little worn and their gleam a bit dulled, the old business blocks that greeted residents a century ago do so still today. Anchoring the view at its left is the two story brick facade of the old Ryan Store while down the way we find a collection of additional century old commercial blocks including the old Waara building, the Wielder Block, the Ongie building, and the Hancock Evening Journal building.
We begin our tour at the opposite end of the block, starting up where we last left off at the old First National Bank Building. The sandstone and brick veneered structure standing to the right in the photo above dates back to at least 1888. Back then the building housed a grocery store, but would later gain notoriety for being home to the offices and printing presses of the Hancock Journal Company. The company would publish a daily newspaper (except for Sundays) under various names for several decades around the turn of the century. Originally the company had its headquarters in a squat building up the street on the corner of Reservation, but would later move here after the erection of the neighboring First National Bank building destroyed that original home. Unfortunately the old news building has suffered from a modernization effort that greatly altered its front facade – a facade that at one time featured a second floor balcony.
Next door to the old newspaper building stands a slightly larger two story wood framed structure that was most recently home to a flower shop. That’s fitting considering one of the building’s original tenants was also a florist, housed here around 1907. A second storefront within the building was home to a small furniture store. By 1917 the entire building would become home to Oscar Ongie’s Cigar and Tobacco Shop.
Next up we find one of the 100 block’s regal brick buildings. This is the Wielder Block, a building originally built to house the Wieder Harness Company. Benjamin Wieder was brought to America when he was just three years of age, having originally been born in Germany. He would grow up in Cleveland before moving to Hancock around 1863. In 1867 he would start his harness and buggy shop in a two story wood framed building located at this very spot. He would end up garnering good business, eventually allowing him to replace that original structure with a prestigious brick and sandstone structure around 1892. Unfortunately the regal building would receive a modern facade “improvement” later in its life greatly altering the first floor storefronts with a large shingle clad overhang.
Even without the modernization efforts the Wieder Block isn’t a particularly interesting building, its brick facade only marginally adorned. It does however feature some nice sandstone arches above its second floor windows along with a rather embellished cornice which today is showing a bit of wear and tear. The building would continue on under the Wieder name for many decades, even after the age of the automobile had made harness making an obsolete endeavor. Wieder would adapt to the changing world he found himself in, however, transitioning his business into a tire shop in its later years. Today the building is continuing its vehicular tradition as the home to a Bike and Motorsports shop.
Adjoining the Wieder Block stands a similarly sized building that was also an upgrade to an earlier structure. This time, however, that facelift would consist of only a wood framed overhaul with no sandstone or brick to be found.
In some ways the original structure looked far better, as can be seen in the 1890 photo above. Here the building’s primary tenant is the George Nichol’s Pharmacy, with the smaller neighboring space to the right being home to Edward Waara’s watchmaking and jewelry shop. As the surrounding block transformed into a more modern commercial district the aging building was given a facelift to better fit into the new streetscape . After the transformation the pharmacy would vacate the building and the Waara Store would move into the larger space. The Waara Jewelry store would continue to call the building home for several more decades, become a staple of Hancock’s downtown offerings in the process.
Finally we arrive back to where we began, at one of the earliest masonry structures to arrive to Quincy’s 100 block. Built of stone and faced with brick this two story commercial block was home to a dry goods and general merchandise dealer operated by Irish businessman Edward Ryan. Ryan first arrived to the region in 1854 at the age of 14, working in the employ of Ransom Shelden for several years. After serving as Houghton’s sheriff for a term, Mr. Ryan took what he learned from Mr. Shelden and opened is own store across the pond in Hancock in 1862. By 1888 Ryan’s store had grown enough to warrant the erection of its own masonry business block – the same building seen above. Ryan would end up abandoning his old home around 1917 to concentrate on his growing Calumet satellite store.
Upon closer inspection the building shares many similarities to the Wieder Block down the street, though in reality the Wieder Block took its cues from this building since it was the first to arrive. Here we see upper floor windows graced with sandstone arches and a large cornice running along the building’s cap. Also seen here is the faint outline of a series of large white letters advertising one of the building’s later tenants – the Hancock Furniture Company. Despite what the name suggests, the store sold a variety of household goods in addition to furniture. After the furniture store departed an auto parts supplier moved in – now part of the nationwide Carquest brand.
Moving past the Ryan Block we find one last pair of smaller structures rounding out the block’s northern side. The one to the left is almost original to the block itself, having been originally built before 1888. That building’s left storefront was originally home to yet another dry goods store. During the dawn of the automobile era it would become home to the Siller Motor Company, a local Buick dealership run by the Siller family. The building’s main storefront would be converted into an open show space, where the newest Buick models would be put on display. Later the dealership would move away for expanded display space down the street. Today the dealership still exists and is known as Bruno Motors.
Next door stands a narrow brick veneered commercial block that for a time was home to another Cigar shop, this time one operated by the national chain Union Cigars Company. Union Cigars was famous for being part of the American Tobacco Company monopoly which dominated tobacco sales at the dawn of the 20th century. Today the store is a simple convenience store and Indian Trails bus center.
Next up we turn out gaze across the street to its southern side. Unlike the previous side of the block where a rather standard two story commercial block was the norm, here we find a collection of far taller structures meeting our gaze. We began our tour at the far end, next door to the previous featured Vitrolite clad 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.