Hancock Town History

A Brief History of Hancock, Maryland Provided by the Hancock Historical Society (Part 1)

Hancock is an ancient settlement that was once on the frontier edge of Maryland. Early maps done by Winslow and Mayo show European settlers here by the 1730's. One of the most noted of these was Charles Polke, "Indian Trader of the Potomac." Polke's great-grand-nephew James Knox Polk would later become the eleventh President of the United States.[1] Charles Polke's trading post was located in an area that is now a part of the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historic Park, just south of West Main Street in Hancock. It is currently a park area and boat ramp maintained by the U.S. Park Service called "Little Tonoloway." The site of Polke's post is believed to have been in an area just to the west of this park.[2]

Like any colonial village worth-its-salt, we also had our visits from George Washington. In his journal written at age fifteen, while he was learning the trade of surveying, we find these entries recorded during March of 1747:

Sunday 20th, finding y. River not much abated we in y. Evening Swam our horses over and carried then to Charles Polks in Maryland for pasturage till y. next morning. Monday 21st, We went over in a canoe and travell'd up Maryland side all y. South Branch about 40 Miles from Polks I believe y. Worst Road that was ever trod by Man or Beast. [2]

Washington, whose family owned property in nearby Bath, VA (now Berkeley Springs, WV) was a visitor again according to his journal entry of August 30, 1769: Old Mr. Flint dined with us, and again on September 4th: Rid to Potomac where my horses were from thense to Mr. Flint's and the Pennsylvania line, and returned to dinner. Joseph Flint was also an Indian trader. The original log structure known as "Flint's Chance," that was visited by George Washington, has been embellished by additions through the years and now stands as a stately manor house owned by the Cohill family. Twentieth century President Franklin D. Roosevelt is reputed to have also been a guest of the Cohill family hospitality. [3]

As an outpost on the frontier, the area known as "Tonoloway Settlement" was subject to the ravages of Indian raids. At the height of these raids, Maryland Provincial Governor Horatio Sharpe ordered a series of forts to be built along the Potomac. In 1755, Lt. Thomas Stoddert, with a crew of 15-20, was sent out to build a stockade fort in the "Tonoloways" (now Hancock). It was completed by July of 1755. In 1756, the stone fortress "Fort Frederick" was completed twelve miles to the east, and Fort Stoddard was abandoned. Letters preserved from the era depict a gruesome picture of the massacres that occurred in the areas surrounding these forts. [4]

By the time of the Revolutionary War, the settlement boasted some twenty odd houses. Many names have been associated with the general area - Tonoloway Settlement, Northbend, and William's Town among them. It is generally held that the name Hancock derived from Edward Joseph Hancock Jr., who operated the ferry here prior to his enlistment in the 8th Pennsylvania regiment. After the war, Hancock migrated to Wayne County, Indiana.

As the National Pike was extended westward (circa 1818) the town boomed as stagecoach inns, liveries, and blacksmith shops dotted the Main Street. One inn, The Barton House, was host to such notables as Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay and Davy Crockett, according to a Harper's Weekly article.

The next growth spurt came with the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which ran from Georgetown in Washington D.C. to Cumberland, MD, a total of 184.5 miles. It reached Hancock by 1839. Hancock boasted two business districts, one on Main Street (or Baltimore Street) and the other on Water Street. Wharves extended from the various warehouses to take trade directly to or from the canal boats. P. T. Little's warehouse was one of the largest of these. While digging the C&O Canal, argillaceous magnesium limestone was discovered about three miles west of Hancock. A mill was constructed on the site (circa 1838-39). It operated as Shafer's Cement Mill, and later as Round Top Cement. By the Civil War it was Hancock's largest employer. There were eight kilns built into the side of the mountain that were used to burn the limestone to powder. The kilns and the foundations of the mill are still visible from the C&O Canal towpath and the new Western Maryland Rail Trail. [5]