The Hancock Inn, New Hampshire’s Oldest Inn
The Hancock Inn is the oldest inn in the state and one of the oldest bed and breakfasts in New England. In continuous operation since 1789, it remains true to its origin. Our Hancock Inn is filled with colonial-style furniture, many antiques from New England, and paintings and curios “of the period.”
The Inn was built by Noah Wheeler shortly after the town was incorporated. It was the first in the area to offer accommodations along with food and beverages. The Inn became a center of social life after it was purchased by David Patten in 1830. Patten was a state senator and served on the governor’s council. His close friend, Franklin Pierce (then a US Senator) was a frequent guest at the Inn. Pierce went on to become the only President of the United States to hail from New Hampshire!
Today guests can relax and enjoy the historic ambiance in guestrooms with modern amenities, including central air, private bathrooms – some with whirlpool tubs and one with a two-person Jacuzzi.
In the winter, you will find guests relaxing in the Tavern and Dining Room in front of the large wood-burning fireplaces – while in the summer most folks kick back on the front porch in one of the old-fashioned wooden rocking chairs.
The Town of Hancock, New Hampshire
Nestled in the heart of the Monadnock Region, Hancock is a lovely vacation spot in Southwestern NH. Our bed and breakfast is named after the man whose most memorable signature graced the Declaration of Independence.
Founded in 1779, much about the village remains the same today. The “downtown” area is meticulously groomed and maintained. Every building on Main Street is listed on the national Register of Historic Places. Instead of cement sidewalks, there are meandering gravel pathways leading from house to house. Everything is “walkable” here – the country store, the church, the town square, the beach, the grade school.
A short stroll down from the Inn will take you to the red brick Vestry, the white-steepled Meeting House that is home to Paul Revere’s #236 bell – which chimes on the hour, all day and night. Proceeding with your tour, you will come to the town’s original schoolhouse and the local cemetery with its untold tales and hand-carved stones. Your walk will end at Norway Pond where children and adults enjoy swimming and boating during the summer and ice-skating and ice fishing during the winter.
In the summer, weekly concerts are held at the town gazebo – just across from the Vestry.
The Harris Center – a nature preserve – lies about 5 miles from Hancock’s center. There one can find a nature center and trails ranging from “easy” to “difficult.” About a half an hour down the road lies Mount Monadnock. There are numerous trails that ascend to the Summit – this climb is NOT for the faint of heart!
The town of Peterborough is just to the south of Hancock. Peterborough was the model for Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town.” Today it is home to quaint coffee and gift shops. The MacDowell Colony, the oldest artists’ colony in the United States, is located in Peterborough, but is only open one day every year to visitors.
History of the Inn
When our historic bed and breakfast began offering accommodations and meals to travelers in 1789, George Washington was in his first year in office and the Revolutionary War had ended just six years before.
It was against this backdrop that Noah Wheeler came to Hancock in 1787. Roads were being built then and with them grew a lively rum trade to service travelers. Although a number of taverns were established in the town, Mr. Wheeler was the first in town to have thought of offering accommodations. In 1789 he moved into the village and opened a tavern/hotel, the same establishment we now know as, the Hancock Inn!
There is no true record of the Inn’s original name, but it became known as the Fox Tavern when it passed into the hands of Wheeler’s son-in-law, Jedediah Fox. Mr. Fox ran the Inn successfully until 1829, but it reached its heyday after David Patten, whom many referred to as Squire Patten, purchased it. Squire Patten was a one-time state senator and had served on the governor’s council. His close friend, Franklin Pierce, then a US Senator who was destined to become the only US president from New Hampshire, was a frequent guest.
Jefferson Tavern, or Patten’s Tavern, as it was sometimes called, was known far and wide for its food, especially its broiled steaks, and its balls and dances, which were frequented by the aristocracy of the region. Since there were no stoves, all food was prepared over a fire. It is said that Squire Patten put in fifty cords of the best rock maple each year for the tavern and personally cooked all the meats. Of the culinary arts, such as they were, Squire Patten was considered a “master.” It was his custom to place roast turkey, goose, or roasts of beef on the table whole. The guest seated nearest the roast would carve and serve other guests while a table girl would serve pies, puddings, and preserves. Squire Patten would pass through the dining room urging diners to have another helping of roast. When the first cook stove was installed (after James Buchanan was elected President in 1857), Squire Patten celebrated with a grand ball and sumptuous banquet that was attended by the elite of New Hampshire.
There was a ballroom located on the second floor. It was heated by fireplaces and lighted by tallow candles suspended by crude chandeliers. Sounding bottles, made of thin blown glass, were concealed above the ceiling to accentuate the music provided by two violins and a viola. While dancers’ feet tapped out cotillions above, a feast was prepared downstairs. At midnight, it was served on tables laden with food.
During Jedediah Fox and Squire Patten’s ownership, coach traffic continued to increase. Large six-horse teams drew immense wagons with large wheels and broad iron tires carrying great quantities of country produce from northern Vermont to Boston. On the return trip, the teams carried molasses, flour, salt, and rum. The Forest Line Stage also passed through town with large Concord coaches drawn by four or six-horse teams carrying fifteen to twenty passengers. It was the custom of the coach drivers to show off their skill when approaching town. Consequently, the horses would arrive in front of the tavern in great style prancing with heads held high. While a fresh team was being hitched, travelers were invited to attend one of Squire Patten’s famous dinners, all for only twenty five cents!
Squire Patten continued to manage the Jefferson Tavern until his death in 1875, when John Freeman Eaton, who re-named it the Hancock House, acquired it. Eaton found the inn to be “one devilish clutter of buildings” and proceeded to tear down fourteen of them! He added a new, third story on the main house, a large new ell, and enlarged the stable. The new ell provided room for a large kitchen, pantries, laundry, and fuel space on the ground floor and a large new dance hall on the second floor. This new dance hall was considered one of the largest and best in the region!
During Eaton’s ownership, the stage line began to disappear, but cattle drovers took its place. When the cattle business was at its peak, large droves of cattle were driven over the roads from Massachusetts to the rich fields in New Hampshire for the summer. Many of the fences that remain in town are remnants of those days when gardens and shrubs had to be protected from herds of hungry cattle that passed through Main Street.
Eaton continued the tradition of holding balls and assemblies in the tavern. As many as one hundred couples would attend and, in winter, sleighing parties from neighboring towns would end their journey at the tavern with dinner and dancing. Eaton’s ownership also saw the advent of the railroad, the Boston and Maine lines, which stopped in town. Officials on the first “official” train stop came to the Hancock House for dinner.
Eaton sold the Hancock House in 1915. Then began a succession of owners, including Rudolph and Marie Stahl who bought the Inn in 1915. It was the Stahl’s who uncovered wall murals in one of the bedrooms that had been painted by the famous itinerant artist, inventor and journalist, Rufus Porter during the earliest days of the inn (when it was owned by Jedediah Fox). Later, stenciling by Hancock’s well-known stencil artist, Moses Eaton Jr, was discovered under layers of wallpaper in the chambermaid’s closet. As the two men were known to have worked together, it is likely that these were painted during the same time period – around 1825.
Modern improvements include phones in all the rooms, and guests enjoy a sprinkler system and an updated plumbing system today. Many of these improvements were not added until the early 1990s!