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!
- NH Writers: NH Poet Laureate Alice Fogel at 00:00AM, Wednesday 06 May 2015
- Nature on Tap: Tales from the Hancock Carcass Cam at 00:00AM, Wednesday 06 May 2015
- Music in Bass Hall: Asylum Quartet at 00:00AM, Saturday 09 May 2015
- History Weekend: NH cemeteries and gravestones at 00:00AM, Saturday 16 May 2015