Hancock House, an icon of colonial architecture
The Ticonderoga Historical Society for the last forty years has made the Hancock House, located at the Moses Circle, Ticonderoga, NY its home. Over those years one of the many recurring questions about the Society and the House ~ why here in Ticonderoga and how did the Society become its steward. Depending on the particular occasion the answer may have been stated with a brief overview, or in more detail if given as a formal presentation – say on the history of the building. In just a week’s time the Society will be celebrating the Hancock House’s 90th anniversary of its dedication here in Ticonderoga. So, to answer this question for those not familiar with its origins; or, as a “refresher” to others, we offer:
Our Hancock House is an enduring icon of historic preservation. With its construction beginning in 1925 it has been a reminder of its Georgian architectural heritage in America since the original Boston Manor was begun in 1736, making it prototypical in historical preservation.
From an architectural standpoint, the Hancock House is the most splendid of the mansions of Colonial New England. Until the building of the Boston Manor, the finest example of this sort of residence were the old planation houses in the south, where the owners were men of wealth and did not have to scrimp on their homes and their style of architecture was well adapted to southern colonial lifestyle. Unlike the south, the colonial architecture of the north reflected the severe taste resulting from the need for economy and an outgrowth of Puritan poverty and simplicity. The Hancock House was the exception to the rule and was probably the most architecturally advanced house of its time in the colonies.
Thomas Hancock, the original builder and owner, had obviously given every aspect of his house’s construction considerable thought. At the time he was planning the his Manor House Boston was the largest city in America; however, the Beacon Street area was undeveloped, it was in fact considered to be “way out in the country.” He must have had the intuition that this area would develop and chose a location with a beautiful view of the town, the harbor and surrounding countryside.
Construction began in 1736 and the house was first occupied in 1741. The floor plan was typical of a mid-century floorplans with the staircase hall bisecting the building front to back for the first two floors. The central block of the house was a rectangle 56 feet wide and 38 feet deep. (Later flanking wings were constructed.) The walls were of squared granite ashlar from Medford. The Medford granite was chosen for it’s quality of creating an illusion of changing color tones with different atmospheric conditions and weather, sometimes green, rose, or a deep warm gray. The granite was enhanced with details of Connecticut sandstone (brownstone) the very same sandstone that many years later formed the famous brownstone fronts of the houses in our eastern cities.
It was however the interior details that gave the house a pronounced elegance. Many of the parts were imported from England, the caps of the four pilasters, glass for the windows, wallpaper, Dutch tiles and many of the furnishings. The Colonial stairway with double twisted balusters of different patterns on each step was the first of its kind and first seen in the Hancock Manor.
(“In the great entry were displayed landscapes, prints and portraits. the work of American artists as well as foreigners was represented. Paintings by Badger, Smibert and Copely, Bostonians and near neighbors of the Hancocks, hung on the walls.” )
The House was located on one of several leveled hills of Boston’s heights (Beacon) on a five-acre plot. It is belived that Thomas Hancock consulted with John James, a well-known architect, who published books on the theory and practice of gardening. One of the ealiest flower garden references of 1736 concerns Thomas’ plans for flower gardens in a letter to a London nurseryman. He created an orchard filled with choice fruit trees, terraced gardens and through his import/export business ordered peacocks, squirrels, birds, fruits and flowers. And wrote –“Neither do I intend to spare any cost or pains in making my gardens beautiful.” (Gardens during this era were referred to as “Gardens of Pleasure.”)
The Hancock House’s status as a national architectural icon can also be attributed to, and stands as a great monument to the “Colonial Housewrights.” The attention to detail is responsible for the house being dubbed “The Wonder House.” The house’s exterior demonstrated architectural features such as a double pitched gambrel roof with carved modillions at the cornice, scroll pediment, ornate engaged columns and ornamental door head with an elaborate balcony. The sandstone was cut at Middletown, Connecticut, a small town on the Connecticut river. Word spread about the stone work for the wonder house, and drew a lot of attention because works of such an ornate fashion had never been seen in this region. After the construction of the Hancock Manor interest in the Middletown sandstone escalated and regional master carpenters translated the stonework of the Hancock Manor into wood. It serves as an example of how colonial craftsmen took old world styles and adapted them to local living conditions and surroundings, creating a style of their own.
Publicity Associated with Famed Owner
The Hancock Manor was more than just a building, it was a home. It has secured it’s pla