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Around And About Addison County-Hancock

Tuesday September 2, 2008

By M. Stuart Parks

    Hancock is the most southeasterly town in Addison County.  It was Granted in 1780 and Chartered on July 31, 1781 by the State of Vermont to Samuel Wilcox and one hundred and twenty-nine associates. It originally contained 23,040 acres but in 1834 and again in 1847 small pieces were given to Rochester.  

    The village sits astride Route 100 which is considered by many to be the most scenic highway in Vermont.  Arriving in Hancock from the south one has the perception that it is a sleepy little village in a narrow little valley with not much going on.  In reality, Hancock climbs the mountains to the west and goes right over the top of Middlebury Gap to below the Middlebury College Snow Bowl.  The Snow Bowl is the third oldest ski area in Vermont and is one of the only two remaining college owned ski areas in the eastern United States.  The other is Dartmouth in New Hampshire.  

    On the way up the mountain it claims the Texas Falls Recreation Area, a beautiful forest retreat with a mountain stream coursing between rock walls, with picnic tables and facilities.  Closer to town is Camp Killooleet, a traditional camp for boys and girls ages nine to fourteen.  The camp has been serving children for over seventy years.  At the junction of routes 100 and 125 stand the Hancock Hotel which has been in existence since before 1800.  The town boasts other lodging places also.

    Historically, settlement was begun in the town in 1788 by Joseph Butts of Connecticut and Daniel Claflin and John Bellows from Massachusetts.  By the 1790 Vermont Census the following families were living in town:  John Bellows, Isaac Boardman, Esech Butts, Joseph Butts, Noah Cady, Daniel Claflin, James Claflin, J. Dowling and Eliphelet Farnum.  With their wives and children the total population numbered sixty-four.  By 2000 the population had grown to 382.

    Even though only a small amount of the town's land area lent itself to cultivation,
the soil was good and the early settlers produced wheat, oats, buckwheat, Indian corn, hay and potatoes.  Not to be forgotten, of course, were maple syrup and wool.  The timber on the high lands was mostly spruce and hemlock with stand of beech, maple, birch and oak.  There are historical accounts of Hancock farmers bringing their grain to Middlebury to be ground which entailed a three day journey; one day to come over the mountain, one day to get the grain ground and one day to return home to Hancock.  This meant camping out two nights along the way.

    In the early days there was little cash money so the town took care of building a school by requiring its citizens to contribute bushels of wheat at harvest time and appointed a person to sell the wheat for materials.  Then the town “taxed” the citizens by requiring that they work to build the school.  The town cemetery, or 'burying ground' was also prepared in this fashion.  

    The West Branch of the White River  rises on the mountainside west of the village and provides drainage for the valley and the town.  The White River is one of the last free-flowing rivers in the State of Vermont and is important to the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program.  The White River Watershed, of which Hancock is a part, is a Special Focus Area of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because the watershed provides habitat for juvenile Atlantic salmon.  

    The town has little or no industry such as manufacturing.  Until 2007 Hancock had a plywood factory that, at its peak in 1969, employed 180 people.  The plywood business had been struggling for some years prior to that and the plant had been owned by several different companies culminating in a bankruptcy and auction.  The property was bought by a local businessman who planned to employ about 10 people in his business and hopefully open space to other businesses.  In the meantime a fair number of people drive over the mountain every day to work in Middlebury and quite likely also south to Rutland.  But at least they no longer have to do it with a wagon and horses!


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