History Of Hancock
by Patricia Holbert Green
The Town of Hancock was once a vast forest land of virgin timber. Just previous to the Revolutionary War, members of the Wappingers, Esopus, Lenni Lenapi, and Mohawk Indian Tribes hunted the area. Title had been deeded to the King of Great Britain in 1768.Deer, elk, wolves and bear roamed the forests and attacks by panthers was not uncommon.
George LaBar settled on the flats now called Brooklyn Side, having moved upriver from the area settled by John Knight. In the spring of 1768, Squire Whitaker built a log home at Shehocton Point. In October the pumpkin flood rose the river to 21 feet at the forks. The Whitaker family took refuge in the upper chambers of the log house. When the water subsided, the family moved across the river to the LaBar farm, where they remained until April 1787, when they moved to Little Cookhouse, near Deposit.
It was at this time that Samuel Preston came upriver from Philadelphia to survey land in Pennsylvania and open roads to this still unsettled territory.
Stephen Read was probably the next pioneer to settle in the village of Hancock, building a log cabin at Crooked Eddy in 1798. He stayed a short time before moving to a farm at the mouth of Read Brook. At the turn of the 19th century Ezra May purchased a large tract of land which included the present village of Hancock. Others soon followed realizing the wealth to be had in the forests of this untouched land. Soon hemlock, pine and white ash rafts filled the Delaware each year as the spring freshet caused high tide all the way up to the headwaters. The bulk of the timber was taken to Camden and Philadelphia. With increased development, large counties and towns were separated into smaller districts. The town of Hancock was named for John Hancock when it was separated from the Town of Colchester in 1806. Until the formation of Delaware County in 1797, the area was part of Ulster County. May’s tract of land between the two branches of the Delaware was known as Shehawken. Various spellings can be found in old deeds and histories. Shehawken and Chehocton were most common.
During the early 1800’s May sold large portions of the village to Samuel Sands, Daniel Broadstreet, Charles Leonard, and John Hawk, reserving one acre for a public burying ground, a church and a school.
Marvin Wheeler started a store in the western end of the village near the fording to Pennsylvania about 1835. When the Erie railroad passed through the village in 1848, the station was located on the East Branch of the river. Marvin Wheeler moved his store to that area and other businesses rapidly took root as well. Three large hotels were established. Rafting soon declined due to the ease of shipping timber by rail to reach money markets and the availability of transportation year-round.
It is not known exactly when the name of the village was changed from Chehocton to Hancock, but it is reported the railroad officials asked for the name to be changed because of the similarity to Cochecton further down the line. Whether the town supervisors or the local businessmen decided on the name is speculation. As the 1880’s approached, some residents saw the need for organized government in the village. Cited as reasons to incorporate were the lawless drunkards and cows menacing the streets, although lack of passable sidewalks and streets and the need for organized community fire protection was also important. After voting the proposition down in 1880 and 1884 for fear of high taxes, some businessmen had a change of heart and incorporation was approved on June 5, 1888.
Fire had been a factor impending village development. In May 1889, the village board contracted the Hancock Water Co. to install 12 fire hydrants. By the end of the year, eight more had been added. In December 1889, the first fire company, Shehawken Hose Co. No. 1, organized to supply protection to the village. Soon two other companies followed, and there was steady improvement in equipment, manpower and alarm systems.
The 20th century saw a decline in the timber industry as the vast woodlands rapidly disappeared. With the clearing of timber came the growth of acid factories and tanneries. The stripping of timber revealed the quarries of bluestone which became Hancock’s next major industry, along with dairy farming. Bluestone is a sedimentary rock more commonly known as sandstone. It is blue in color because of high iron deposits. The early 1900’s also saw the growth of the tourist trade as hotels, now numbering ten, flourished not only with businessmen but also summer boarders.
Incorporation had brought new streets, and organized fire department, a jail for housing rowdies, and a thriving community. The fire department was started by community support and continues so today. Village police still patrol and control public nuisances. A sewage system has put an end to pollution in the river, and each year the water system, streets and sidewalks are upgraded. Although cows are seldom seen on village streets today, an occasional deer or bear still wanders through the village.