The one thing I refuse to do on Father’s Day is to spend the day at the cemetery. I know that is some people’s idea of honoring one’s family members but it is not mine. I went on Friday and paid my respects to my father (whom this blog is dedicated to) and spent time remembering some of the good times we had in past. I dropped some cut flowers from our gardens (some of which he planted) and said a small prayer. Then I left.
My idea of honoring my father and spending Father’s Day with him is to do something that we would have shared together. We were always running around somewhere and exploring something new and doing something fun. That is how I wanted to honor him. By being active and giving him a toast at Sunday dinner.
I took an extensive tour one weekend of historical sites of southern New Jersey to see how the lower part of the state was inpacted by the Revolutionary War and one of the most important sites was the Hancock House. The family was extremely prominent not just in Salem, NJ but in New Jersey politics as well.
The house once stood on an very busy road between Salem and Bridgeton and where most commerce passed by. When I was taking the tour, you could see that the house was built in two parts. When I was listening to the lecture I found that the side of the house that faced the road had once been a leased space for a tavern. This commercial enterprise brought in income for the family. Later on when the Hancock family sold the house in the early 1800’s, they sold it to the tavern keeper. After he and his family sold the house, it went on to various owners before the State of New Jersey bought it in the 1930’s.
There are no family heirlooms in the house and while some of the rooms have period pieces and are decorated to show how the family might have lived at the time as well as how the tavern functioned, many rooms in the house needed some direction on what they wanted to say about living at the time. There needed to be more artifacts to complete the look of the room.
The downstairs at the Hancock House
The upstairs bedrooms were an example of that. One of the rooms was fully furnished to look like a period bedroom while the other had a mish-mosh of decorations and furniture. There needed to be more to capture the time period of the house.
Still, the house was steeped in history and it was fascinating to hear what the tour guide said about the goings on during the war years to the family.
Many of the rooms also could have used a good plastering and painting to bring them back to life.
History of The Hancock House:
(from The Hancock House Pamphlet)
The story of the Hancock House begins in 1675 when John Fenwick, a lawyer and Quaker from England, arrived in West Jersey (now Salem Country), With land purchased two years earlier, he established the first permanent English Settlement here, called “Fenwick’s Colony,” and founded the town of Salem. Eager to populate the area with skilled, industrious individuals, he advertised the area’s assets by stating, “if there be any terrestrial “Canaan” ’tis surely here, where the Land floweth with Milk and Honey.”
The Hancock House sits on property that was purchased from John Fenwick in 1675 by William Hancock, an English showmaker. Upon his death, the property passed to his wife and then to his nephew, John Hancock.
John’s inheritance of approximately 500 acres made him a major landholder in Fenwick’s Colony. he contributed to the development of the area by building a bridge across Alloways Creek in 1708. Now known as “Hancocks Bridge,” it permitted passage on an important highway between Salem and Greenwich and gave the settlement its name.
When John Hancock died in 1709, he left his property to his son William. William became a Justice of the Peace for Salem County and served in the Colonial Assembky for 20 years.
In 1734, William and his wife, Sarah built the Hancock House. Their initials (WHS) and the construction date (1734) can be seen in the brickwork on the house’s west elevation.
Upon his death in 1762, William left his house to his son, William who succeeded him in the Assembly and became His Majesty’s Judge of the County Court for the County of Salem. It was this William who figured in the massacre of March 1778.
The Hancock House remained in the family until 1931, although the extent to which the house was used as a private residence and the property farmed is uncertain. There is evidence to suggest a section of the house was leased for a tavern during the 18th & 19th centuries. The State of New Jersey acquired the Hancock House for $4,000 in 1931 and opened it as a museum in 1932.
Historic Marker at the Hancock House
The Architectural Significance:
The Hancock House earned a place in history on the fateful day in March 1778. Yet the story of its architecture also is important. With its distinctive patterned and wall brickwork, simple lines and little ornamentation, it reflects the building traditions of the Quaker’s English Homeland.
The brick work of the Hancock House
Other elements of this architectural style include Flemish bond brickwork; a pent-roof that wraps around the front and back of the house; simple entrance steps; interior paneling and the use of such local materials as Wistarburg glass.