Hancock: Looking to showcase its history

Although many details remain up in the air, the city of Hancock is beginning a project to use the first floor of city hall to showcase the city’s history.

“We don’t know the full-fledged (details) of what (the project) is going to become exactly, we’re just starting to imagine it,” said Hancock City Manager Mary Babcock. “We’re going to start cataloging things, we’re going to have display cases down there to put some items in. I think it’s going to be a process for us.”

The development of a historical display or museum will make better use of the first floor of the former fire hall that houses city hall, said Steven Walton, the volunteer spearheading the effort. The space is only used a few times a year.

“(It’s) now really just used for one voting precinct and the police cars park there in the winter sometimes (to be thawed out),” Walton said.

The idea of historical displays or a museum originated with former Downtown Development Authority Coordinator Deborah Mann prior to her death in August 2022, Walton said.

“Deb Mann, our former and now late Downtown Development Agency director had had this great idea of, ‘Hancock needs a museum’ in the very general sense,” Walton said. “Mary Babcock, our city manager, said, ‘Yes, great idea.’” 

Walton, a member of the city planning council and a history professor at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, said the project naturally appealed to his interest in local history.

“As a historian, I was like, ‘Yes, I want to be part of this.’ But the ‘this’ was completely undefined,” Walton said.

A survey on the city’s website regarding ideas for the new museum was recently completed, according to Walton. Although there was a lot of good feedback, much of it was overambitious and beyond what can be done at this point.

“A lot of people said, ‘We need a children's museum.’ I don’t disagree, but ... an old garage space (is not the right fit) and that (kind of museum) requires staffing and paid people,” Walton said.

He added the space will likely be used to showcase a series of historical displays rather than a full-fledged museum.

Walton said the plan is to clean up the space once spring arrives and give it a fresh coat of paint. Walton envisions a design that will allow the city to also use the space as a community meeting room and hopes to have preliminary plans and designs ready to show off at city events this summer.

Work will also be done to figure out what exactly the displays consist of and what work needs to be done to create them.

“There are all these possibilities and potential paths but we’re not even toed up at the starting line really,” Walton said. “We’re going to start quite small and think of just historical displays in that space with a more community-room-type model.”

Babcock said the project will enable the city to display historical artifacts, including documents, photographs, items from some city churches and a historic automobile that is on long-term loan to another museum in the region.

“Even in our upper chambers of our city hall, we have a lot of things that are around that I think the public would find interesting … we just have a collection here that is being stored in closets and I think it would be great to get it out for public display,” Babcock said.

Given the city’s history, there is also the possibility that items relating to the region’s mining past will also be featured at some point.

The Quincy Mining Company founded the city in 1859, according to the city’s website, choosing the name to celebrate John Hancock, one of the signer of the Declaration of Independence.

“The site of brass foundries and mining machinery factories, the town was best known for its famous Quincy Mine,” the city’s website reads. “Nicknamed ‘Old Reliable,’ the mine produced copper continuously for 83 years paying stockholders millions in dividends. The City was also home to the Hancock Mine.”

Regardless of its form, Walton said the project will likely be the only one of its kind that focuses exclusively on the history of Hancock.

“There’s nothing (like a history museum) in the city of Hancock itself, which was the original motivation for all this. The Carnegie Museum in Houghton … is a museum for the city (of Houghton) and in the broader sense, the county, but they mostly just focus on Houghton history,” Walton said.

“I want to give a strong shoutout to the Houghton County Historical Museum up in Lake Linden, they are our big museum in the area but they focus on objects and themes rather than specific, differentiated communities," he added. "Our (project) is just a history of the place – Hancock.”

Anyone interested in getting involved in the project should call the city of Hancock at 906-482-2720.

A former reporter at the Ironwood Daily Globe, Richard Jenkins moved to Ironwood in 2015. He was born and raised in Metro Detroit. He may not have been born in the Upper Peninsula but got here as soon as he could.
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