Hancock is more than a canal town, railroad town or a simple stop along the Interstate; rather it
is a transportation hub. Located in the narrowest part of the state of Maryland, Hancock is only
two miles from Pennsylvania and directly across the river from West Virginia. Hancock, as a
crossroads of transportation, is a testament to human ingenuity, for it has been an integral part
in the development of the National Road, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, the Western Maryland
Railroad, and now two major interstates.
Originally known as “Tonoloway settlement,” Hancock was home to the Susquehannock Native
American tribe. By the 1730s, accounts appear of raids and skirmishes between the natives and
Located near a natural ford in the Potomac, Hancock was a prime location. The building of Fort
Stoddard in 1755, construction of the National Road through the town in 1818; the arrival of
the C&O Canal in the 1830’s; Western Maryland Railroad arrival in 1905; today it continues as
a junction along major interstates and highways. Hancock’s location, has lent itself to being a
transportation hub of human ingenuity – from the C&O Canal to the Sideling Hill cut on I-68.
Hancock has had a few major industries over the years – glass-making, a cement mill, and apple
growing and harvesting – that have contributed to the town’s modest prosperity.
Besides all the hustle of transportation, the town of Hancock also witnessed an early
Confederate attack in January of 1862. James Ripley Smith, a canal merchant whose home and
store on the canal were in the line of fire:
The citizens of Hancock left by orders of the Southern General Jackson 1 and ½ hours
to leave, at one o clock they came cannonading but we replyed which silenced them
before night. About 100 shots were exchanged, one part of a shell hit my house and
smoke house, a ball lodged in the garden in the ground and many other places in town.”
Fortunately for the residents of this time, no major civil war engagements happened in this
town and life went on. Hancock has always been a peaceful stop along the towpath. In the
heyday of the canal, it was oft-noted that “At Hancock, 14 mile level, you could see bass
swimming alongside the boat. From Dam No. 6 down, you could catch bass and see clear
as canaller Theodore Lizer recalled. And as canaller J.P. Mose observed, there’s “A lot
of nice scenery around Hancock, and Big Pool.”2
the quiet of the towpath as you stroll under the canopy of trees , hear the rush of the Potomac
River, and enjoy one of the most serene sections of the canal.
Contrast that transportation cross roads with