Pride blooms in Hancock as town revitalizes

HANCOCK — In 2011 Tropical Storm Irene steamrolled through the town of Hancock, delivering a series of potent haymakers to many of its roads, culverts and, to a certain extent, community morale.
Four years later, the eastern Addison County town of 323 residents is on a firm road to recovery, a renaissance that has produced an improved and expanded town green, an imminent relocation of the municipal offices to a reclaimed former schoolhouse, and ongoing renovations to the historic Hancock General Store building near the intersection of Routes 125 and 100.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Olivia Drury, who in July began her tenure as Hancock’s new town clerk. “The community has banded together and is enthusiastic about the revival … We are feeling very fortunate and are looking forward to our future.”
A group called “Hancock Town Pride” is organizing and spearheading many community improvement efforts, including the recently completed work on the town green. That work included tree plantings and a new bandstand. The new space hosted four summer concerts and a potluck dinner, noted Hancock Town Pride member Eva Jesso.
“There is a core group of about a dozen of us who meet regularly and then we have lots of folks who help to get events organized,” said Jill Jesso-White, Hancock Town Pride chair.
The group was also instrumental in placing flower arrangements throughout town this summer.
“They look beautiful with all of the pretty flowers,” Jesso-White said. “We have volunteers who water and take care of them. We handed out many packages of sunflower seeds — that were donated to us from a Hancock family — at Memorial Day for our third year. We’ve asked people to plant them by the road to make things look bright and sunny. There are lots of them around town. “
And plans call for Christmas decorations to be hung and a caroling party this December. Then in February Hancock Pride will hold its second annual coffee house.
Jesso-White is particularly proud of the work on the town green.
“It looks so wonderful with all the trees and plants, the honor roll (monument listing local veterans) and the bandstand,” she said. “Prior to this it was just a big patch of unused land with too-tall grass in front of the fire station. Now we have volunteers that care for the trees and weed the flowers. We owe much to the wonderful Vermont Community Foundation. We received one of their Small & Inspiring Grants and were the recipient of a matching grant from the Walter Cerf Fund that allowed us to get the bandstand. We couldn’t have done this without them.”
Meanwhile, Drury is looking forward to moving the local library and her office into what will be roughly three times the space at the former Hancock School building off Route 100. The school has sat unused for several years, and is currently being renovated with some grants and town funds. Townspeople have not yet decided what to do with the tiny building on Route 125 that currently houses the town clerk’s office, Drury said.
“We are going to be moving our vaults, painting and refurbishing the floors,” Drury said of the lion’s share of the work.
Officials want to complete the town office relocation before the end of this year.
People traveling through Hancock have experienced sporadic delays that are having a big payoff. Various roads, culverts and bridges decimated by Irene and the passage of time are now back in commission.
And the transformation of Hancock goes beyond the public sector.
Jonathan and Sara Deering own the Hancock General Store, which had served up basic groceries and food to residents for decades prior to closing in 2013. The Deerings also own and operate the local Sunoco service station and quick stop, located just a half-mile south on Route 100. Peter Harvey most recently owned the store, which sustained some damage from Irene, Sara Deering noted. The Deerings made a successful bid for the store property at an auction and have mapped out a series of major repairs for the building. The extensive list of upgrades includes new electrical and plumbing systems, along with repairs to the foundation and façade. Fortunately, the building was well constructed back in the late 1800s, according to Deering.
“The building was jacked up and it actually leveled itself,” she said.
Estimated cost of the store fix: $145,000. The Deerings were recently awarded almost $20,000 in tax credits from the Vermont Agency of Commerce & Community Development to help subsidize the work.
The state agency has also awarded $6,058 in tax credits to help underwrite code-related work and exterior repairs to the old Hancock Hotel building just across the street.
Barring any unforeseen complications, the Hancock General Store will reopen next spring. It will again offer some basic groceries, along with some prepared foods — including a full deli and pizza. The Deerings would also like to hang local artists’ work in a section of the one-story, 2,000-square-foot building.
“I’m completely thrilled and I can’t wait,” Deering said of the store opening.
The Deerings are also a driving force behind another morale-boosting community event in Hancock: Green Mountain Oktoberfest, slated for Saturday, Oct. 3, from noon to 5 p.m. at the Hancock town green. The event will feature more than 20 vendors, 10 Vermont brews and ciders, as well as music, games, a magic show and food.
“There are a lot of things happening,” Deering said of Hancock’s present — and future.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com. Additional reporting by John S. McCright.

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