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By October 29, 2015 Read More →

Orland Eaton: Passionate Preserver of Hancock’s History

On Sunday, October 25,  the Hancock Historical Society  formally dedicated their newly-restored upstairs ballroom in honor of Orland Eaton,  one of the Society’s founding members and its first president. The occasion also provided an opportunity for attendees to view other recently completed renovations. 

At this event, Hancock resident and Historical Society board member Roberta Nylander presented a talk about Orland Eaton. A written account appeared in the Society’s October newsletter, and is published here, with permission of the Hancock Historical Society. 

George Washington was President and John Hancock was Governor of Massachusetts when the Eaton and Ware families of Needham, Massachusetts decided to migrate to Hancock. The families, related by several marriages, chose homestead sites along the King’s Highway between the years 1791 and 1793, and added a considerable number of new citizens to Hancock’s population of 634 as reported in the first United States Census of 1790.

One of the first to arrive was Revolutionary War veteran, Lemuel Eaton, who secured land on the part of King’s Highway now called Eaton Road in 1791. In 1792 he married Sarah Ware and they raised their children in the house Lemuel built for their family. Known as King Street Farm, the homestead would pass to their son Lemuel, and then to their grandson, Orland Eaton.

EatonBorn in the Homestead in 1836, Orland, an only child, was surrounded by Eaton/Ware family members and steeped from an early age in the history and traditions of his greater family. Orland also learned about, and later observed and influenced the events that were to become the history of Hancock. He married Almeda Elizabeth Barker of Hancock in 1861. He and Almeda gradually took over responsibility for the farm from his parents, and Orland became noted as a dairy farmer. During the early years of their marriage, Orland served as a Justice of the Peace, member of the school board, selectman, and representative in the New Hampshire State Legislature. He was a lifelong member of the Congregational Church, serving as a teacher and superintendent of the Sunday School. Later he became a deacon and was thereafter known as Deacon Orland Eaton. Childless for many years, Orland and Almeda adopted a son, named Albert Orland, who was born in 1880. Albert died at age 3 in 1883. Orland and Almeda were alone for the remainder of their marriage.

Influenced by the national Centennial celebrations of 1876 that sparked the period that became known as the Colonial Revival, Orland was the driving force in organizing the Centennial celebration of Hancock in 1879. The event, which attracted an estimated 3000 participants and visitors was held on the Common, where a huge grandstand had been erected. There was a costumed procession followed by a day long program of addresses by honored citizens and former residents. The Vestry housed art and antiquarian exhibits that showcased the creative work of Hancock residents. The displays included Revolutionary War relics, wall hangings, furniture and artifacts belonging to Hancock families that reflected the history and progress of Hancock’s first hundred years. Publicity for the event was impressive, and an amazing amount of food was prepared, served and consumed by residents and visitors in the Town Hall (now the lower Meeting House). In honor of the Centennial, Orland buried a time capsule in 1879 near the site of the first known resident of Hancock, John Grimes. That capsule was discovered and donated to the Hancock Historical Society in 2013 by Michael Lammela.

The success of the Centennial celebration had spurred interest among a group led by Orland Eaton to ”Establish an organization dedicated to the preservation of Hancock’s early records and artifacts”. A Town History Committee was formed and began to compile a chronicle of the first hundred years of Hancock. As chair of the committee, Orland became the agent for the publication of what has become known as Hayward’s History of Hancock, New Hampshire, published in 1889. Orland gave generously of his time and personal finances to ensure the publication, writing over 4000 letters and post cards to secure genealogical information, collect and verify data, and solicit subscribers before publication. During that same period he was active in planning the celebration of the Centennial of the Congregational Church in 1888.
After the publication of the town history, Orland continued to be active in town affairs. He had been an influence in securing railroad service for Hancock, reminding citizens in letters to the Peterborough Transcript of the prosperity the railroad had brought to town when there was grumbling over paying off premium commitments incurred during construction.

Through the 1890s, Orland collected artifacts and papers important to Hancock while he continued to work to secure a society and building suitable for their housing and display. His efforts were rewarded in 1903. First the Hancock Historical Society was formed with 28 members signing the charter and by-laws. That same year other members were recruited and the society purchased the building at 7 Main Street., that has been the home of the Hancock Historical Society for 112 years. Orland was elected the first president, and served until 1909. During that time the society flourished.

In memory of his beloved wife, Almeda, who died in 1907, Orland donated the dual purpose watering trough and drinking fountain that was installed on the common opposite the church. One side was for the refreshment of horses and the other was a drinking fountain for humans. As his life neared its end, Orland married his second wife, Nellie Davis, who had helped Orland care for Almeda during her final illness. In 1909 Orland proposed that a committee be formed to prepare a booklet preserving the names and inscriptions on the gravestones of the early settlers and Revolutionary War Veterans buried in Pine Ridge Cemetery. After his death in 1910, he left the sum of $100 to be used for printing the booklet. The booklet (136 pages) was published in 1912. At the time of publication the book sold for 15 cents, 25 cents if mailed. Today, copies are available for research at the Hancock Historical Society and the Hancock Town Library.

Nellie Davis Eaton continued to live in the Eaton homestead and remained an active member of the Hancock Historical Society until her death in the 1940s. About 1936 she sold the land and homestead to Senator Robert English. The Eaton Homestead and land continues to be owned by the English family, having belonged to just two families in the 224 years since Lemuel Eaton arrived in Hancock.

Roberta D. Nylander

HAncock HistoricalThe Hancock Historical Society
7 Main St., Hancock NH 03449

(603) 525-9379

Hours: During renovations, by appointment only.