On Monday evening we set out for one of several driving tours of Morgan County. I took the students to Hancock, Maryland, a small town about 9 miles away. In many respects, Hancock is demographically similar to Berkeley Springs: it’s small, predominately white and surrounded by a rural county. It also has direct access from Interstate 70 and 68. By virtue of its proximity to two major highways, you would think that the town would rival Berkeley Springs for tourists and attractions. The old C&O canal runs through town, and the C&O rail trail is also accessible from several locations. But Hancock is not flourishing. Despite the charming architecture and storefronts, very few businesses are open. The C&O bicycle shop is a hub of local activity, especially in the spring, summer and fall, but otherwise the town appears to be dying.
It wasn’t always this way. In the early 1970s when Berkeley Springs was little more than a two-lane sleepy town, Hancock was bustling. One woman, who arrived here in 1975, remarked, “On Friday nights you could never find parking in Hancock. The town was alive and that’s were everyone went for food, entertainment and shopping.
In the intervening years, many of the old businesses in Hancock have been inherited by the children of long-time owners. Many no longer live in Hancock, and as one merchant told me, “they keep the businesses for tax purposes, but that doesn’t help the community.”
I took the students to Hancock to point out that the economic activity taking place in Morgan County is not related to access or accident, but by a sustained effort by the local community. How that activity came about will be the subject of my next post.