This warehouse is the only colonial-era commercial building still standing in the Town of York. Built in 1780, when York was part of the District of Maine in Massachusetts, it is situated on the edge of the York River with ready access to the open sea. The warehouse was once owned by patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock.
The wood-frame, cedar-shingled, 264-square-foot warehouse has a gabled roof. It is a small building, measuring only 26 feet long, 24 feet wide, and 40 feet high. The interior consists of rough, open construction with mortise-and-tenon beams and pegged joints. The second floor is accessed either via an exterior ramp or an interior stairway. A wheel to lift goods to the second floor remains in operating condition.
While Hancock gained fame for his political activities in the American Revolution, and for being Governor of Massachusetts in the 1790s, his wealth derived from commerce. Hancock’s merchant uncle had bequeathed him a fortune, including 50,000 acres of timber, which Hancock never exploited. In the cash-starved, post-revolution economy, most tradesmen like Hancock bartered, dealing in such commodities as whale oil, molasses, salted fish, tar, leather, and fur, which they traded by ship along the coast and in the West Indies for rum, wine, fabric, and furniture. Wealthy merchants of the day, including Hancock, typically owned ships, wharves, and warehouses, like this one in York.
The provenance of the small, riverside warehouse is disputed. Some believe Hancock acquired it from Daniel Bragdon as part of a simple sale; others think it was seized from Bragdon as part of a foreclosure procedure. Whether or not Hancock ever visited the site is also debated. It is possible that a visit occurred on June 21, 1791 when Hancock (then governor of Massachusetts) visited his friend Judge Jonathan Sayward in York. Scholars agree, however, that Hancock co-owned the warehouse with Joseph Tucker, who retained full ownership after Hancock’s death.
The aging building was utilized as a storage facility prior to its purchase in 1950 by the Newcomen Society of North America. At that point the warehouse was restored, receiving new shingles and a thorough interior cleaning; very minor changes were made during the restoration. Today the structure serves as a museum of colonial warehouses now owned and maintained by the Museums of Old York.
Briggs, John W, “John Hancock Warehouse,” York County, Maine. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1969. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Ernest, Wilhelmina and George. Historic York, Maine.York, ME: York Press, 1957.