Hancock County was officially formed on March 1, 1828. It was named for John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, who signed his name prominently to the Declaration of Independence
As of the census, there were 70,002 people, 28,125 households, and 25,416 families residing in the county. The population density was 181 people per square mile (70/km²).
The natural resources of Hancock county, which have been conducive toward making it a garden spot of the world and a most delightful place in which to live, are its fertile soil, its level surface, its abundant rainfall and its temperate climate. Almost the entire surface of the county is level or gently rolling. Its streams are without falls or rapids and their currents are generally sluggish. Near the streams the surface is generally hilly. Especially is this true in the northwest corner of the county, along the tributaries of Fall creek, along the lower part of Sugar creek, and in the southeast corner, along Blue river. The highest bluffs along the streams, however, are not to exceed from forty to sixty feet above the beds of the streams. Those along the smaller streams rarely exceed ten feet. In the west central part of the county are large areas with practically level surfaces.
James Whitcomb Riley
Riley was born on October 7, 1849 in Greenfield, Indiana, surrounded by farmland and primitive forests. The wooden planked National Road, which American pioneers and settlers used to travel to the western half of the nation, ran right through Greenfield. The area was diverse in culture, with people from many different homelands, though outwardly appearing as rough wilderness and newly settled country.
Riley's father, being a frontier politician and lawyer, named his son after an Indiana governor, James Whitcomb. Riley's mother was, of course, a homemaker, and she also wrote poetry. Riley had a difficult time academically, but possessed a talent for language, especially that of his own people. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, but Riley did not apply himself to law. For a time he traveled the American Midwest as a sign painter. He also traveled with a medicine salesman, and drew crowds by playing songs and performing impersonations of people he had met in his travels.
Riley, like many poets, published his first works in newspapers. At first he wrote under a pen name, "Benjamin F. Johnson of Boone." He often wrote in his own dialect, appealing to the majority of people with his common style and words. Garland held Riley alike to Mark Twain, for his ability to use natural dialect in his writing and speech, though also possessing the ability to speak in a more precise and standard English. After the success of his written work, Riley took to the road again, and traveled around the country to recite his poems in every city. This earned him great popularity, and people were fascinated by his dialect and use of the language, as well as his cheerful sense of humor.
James Whitcomb Riley died of a stroke on 22 July, 1916. The United States President, Woodrow Wilson, sent a note to the poet's family, saying Riley was "...a man who imparted joyful pleasure and a thoughtful view of many things that other men would have missed." Named after him in Indianapolis, the state capital, is Riley Hospital for Children.
Each year Greenfield hosts a "James Whitcomb Riley Festival," and the children of the area honor the poet by placing flowers on his statue at the Hancock County Courthouse.
Hancock County Courthouse
Sitting a proud distance back from the National Road/US 40, the Hancock County Courthouse commands respect with its Roman arches and heavy stonework—both characteristic of the Romanesque Revival style. Carved stone grotesques in the form of monkeys, dogs and other creatures keep watch over all who enter. On the interior the courthouse resembles a Gothic cathedral with its ribbed ceiling, fan vaulting, and plaster cherubs. Standing on the north side of the courthouse lawn is Greenfield's favorite son, James Whitcomb Riley. The bronze sculpture by Hoosier artist Myra Reynolds Richards was dedicated in 1918.
Because the north side of the courthouse is located along busy US 40, motorists seldom take the time to drive around the square. Nonetheless, the Hancock County Courthouse is designed in the popular Shelbyville plan, with the streets intersecting at each corner of the square.
Fort Wayne architects, Wing & Mahurin, designed the Hancock County Courthouse that was constructed from 1896-97. It's no coincidence that the courthouses in Hancock and Starke counties resemble each other; both were designed by Wing & Mahurin. In 1896 construction costs for the courthouse were just over $250,000. The current restoration effort includes restoring the decorative domed ceiling of the third floor courtroom and upgrading mechanical systems. The bond issue to pay for the courthouse restoration was approximately $5 million. The Hancock County Courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985