It is the past–the glorious past which is given to us for instruction and admonition . . . . We have a solemn charge to us from the virtuous dead . . . their fame is in our keeping.
– Solomon Lincoln (1835)
Hingham has always been proud of its history and heritage. This is easy to see from the careful preservation of the many antique homes and buildings that line the streets of its historic districts. In fact, Hingham boasts one of the country’s largest collections of surviving antique homes–many dating back to the 17th century, built by the town’s founding families. Even today, Hingham families can trace their ancestry back to the town’s earliest settlers; Hobart, Lincoln, Fearing, Otis, Cushing, Loring, Leavitt, and Tower are names that have echoed in Hingham’s streets for centuries. Roots here run deep.
Earliest records document that, around 1633, several families who had originally landed in Charlestown from Hingham, England, moved down the coast to a settlement called Bare Cove, which was re-named Hingham in 1635. In that year, the Reverend Peter Hobart settled here (along with some “200 other souls”) and established the First Parish Church.
The original parish house, humble and rudimentary, was replaced in 1681 by an Elizabethan Gothic building, which is today Hingham’s most iconic landmark – Old Ship Church (so-named for the vaulted ceiling which recalls the inverted hull of a ship). Though New England was dotted with similar churches in the 17th and 18th centuries, Old Ship is the only one left in North America and is the oldest continuously used house of worship in the United States. In early history, the building also served as Hingham’s Meeting House where civic matters of the day were debated and decided by our forebearers.
And there was much to decide as Hingham became established as a vibrant, hard-working community.
While its shallow harbor was not conducive to major shipping routes, the town does have a rich if somewhat humble, industrial past – most notably cordage (ship rope and rigging) and coopering (barrels and buckets). In fact, Hingham earned the somewhat dubious designation of “bucket town,” and, although it may have been derogatory, authentic “Hingham Buckets” have become highly prized by collectors.
In addition, this working town thrived through farming, agriculture, fishing, and later through its shipyard that was of vital importance during World War II, building hundreds of vessels in the span of under four years.
While Hingham may not enjoy the national historic notoriety of other New England towns, it is perhaps this very factor that accounts for its remarkable historic preservation. Because the town remained essentially unchanged by the industrial revolution, Hingham was able to preserve its particular, personal history in a manner that is hard to come by today. Entire areas of Hingham seem almost untouched by the centuries. Current owners lovingly maintain antique homes from some of Hingham’s earliest settlers and their history is carefully archived by the Historical Society. Among these is the North Street residence of Hingham-born General Benjamin Lincoln, a Revolutionary War hero who served alongside George Washington in the Continental Army. This is one of many Hingham buildings listed as a National Historic Landmark.
The pride with which these historic treasures are preserved is testament to the fact that we have heeded well the words of Solomon Lincoln so many years ago: “Their fame is in our keeping.”