Hingham is a town in metropolitan Greater Boston on the South Shore of the U.S. state of Massachusetts in northern Plymouth County. At the 2010 census, the population was 22,157. Hingham is known for its colonial history and location on Boston Harbor. The town was named after Hingham, Norfolk, and was first settled by English colonists in 1633.
The town of Hingham was dubbed "Bare Cove" by the first colonizing English in 1633, but two years later was incorporated as a town under the name "Hingham".
The land on which Hingham was settled was deeded to the English by the Wampanoag sachem Wompatuck in 1655. The town was within Suffolk County from its founding in 1643 until 1803; and Plymouth County from 1803 to the present. The eastern part of the town split off to become Cohasset in 1770. The town was named for Hingham, a village in the English county of Norfolk, East Anglia, whence most of the first colonists came, including Abraham Lincoln's ancestor Samuel Lincoln (1622–90), his first American ancestor, who came to Massachusetts in 1637. A statue of President Lincoln adorns the area adjacent to downtown Hingham Square.
Hingham was born of religious dissent. Many of the original founders were forced to flee their native village in Norfolk with both their vicars, Rev. Peter Hobart and Rev. Robert Peck, when they fell foul of the strict doctrines of Anglican England. Peck was known for what the eminent Norfolk historian Rev. Francis Blomefield called his "violent schismatical spirit". Peck lowered the chancel railing of the church, in accord with Puritan sentiment that the Anglican church of the day was too removed from its parishioners. He also antagonized ecclesiastical authorities with other forbidden practices.
Hobart, born in Hingham, Norfolk, in 1604 and, like Peck, a graduate of Magdalene College, Cambridge, sought shelter from the prevailing discipline of the high church among his fellow Puritans. The cost to those who emigrated was steep. They "sold their possessions for half their value", noted a contemporary account, "and named the place of their settlement after their natal town". (The cost to the place they left behind was also high: Hingham was forced to petition Parliament for aid, claiming that the departure of its most well-to-do citizens had left it hamstrung.)
While most of the early Hingham settlers came from Hingham and other nearby villages in East Anglia, a few Hingham settlers like Anthony Eames came from the West Country of England. The early settlers of Dorchester, Massachusetts, for instance, had come under the guidance of Rev. John White of Dorchester in Dorset, and some of them (like Eames) later moved to Hingham. Accounts from Hingham's earliest years indicate some friction between the disparate groups, culminating in an 1645 episode involving the town's "trainband", when some Hingham settlers supported Eames, and others supported Bozoan Allen, a prominent early Hingham settler and Hobart ally who came from King's Lynn in Norfolk, East Anglia. Prominent East Anglian Puritans like the Hobarts and the Cushings, for instance, were used to holding sway in matters of governance. Eventually the controversy became so heated that John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley were drawn into the fray; minister Hobart threatened to excommunicate Eames.
The bitter trainband controversy dragged on for several years, culminating in stiff fines. Eventually a weary Eames, who was in his mid-fifties when the controversy began and who had served Hingham as first militia captain, a selectman, and Deputy in the General Court, threw in the towel and moved to nearby Marshfield where he again served as Deputy and emerged as a leading citizen, despite his brush with the Hingham powers-that-be.
Although the town was incorporated in 1635, the colonists didn't get around to negotiating purchase from the Wampanoag, the Native American tribe in the region, until three decades later. On July 4, 1665, the tribe's chief sachem, Josiah Wompatuck, sold the township to Capt. Joshua Hobart (brother of Rev. Peter Hobart) and Ensign John Thaxter, representatives of Hingham's colonial residents. Having occupied the land for 30 years, the Englishmen presumably felt entitled to a steep discount. The sum promised Josiah Wompatuck for the land encompassing Hingham was to be paid by two Hingham landowners: Lieut. John Smith and Deacon John Leavitt, who had been granted on Hingham's Turkey Hill earlier that year. Now the two men were instructed to deliver payment for their grant to Josiah the chief Sachem. The grant to Smith and Leavitt—who together bought other large tracts from the Native Americans for themselves and their partners—was "on condition that they satisfy all the charge about the purchase of the town's land of Josiah—Indian sagamore, both the principal purchase and all the other charge that hath been about it". With that payment the matter was considered settled.
The first history of Hingham was written in 1827 by Hingham attorney Solomon Lincoln. In it Lincoln delineated the history of many of the town's landmarks and early families. In subsequent years Solomon Lincoln corresponded with Abraham Lincoln about the future president's Hingham ancestry, of which Abe professed to be ignorant. When Solomon Lincoln suggested that Abe might have forebears in Hingham, Abe responded with dry Lincoln wit that if the town's name were 'Hang'-em' then he probably did have relatives there.
Hingham is home to the United States' oldest continuously used house of worship, the Old Ship Church, built in 1681, which currently serves members of the Unitarian Universalist faith. Old Ship Church is the only remaining 17th-century Puritan meeting house in New England. The meeting house derives its name from the roof and ceiling rafters, which resemble an upside-down ship's hull. Many of the builders were ship carpenters, and the form was common throughout East Anglia, the home of many of the town's earliest settlers. The town boasts a wide assortment of eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century homes. Many of these may be found in the six historic districts set aside by the town of Hingham.
Hingham was originally part of Suffolk County, and when the southern part of the county was set off as Norfolk County in 1793, it included the towns of Hingham and Hull. In 1803 those towns opted out of Norfolk County and became part of Plymouth County.
In 1889, a wealthy Hingham resident, John Brewer, commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted to design a residential subdivision on a peninsula Brewer owned adjacent to Hingham Harbor. While Olmsted's tree-lined horse-cart paths were made, the residential buildings were never constructed. After World War II, Hingham was unsuccessful in its bid to have Brewer's peninsula used as the site of the planned United Nations Secretariat building. In later years the site was also considered for a nuclear power plant. In the 1960s, to prevent eventual development, townspeople organized an effort to preserve the peninsula as open space. Today this natural conservation land is called World's End and is maintained by The Trustees of Reservations.
Wilmon Brewer was a lifelong Hingham resident, a literary scholar, and a generous benefactor to Hingham. He gave "The Old Ordinary" (a historic, 17th-century tavern) to the Hingham Historical Society, and Brewer and his wife, Katharine More Brewer, donated 300 acres of their Great Hill estate to the town, which is now More-Brewer Park. The gift made possible the purchase of World's End for use as a public park. Wilmon Brewer served as a trustee of the Hingham Public Library from 1938 until 1985.
Today, many descendants of the founding families of Hingham still live in the town and share heritage with the Boston Brahmins.
Hingham's contribution in the World Wars
From 1903 until 1961, the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot (originally called the Hingham Naval Reserve) was a major supplier of U.S. munitions, occupying on the Weymouth Back River (in the section once known as The Hockley). Most of the munitions used in the European front in World War II were created at the depot. At peak capacity in 1945, over 2,400 civilians and military personnel worked there. In the mid-1950s, the site contained over 90 buildings, its own telephone exchange, and 15 cranes. The base was decommissioned in 1961, though the Navy held on to the property until 1971, when it was turned over to the town of Hingham. Today much of the site is now occupied by the town's Bare Cove Park.
Hingham was also the location of the Hingham Shipyard (also known as the Bethlehem Hingham Shipyard). Set up as an adjunct to the Fore River Shipyard in nearby Quincy, it was built in just four months in the winter of 1941-42. It operated for some 39 months during the Second World War. The facility employed approximately 23,500 workers and produced some 75 destroyer escorts (DEs), 17 high speed transports (APDs), 95 tank landing ships (LSTs), 40 landing craft (LCIs), for a total of 227 vessels. These smaller, relatively simple ships played a vital role in the Allied victory, and were built in record time. One DE was launched just 23 days after keel-laying, and in one 50-hour span a total of 5 LSTs were delivered. The steel mill erected on the site (used later as a General Services Administration warehouse) was the largest single-story building in New England, at . (A twin building was demolished in the 1980s, and the Mill Building was demolished in 2006). After the war, the complex became an industrial park. By the 1970s, the complex had fallen into disuse. Through the late 1980s and 1990s, the area primarily used as an MBTA commuter boat terminal and parking area, with some Marine businesses, the Hingham Bay Club Restaurant, a lobster pound, and the offices of the Building 19 Salvage Store Chain (in fact, the Building 19 chain began in the park, in what was Building 19 of the old shipyard. The corporate headquarters is still located in the Southwest corner of the park on Route 3A, one of only two of the original buildings of the Shipyard that remain standing). The area is now enjoying a renaissance as a new marina, condominium, retail, and restaurant complex, which maintains the "Hingham Shipyard" name. The shipyard is now known for its bars, restaurants, shops, and cinema. Throughout the complex are plaques and displays that pay tribute to the Shipyard, as well as a "Main Gate" building, which is a copy of the Guard House that once stood at the entrance of the complex. The smokestack of the original Power Plant also remains standing.
"The Main Street of America"
During World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt authored a book titled This is America, which used Hingham as an embodiment of the typical American town in wartime. As part of her visit researching the book she toured Hingham's Main Street, with its stately eighteenth- and nineteenth-century houses and, at the time, a canopy of elm trees. Mrs. Roosevelt later concluded in the book "[t]his is the most beautiful Main Street in America". Main Street looks today much as it did then, though the elm canopy has mostly fallen victim to the ravages of Dutch Elm disease.
In January 2007, the town carried out a long-discussed plan to put up the first set of traffic lights along Main Street, intended to improve safety at the intersection with Free and High streets. Those street lights ended up being put up on Free and High streets, making it easier for cars to cross, but causing traffic to back up along Main Street. Since then, there have been no car accidents at the intersection.
While strongly rooted in America's colonial past, Hingham has seen a wave of development in the past ten years. Real-estate development pressure in Hingham is likely spurred by several factors: the town's close proximity to Boston; its high-quality public education; its relatively unspoiled historic character, and expanding availability of public transportation to Boston, by MBTA bus, commuter ferry and the commuter rail.
Recent development includes the Conservatory Park residential subdivision and the Black Rock residential subdivision (a gated community, golf course, and private club). Another gated community for senior citizens, Linden Ponds, has been constructed in the southern part of Hingham. A second private golf club and residential community is nearing completion. Both golf clubs were developed on Hingham's western border with neighboring Weymouth, in areas that had previously been woodland or quarry. Brandon Woods, an exclusive neighborhood of large homes starting at around $1,000,000, was also built off Charles Street in the early 2000s.
The old shipyard is being converted into an upscale condo community including a movie theatre and stores with starting prices around $1,000,000. Next to the current Beal's Cove condo community is the new Backriver townhomes community, with buildings including three units per building, which sell starting in the $700,000s. Baker's Hill is now home to the Christina Estates. There is another 55+ community called Ridgewood Crossing off French Street, which includes upscale free-standing condos for "active adults". A street is also being built off Fresh River Ave on the Weymouth border called Steven's Way. Another street off Gardner Street is being built with large houses around $1,500,000.
Hingham's recent and future projected growth have led its school board to conclude that additional educational resources must be constructed for the town's expanding student population. The state has approved the construction of a fourth elementary school on the site of the former East School. The town has recently voted to spend approx. $7 million for renovations and repairs to the Foster and Plymouth River elementary schools.