The Historic Hand House is an important historic and architectural resource which depicts the culture, sophisticated lifestyle of a prominent family of New York State jurists in the Adirondack wilderness during the nineteenth century. The homestead reflects the tastes and talents of Augustus C. Hand, an attorney whose reputation and influence extended far beyond Essex County.
Augustus Cincinnatus Hand (1803-1878) arrived at Elizabethtown from his native Vermont in 1832, establishing his first law practice in the two-room frame office on River Street. Hand’s busy practice at the Essex County seat prospered, and his reputation for fairness and honesty won him clients throughout the Adirondack region. A.C. Hand was elected to Congress in 1839, and to the State Senate in 1845, a reflection of the esteem with which his Whig neighbors regarded the lifelong Democrat. Appointed a justice of the New York Supreme Court in 1848, Hand built an imposing Greek Revival-style brick residence the following year, a house more in keeping with his stature than the modest frame dwelling in which his family lived for eighteen years. Judge Hand’s legal career culminated in his appointment to the state’s highest bench, the Court of Appeals, in 1865. Throughout his legal career, Hand maintained his home in Elizabethtown, practicing law from his original office nearby.
The Hand legal dynasty became perhaps the most notable family in the history of American jurisprudence, numbering fifteen jurists in five generations. A.C. Hand’s three sons, Clifford (1831-1901), Samuel (1833-1886), and Richard (1839-1914) all became prominent attorneys.
Samuel Hand served on the State Court of Appeals and as first president of the New York State Bar Association in 1878. Richard L. Hand joined his father in partnership at Elizabethtown and resided with his own family in the homestead. He held numerous civic offices, and was elected president of the State Bar Association in 1904.
A.C. Hand’s grandsons, Augustus Noble Hand (1869-1954) and Learned Hand (1872-1961) likewise became notable jurists, serving remarkable parallel legal careers as lawyers; as justices of the U.S. District Court, Southern District, New York; and on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. During their total of eighty-one years on the federal bench, the two Hand cousins rendered more than 5,000 opinions, and came to be regarded as the greatest jurists of their day. Augustus Noble Hand was born and raised at Elizabethtown, and spent many summers there during his adult life.