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 ran afoul 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 verboten practices.
Hobart, a fellow graduate of Cambridge and native of Hingham, 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 possession for half their value," noted a contemporaneous 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-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 West Countryman Eames, and others supported Bozoan Allen, a prominent early Hingham settler and Hobart ally who came from Kings 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. 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.
The third town clerk of Hingham was Daniel Cushing, who emigrated to Hingham from Hingham, Norfolk, with his father Matthew in 1638. Cushing's meticulous records of early Hingham enabled subsequent town historians to reconstruct much of early Hingham history as well as that of the early families. Cushing was rather unusual in that he included the town's gossip along with the more conventional formal record-keeping. Cushing's early manuscript was published in 1865, with photographs of his contemporaneous notes on Hingham and its inhabitants entitled "Extracts of the Minutes of Daniel Cushing of Hingham. 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 forbears in Hingham, Abe responded with dry Lincoln wit that if the town's name was 'Hang'-em' then he probably did have relatives there.
For many years Hingham was the site of the Fall Blast which was the New England Optimist Fall Championship.
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 meetinghouse 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, England, 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.
Hingham was also the location of a 97 acre shipyard set up as an adjunct to the Fore River Shipyard in nearby Quincy, 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 U.S. 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.) After the war, the complex became an industrial park. By the 1970s, the complex had fallen into disuse. It is currently used as a commuter boat terminal and parking area. Most of the buildings have now been demolished to pave the way for a new multi-use marina, condominium, and retail complex that is to be constructed over the next five to ten years.
During World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt authored a book entitled 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 that "[t]his is the most beautiful Main Street in America." Today Main Street looks 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 accidents at the intersection.
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 $700,000's. Baker's Hill is now home to the Christina Estates. There is also 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.
Hingham lies along the southwest corner of Boston Harbor, at the portion known as Hingham Bay. The bay leads to a harbor, which cuts a "u"- shaped indentation into the northern shore of the town. The town is separated from Hull by the Weir River and its tributary, which leads to the Straits Pond. The northern third of the town's border with Weymouth consists of the Weymouth Back River, which empties out into Hingham Bay. There are several other small ponds and brooks throughout town. The town also has several forests and parks, the largest of which, Wompatuck State Park, spreads into the neighboring towns of Cohasset, Scituate and Norwell. There are also several conservation areas through out town, including the World's End Reservation, which juts out into the bay. There is a marina along the mouth of the Weymouth Back River, and a public beach along the harbor.
As of the census of 2000, there were 19,882 people, 7,189 households, and 5,478 families residing in the town. The population density was 884.8 people per square mile (341.6/km²). There were 7,368 housing units at an average density of 327.9/sq mi (126.6/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 90.5% White, 5.40% Black or African American, 0.04% Native American, 0.88% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.22% from other races, and 0.95% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.75% of the population.
There were 7,189 households out of which 37.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 65.7% were married couples living together, 8.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 23.8% were non-families. 21.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.72 and the average family size was 3.19.
In the town the population was spread out with 27.7% under the age of 18, 4.3% from 18 to 24, 26.3% from 25 to 44, 27.5% from 45 to 64, and 14.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 89.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.6 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $83,018, and the median income for a family was $98,598. Males had a median income of $66,802 versus $41,370 for females. The per capita income for the town was $41,703. About 2.4% of families and 3.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.7% of those under age 18 and 3.1% of those age 65 or over.
On the state level, Hingham is represented in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a part of the Third Plymouth district, by Garrett Bradley. The district also includes Cohasset, Hull and North Scituate. The town is represented in the Massachusetts Senate as a part of the Plymouth and Norfolk district, by Robert Hedlund. The district also includes the towns of Cohasset, Duxbury, Hull, Marshfield, Norwell, Scituate and Weymouth. The town is patrolled on a secondary basis by the First (Norwell) Barracks of Troop D of the Massachusetts State Police.
Hingham is governed on the local level by the open town meeting form of government, and is led by a town administrator and a three-member board of selectmen. The town hall is located in the former Central Junior High School building, which it moved into in 1995. The town has its own police and fire departments, with a central police station next to the town hall and fire houses located near the town common, in West Hingham, and in South Hingham. The town's nearest hospital is South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, where all emergency calls are sent. There are two post offices in town, one in downtown Hingham on North Street and another in South Hingham right on Route 53. The town's public library is located on Leavitt Street in Centre Hingham, and is part of the Old Colony Library Network.
Hingham High School is located near Hingham Center, and serves students from ninth to twelfth grades. The school's teams are known as the Harbormen (and Harborwomen), and their colors are red and white. The teams compete in the Patriot League, and their chief rivals are nearby Scituate High and Duxbury High.
In addition to the town's public schools, Hingham is home to four private schools. Saint Paul's School is a Catholic school, and Derby Academy is an independent private school. Both serve elementary and middle school aged students. The town is also home to Notre Dame Academy, a Roman Catholic women's high school. Hingham is also home to Old Colony Montessori School, a private special education school. Additionally, there are more private schools in Weymouth, Milton, Braintree, and other towns which also serve students from Hingham.
Public transportation is currently served by the commuter boat service at the Hingham Shipyard, and the MBTA's Bus Route 220, with Route 222 also passing through a small section of town. Commuter rail has been restored along the Greenbush Line through Hingham. Trains stop at two stations in town; West Hingham and Nantasket Junction. As part of the MBTA's agreement to restore train service, a tunnel has been built to carry the commuter trains under historic Hingham Square. There were disputes in Hingham about whether to allow the train to pass through the town. Some people felt that Hingham is becoming less like a town and more like a small city. Others felt that the line will benefit the town. There is no air service in the town; the nearest airport is Logan International Airport in Boston.