Archive for November, 2011

Floss Rapp, Historian

November 24, 2011

Floss Rapp 1917

courtesy Rosemary & Keith Rapp



The Rapp Family of Cotuit

November 19, 2011


The remarkable Rapp family has made important contributions in history, art, conservation, and medicine in the village of Cotuit.

Florence Rapp (1891-1974) was the co-founder of the Historical Society of Santuit and Cotuit in 1954. Nita Crawford, the owner of the Pines Hotel, donated the Samuel Dottridge house as its home. “Floss”, as Mrs. Rapp was known, was the historian. She did first hand research in the records to identify the oldest houses in Cotuit, and record the story of the sea captains who built them. Her “Looking Backwards” is the first history of the village.

Floss’s husband Walter Rapp (1886-1940) fought hard to establish the Cotuit Water District against opposition from many who had their own wells, and did not want the expense of a large water system. After his success as a leather merchant he joined the Cotuit Oyster Company as its salesman covering New England and New York.

Walter and Floss Rapp first summered in Cotuit in the early 1900s, staying at the Cotuit Inn, which was run by Fannie Gifford, the wife of Congressman Charles Gifford. In 1931 the Rapps bought the 1787 Hezekiah Coleman house on School St.. Residents say that the ghost of the old sea captain Hezekiah opens the bathroom closet door with a creak when someone sits on the toilet.

When the Rapps moved to the village, their son Keith was six, and attended Cotuit school, located where the post office now stands. He went on to Barnstable High School and University of California, Berkeley in 1942. He joined the Navy in 1943, and trained as a night fighter pilot. After the war he returned to Berkeley for his bachelor’s degree in 1948. He got his medical degree from Tufts Medical School in 1952, and rejoined the Navy as a flight surgeon. He learned to fly helicopters on anti-submarine patrol.

Dr. Rapp returned to his boyhood home in 1955 to open a general practice in his School Street home. He was the third year-round physician in Cotuit, following Dr. Solomon Haskins and Dr. Donald Higgins. No one needed to knock to get care. He delivered over 30 Cotuit babies. Soon there was a demand for X-Ray at Cape Cod Hospital, and Dr. Rapp commuted to Boston to do residency in radiology. In 1962 he opened a clinic near the Cape Cod Hospital, and eventually became Chief of Radiology at the hospital, serving until his retirement after 42 years, in 2005.

Dr. Rapp’s wife, Rosemary, is the founder of the Cahoon Museum of American Art. An artist herself, she trained at the University of Massachusetts, Boston University, and Museum of Fine Arts. About 1975 she opened Art Waves, an artist’s supply store in the Marstons Mills Schoolhouse (now the Lawrence Funeral Home), later moving to one of Bob Hayden’s buildings in Treasure Highland. When that was no longer available she considered opening in the 1782 Zenas Crocker House where the artists Ralph and Martha Cahoon had their studio. Instead, after Ralph’s death the Rapps bought the two hundred year-old house, and did much of the renovation and modernization themselves, and in 1984 founded the Museum.

The third generation of the Cotuit Rapp family has continued the tradition of public service. Rosemary and Keith’s eldest child, Jan, who ran Art Waves and teaches art at Cape Cod Academy, is a leader in conservation, working with Conrad Geyser to pioneer in alternative sources of solar and wind power, septic waste disposal, and sustainable agriculture.

The eldest son, Stuart, an attorney, is chairman of the town Shellfish Committee which has promoted revival of the oyster production. The younger daughter, Jessica, is chairman of the town Historical Commission, co-author of a book on Cotuit history, an expert in restoration of antique paintings, has just been elected to the new Town Council. The youngest member of the family, William, who lives in Florida now, once served as a Cotuit volunteer fireman.

Published in Barnstable Enterprise 18 Nov. 2011.

I apologize for omitting one branch of the Rapp family of Cotuit.  Walter “Wally” Rapp (1920-1987), the elder son of Walter and Florence also went to local schools, and served in WWII, in Army Air Corps, servicing B-29  bombers.  After the war he bought the Bill Irwin house at 33 School St. (east of the post office), which continues to be the Walter Rapp summer home.  Wally graduated from Pratt Institute in1947, working as an engineer at Sperry Gyroscope and Nabisco.  By his wife Lucille Harvey (1921-2007) he had two children, Chris, the present owner of 33 School St., and Leslie (Rapp) Stanley.

Our Forgotten Vet: John F. Dottridge

November 12, 2011

John F. Dottridge grave, photo by Paul Rifkin


Armistice Day marks the celebration of the end of the Great War on November 11, 1918. When I was a boy our teacher would stop class at 11 in the morning and ask for a moment of silence to remember with sorrow those thousands who died in the war, and to dedicate ourselves to peace, so that it would never happen again. We failed miserably, as two wars go on without end, and we send drones into four or five other lands.

I havc just discovered the death of a forgotten Cotuit veteran of the Spanish American War. Why had we forgotten? There was no gravestone for John F. Dottridge, just the name and dates 1880-1898 on the family stone on the south side of old Mosswood Cemetery.

John F. Dottridge was the first born child of the Cotuit builder Howard Dottridge and his wife “Lizzie” Collins, daughter of the Mashpee storekeeper, and founding Reader of the Christian Science Church of Cotuit. John was named for his grandfather John Dottridge, the builder. He was probably born in the house at 544 Main St., which his father had just built in 1878.

At the graduation of the class of 1896 of Cotuit High School he gave an oration on “Indian Character”. With three generations of housewrights behind him, John probably worked for his father as carpenter, with a probable future of building Cotuit homes and public buildings.

After the sinking of “The Maine”, Congress declared war on April 20, 1898. At age 18 John enlisted and on May 11 joined Company D of the “Dashing 8th” Massachusetts Volunteers regiment in Lynn. The “Old Eighth”, formed in 1636, had fought in all the colonial wars, in the Revolution at Bunker Hill, Trenton, Valley Forge and Saratoga, in the War of 1812, Mexican War, the Civil War defending the capital and in North Carolina.

John’s regiment went by rail to Chattanooga, and on May 20 marched nine miles to “that place of horrors, that valley of death” according to one of John’s superior officers. This was Camp Thomas, laid out as Chickamauga National Park on the battlefield where in 1863 the Confederates had defeated the Union forces, with 3000 deaths on both sides. It is said that Chickamauga means in Cherokee, “Valley of Death”, perhaps from a smallpox plague there.

Dottridge’s Eighth was posted in the southeast corner of the park, in wet low-lying terrain along the Chickamauga Creek. University of Michigan Prof. Victor Vaughn’s study found the first case of typhoid fever in the unit was May 28, but not diagnosed for a month, since current medical knowledge could not distinguish it from malaria, which is not common in the area. Gerald Pierce’s doctoral dissertation shows how the “Yellow Press” of the day blamed the epidemic on polluted water, but the Eighth was commended for its strict sanitary measures. Water was boiled after being brought by eight-mule carts from outside the park, at Blue Spring. When a soldier failed to bathe he was scrubbed down naked by two sergeants (also naked).

But then it rained. Harry Webber, the Eighth’s historian, tells of some college age soldiers skimming off the slime from a spring after a flood, to fill their canteens. Water may not have been the cause, but flies, which spread the disease from open latrines to food in kitchens and mess tents. The first case of typhoid in the 48 regiments was in the Pennsylvania 16th May 8, nine days before that regiment arrived at Camp Thomas. The troops brought typhoid to a crowded camp. The flies did the rest.

Prof. Vaughn estimated that nearly 10,000 of the 44,800 troops at Chickamauga came down with typhoid. The 761 who died was twice the number that were killed in combat in the whole war. John Dottridge died on Sept. 5, 1898. He was buried in the south edge of old Mosswood, where I’ll put a flag today, on November 11, to remember another life wasted by a war for empire.

Published in Barnstable Enterprise 11 November 2011.

The First Library 1796

November 12, 2011

Roland Crocker House, site of first library, now The Regatta. Courtesy Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit


Only seven years after the American Revolution Cotuit and Marstons Mills had their own joint library. On Sept. 29, 1796 “The Second Social Library of Barnstable” was established by sixteen local leaders according to the minute book preserved in the Sturgis Library. The record of the first library is lost, but we knew that it was kept by Dr. Richard Bourne in Barnstable village.

The Second Library board first met at the home of Zenas Crocker, now the Cahoon Museum. The library was supported by subscribers, five of them Crockers, including the only woman, Elizabeth, probably the widow of Heman Crocker. There were two each of Sampson, Bassett and Coleman families, and a Hawley, Lovell, Chipman, and later a Goodspeed and a Hinckley.

The first Librarian was Roland Thacher Crocker, who kept the books in his store which is now the building on Route 28 that houses The Regatta restaurant. Roland’s father, Alvan Crocker, took over the librarian duties for a few years, but there is no record of the reason for this. The Librarian was paid two dollars a month to keep track of books and give a report to an overseeing committee. Fines were set at three to six pence per week, the most frequent being for “detention”–keeping a book over the four-to-six week loan period. “Folding down a leaf” cost two pence; “greasing” was a common offense.

Before the first meeting 25 books had already been bought from the Boston bookseller Eben Larkin for £ 13, 16 shillings and sixpence, less 10% discount.

Most of the authors were by English authors, but the principal American writer was Benjamin Franklin. There were volumes of a magazine called “The Mirror”, and letters of now obscure authors Bennett and Williams whose first names are not given. The latter may be “Letters Written in France” (1790), a popular commentary on the American Revolution by Hannah Maria Williams.

Of course, the largest number of volumes were religious: Sermons by the Reverends John Lothrop, Hugh Blair and Richard Price, “Sacred Dramas” by the pioneer woman abolitionist Hannah More, Beether’s “Evidences” of Christianity, and a book by a founder of Methodism, Rev. James Hervey. There were three moral guidebooks: Lord Chesterfield’s “Principles of Politeness”, William Dodd’s “Beauties of History”, and “Ladies Advice” by an unknown author.

At a time when New England was opening to the world it was not surprising that there were three geography books: the Rev. Jedidiah Morse’s “Universal Geography” and Travels in America, as well as an account of a recently re-discovered Palau in the remote Caroline Islands.

Three novels included “Evelina” and “Cecilia” by the popular Fanny Burney, and “Julia de Roubingé” by the Scottish writer Henry Mackenzie.

Political books were on the liberal side, James Burgh’s tract on free speech “Dignity of Human Nature”, and Thomas Mortimer’s statesmens’ biographies in the “British Plutarch”.

Oliver Goldsmith’s “History of England” joined his “Essays and Poems”. The poems of Henry Howard, father of the English sonnet, were probably there too.

Within 16 months of the founding ooof the library, Benjamin Marston was voted a share, and he was joined by seven other Marstons Mills readers from the Goodspeed, Hinckley and Marston families. By 1801 the committee, meeting at Winslow Marston’s brick house, decided to divide the collection, appointing Reuben Crocker of Little River as Cotuit’s librarian, and Benjamin Marston librarian for the Mills, with a salary of $5 a month.

At a proprietors’ meeting in March 1805 it was voted to see if the new library could be “put into one” with the First Social Library. The last entry in the minute book at Sturgis, dated only eleven days later, does not reveal whether the library merged, or how long it went on, or the fate of the books. If you come across one of the old titles listed above, look to see if it has a bookplate from the Second Social Library of Barnstable.

Published in Barnstable Enterprise 21 Oct. 2011

Doctors of Cotuit

November 12, 2011


Cotuit has had many prominent physicians, but before 1895 it was served by the doctors in Marstons Mills.

The first resident physician was Dr. Solomon Foot Haskins (1858-1928) who practiced in Cotuit a few years before he built a house at 134 Ocean View in 1895. After graduating from Dartmouth Medical School in 1879 he did a year in medicine at Michigan under Prof. E. S. Dunster, and practiced in Truro, Yarmouth, Hudson and Orange. After his death the village was served from Marstons Mills by Dr. James Higgins, whose son Dr. Donald E. Higgins (1904-82) took over his father’s practice, moving to Cotuit in 1936, in an office at 975 Main St. until 1969, except for during the World War II years.

In 1882, the James Coleman house at 786 Main St. Cotuit, was bought by Dr. Algernon Coolidge (1830-1912), surgeon at Mass. General Hospital who had served as a doctor in Civil War hospitals in Newport and Washington DC. Dr. Coolidge was son of a Boston China trade merchant who married a granddaughter of President Jefferson. He and his wife had probably been coming to Cotuit earlier, to visit his wife’s sister Mrs. George Gardner Lowell. Their great contribution to the village was the founding of the Cotuit Library in 1885.

Their son Dr. Algernon Jr. (1860-1939) inherited the house in 1915. He became the leading laryngologist at Harvard, the first doctor in America to use the bronchoscope to removed blockage of the throat. His book on tonsils is a classic textbook. One summer, it is believed that he saved the life of a person by performing emergency appendectomy on a kitchen table in Cotuit.

Cotuit’s most famous doctor was James Jackson Putnam (1846-1919), after whom Putnam Av. is named. In 1896 he bought the Capt. Andrew Lovell house at 86 Putnam Av., which stayed in the family until 1977. He was a famous neurologist, and first psychiatrist in America, who brought Freud and Jung to this country, though not to Cotuit. Dr. Putnam’s daughter Dr. Marion C. Putnam, one of the first child psychologists, summered here. The house was inherited by another daughter, Elizabeth, wife of Dr. Munro McIver, author of the text on “Acute Intestinal Obstruction”.

Dr. Putnam was followed in Cotuit by several important psychiatrists. “ The Wings” on The Narrows at 781 Old Post Rd. was for 45 years the summer home of Dr. Stanley Cobb (1887-1908). It was there his observations of birds led him to make an early environmental warning about pesticides. The biography of this pioneer neuroscientist and psychiatrist was written by his son-in-law, Dr. Benjamin White, a lifelong summer resident of Cotuit.

The secluded woods of lower Cotuit have been the favorite summer retreat of several noted psychiatrists. Dr. Sidney Isaac Schwab (1871-1947), neuroscientist and psychiatrist from St. Louis rented the Fremont Smith house at 110 Vineyard Rd. after World War I in which he did pioneer work with shell-shocked soldiers.

Following Dr. Schwab to Cotuit was William Herman (1891-1935), a Jungian neurologist who built a summer home in 1928 next to Dr. Schwab at 90 Vineyard Rd. The house was inherited by his daughter Marybelle, wife of Dr. William D. Cochran, pediatrician at Harvard Medical School, who retired here in 1993.

Erik Erikson (1902-94), psychoanalyst, famous for his theories of human development and
Pulitzer Prize-winning study of Gandhi summered at 45 Vineyard Rd. in 1962 and retired in 1970 until his death.

The Salem physician Dr. Edward Lawrence Peirson (1862-1935) bought the Henry Hodges house at 621 Main St. in 1904 and summered here with his children, including his son, the urologist Edward Jr. (1899-1956).

Dr. James B. Dunning (1874-1959), founder of Columbia Dentistry School, and his wife built “Westward” as a summer home at 1392 Main St. in 1910.

Cotuit’s most famous doctor was Helen Taussig (1898-1986) who spent most summers here, retiring and dying at her home at Rushy Marsh. She won the prestigious Lasker award for her discovery of surgery to correct “the blue baby” syndrome.

Cousins of the Coolidges spent the summers of their whole lives in Cotuit: psychologist Dr. Alice Lowell (1906-82), her allergist brother Dr. Francis C. Lowell (1909-79) and their nephew Dr. James Barzun, internist and cardiologist, married to the psychiatrist Dr. Kathleen Barzun.

Two pathologists have made Cotuit their homes. In 1955 Dr. Raymond Goodale (1898-1989) moved and remodeled part of President A. Lawrence Lowell’s house at 880 Main St. and lived there until his death. Dr. Stephanie G. Wall (born 1937) retired in 994 Main St. in 1994 and became active in promoting peace and justice causes on Cape Cod.

Dr. Turner McLardy, Scottish psychiatrist, retired to the Cephas Ames house at 1036 Main St., but continued to serve at the County hospital in Pocasset. Captured in North Africa by the Germans, he was held prisoner in Germany during World War II.

Dr. Keith Rapp (born 1925), spent his life in Cotuit, practicing as anesthesiologist at Cape Cod Hospital.

Two orthodontists summer in Cotuit, with daughters who are also doctors. Dr. Carl J. Perlmutter of Newton bought the Savery house at 129 School St., has a daughter Julia Perlmutter (b. 1970), a psychiatrist and neurologist. Dr. Michael R. Coppe of Lexington has summered at the Green Schoolhouse at 1257 Main St., where his daughter Carolyn, grew up in summers, now also a dentist in practice with her father.

Published in Barnstable Enterprise 14 Oct. 2011, with additions.