The Rapp Family of Cotuit


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.


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One Response to “The Rapp Family of Cotuit”

  1. Chris Rapp Says:

    Very nice half a story.

    Chris Rapp, 33 School Sstreet, Cotuit

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