Cohasset’s First Post Offices
Reproduced, with permission, from Treasury of Cohasset History, ed. J. M. Dormitzer (Town of Cohasset, Mass., 2005), pp. 74-76.
Cohasset’s first post office opened in April of 1803. The original postmaster was Samuel Browne, and the mail was gathered in his workshop ell, which he had built on his father’s house (23 North Main Street—the Unitarian Parish House). Sam’s father was the fiery Reverend John Browne, who had purchased the house from the heirs of Rev. Nehemiah Hobart, its builder . . .
Samuel Browne moved to Canada in 1806 on business of his father’s estate, and Joel Willcutt became the town’s second postmaster. The post office was then located in his house, 100 Elm Street. Zenas Stoddard followed as third postmaster, in 1837, and the post office was relocated in his store (23 South Main Street). Edward Tower was appointed the next postmaster, in 1861, and the post office was moved to his store (60 South Main Street). When Charles Gross became Cohasset’s fifth postmaster, in 1873, the business was shifted to his store (27 South Main Street).
During the two administrations of President Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897) Joseph St. John was the postmaster, and the post office was in his store (now gone) at the south end of the Common under Bourne’s Rock. Between Cleveland’s administrations, when Benjamin Harrison was president, Charles Gross was again postmaster. At this time he had moved his business to what is now Central Market [French Memories]. Harry Souther was appointed postmaster in 1897, but the post office remained in the St. John store. At his death in 1900, his sister, Abbie Souther, became postmistress. By this time branch post offices were located in Brown’s Store in Beechwood and in a store at West Corner adjacent to the firehouse.
The Cohasset Post Office became a separate entity in 1911, when it moved into Charles F. Tilden’s great new store block at the corner of South Main Street and Depot Court. For over half a century the post office was at 8 Depot Court . . . Then, for a couple of years, it was at 7 South Main Street . . . before moving, in the spring of 1967, into its new home [100 Ripley Road] in Howe’s Swamp. Opening day was delayed because of a freshet [flooding caused by rain].
At first the post office was nothing more than a tray holding letters on the counter. People would paw through the mail until they found their own. Periodically the postmaster-storekeeper clerk would stop and pick up those letters shuffled onto the floor. When Zenas Stoddard was postmaster, he had a rack of eighteen open-faced pigeonholes holding the letters. This kept the mail neater—theoretically. In the 1880s the government tried the “mail wheel,” a revolving wooden drum holding letters, identical to a modern postcard display rack. People could turn the wheel, but a sheet of glass protected the letters. Once finding his mail, the recipient would holler for the postmaster-storekeeper clerk to fetch it for him. Soon shoppers and others would spin the mail drum and make crude and rude remarks on certain letters. Finally, by governmental decree and popular demand, the mail drum was removed and replaced by glassed-in pigeonholes. There isn’t much one can do to a pigeonhole.
Mail was a far cry from what it is today. One had to journey to the post office; there was no home delivery. The mail itself came only once or twice a week, carrried by stagecoach and, oddly, not by the packet boats each seaside town had. But the stage line ended at Hingham, and the Cohasset postmaster would have to go and get the mail there. In 1828 Jedidiah Little of Scituate established his Scituate-Boston stage line, assuring a more regular mail delivery.
A letter was then a single sheet of paper written on one side [and] folded to make its own envelope. At first, postage was reckoned by distance. The post office department was the first to accurately measure mileage between towns. In 1813 a letter from Cohasset to Boston cost six cents; to New York, fifteen cents; and one to Washington, D.C., or farther cost twenty-five cents. The receiver, not the sender, paid the postage. By the 1840s the sender paid five cents to send [a] letter anywhere in the nation. The postmaster wrote PAID on the letter, and when the postage stamp appeared in 1847, it was cancelled by a blob of ink on the finger. The modern postal service had arrived!
From Robert Fraser, “The Many Homes of the Cohasset Post Office,” undated clipping, probably from the South Shore Mirror. Reprinted by permission of the author.