Library services have been a valued part of the Cohasset community for 170 years. During that time the focus and location of the library has changed to meet the times, but its role as a town treasure has remained constant. No other organization in town better represents the benefits of blending private and public money.
In 1832, Cohasset citizens, for a subscription fee of 25 cents, could become stockholders in one of two small libraries in private homes. While considered private libraries, the fee was consciously set low enough that all might find these 17 volumes accessible.
Somewhat later, in 1879, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts created legislation that enabled the establishment of town libraries. While this act was not a mandate and was not funded, it provided the necessary structure for the future of libraries in Massachusetts. The town of Cohasset grasped this concept immediately. Cohasset Free Public Library was funded, combining the existing private collections and $300 in public money to house the library in Town Hall. The Cohasset Free Public Library unified public and private assets to democratize access to knowledge.
In 1903, the Paul Pratt Memorial Library was constructed with private funds from the Paul Pratt family, the gift of the site from Mr. And Mrs. Samuel T. Snow, and payment for blasting the ledge from Charles A. Welch. The Town’s book collection of 7,500 volumes moved to this beautiful new library. Agreement was reached between the Town and the Board of Directors of the Paul Pratt Memorial Library to operate the library with town funds.
This harmonious arrangement continued for many years. An addition in 1964 was funded by the remainder of the endowment from the original Pratt gift and by other private gifts raised for this purpose. In 1975, the Directors of the Paul Pratt Memorial Library gave the building and its contents to the Town of Cohasset and dissolved their corporation.
These events set the stage for a complete renovation and restoration of the library in 1976. The town agreed to spend $200,000 to increase space by 40% to provide adequately for 45,000 books, 200 periodicals, audio-visual materials, a record collection, and increased space for children and seating. For 28 years, Cohasset citizens benefited from this renovation. Despite the renovation and expansion, however, the growth of library service, combined with the inability to provide handicap access and the lack of meeting room space, led to a determination by the Board of Trustees to investigate options for new library space.
In June 1998, a Request for Proposals for a Feasibility Study was prepared and distributed in order to provide the Trustees with a professional evaluation of the options open to the library and also provide firm cost estimates to use in planning. The study compared the costs and benefits of expanding the library’s present building, relocating to the four-acre Joseph Osgood School site, and/or any other options for relocating the public library. Many proposals were received, interviews were conducted, and on July 17, 1998, Stahl Associates (now Burt Hill/Boston) was chosen to do the work. At Cohasset’s 1998 October Town Meeting a report summarizing the Feasibility Study was presented, recommending the renovation of the Osgood School as the best and most cost-effective alternative for meeting the library’s program needs. On October 26, 1998, $152,500 was appropriated by Town Meeting for design and drawings to renovate the Osgood School on Ripley Road as the new home of the Cohasset Library to meet the town’s current and 20-year requirement.
In March 2003, Cohasset residents, library officials and dignitaries celebrated the opening of the new $4 million dollar, 15,500 sq. ft. Paul Pratt Memorial Library. Hailed as a resounding success by the residents of Cohasset as well as neighboring communities, the new Paul Pratt offers a beautiful, welcoming and stimulating environment that is accessible to all. Replete with high-quality collections, wired and wireless Internet access, inviting meeting rooms, and comfortable furnishings our new library is celebrated as a valued community asset that will serve Cohasset residents well into the future.