Historical -- Commission, District Commission, Society. There's a Difference!

People often confuse the Cohasset Historical Commission with the Cohasset Historical Society. The differences among several similar terms applied to Cohasset’s historical organizations and sites are spelled out below.


Historical Commission

Historical commissions identify, evaluate, and protect the important historical and archaeological assets of a community. In Massachusetts, the establishment of local historical commissions was permitted through a statute enacted by the Commonwealth in 1963; Cohasset’s was created in 1973. The Cohasset Historical Commission consists of seven members, each appointed by the Select Board for a three-year term.


Historic District Commission

Historic district commissions preserve the historical integrity of a particular district created through a local bylaw or ordinance. Plans to alter exterior architectural features that are visible from a public way in the district must be reviewed and approved by the local historic district commission. To date, Cohasset has one local historic district: the Cohasset Common Historic District, established in 1978. The Cohasset Common Historic District Commission consists of seven members, each appointed by the Select Board for a three-year term.


Historical Society

Historical societies research, interpret, and preserve local history. They inform the public through displays, publications, and programs. The Cohasset Historical Society, established in 1928, is a nonprofit organization supported through membership dues, donations, and fund-raising events. Among its holdings are extensive research materials, collections of historical items, and four historic buildings/museums.


National Register Historic District 

A National Register historic district is a specific geographic area that is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as containing properties that are historically significant. The Cohasset Historical Commission has been instrumental in securing National Register designation for the following properties and districts:

Caleb Lothrop House

Josephine M. Hagerty House

Government Island Historic District

Cohasset Common Historic District

Bates Ship Chandlery

Captain John Wilson House

Cohasset Central Cemetery

Paul Pratt Building


A listing on the National Register is largely honorary. It does not preclude changes to the property. If state or federal permits or funds are used to alter a historically significant property, however, the alteration will be reviewed by the Massachusetts Historical Commission staff.  


Local Historic District 

Local historic districts are geographic areas that contain historically significant properties, like National Register districts, but have much stronger protection against inappropriate alterations. Local historic districts are created by local bylaw or ordinance. Proposed changes to the exterior architecture of buildings within the districts must be reviewed and approved by a locally appointed historic district commission.

Cohasset Common is both a National Register Historic District and a local historic district.