October 22, 2014

The Pratt House, A Treasure Trove of Essex History

Pratt House on West Avenue is the third house down from Essex Town Hall

Pratt House on West Avenue is the third house down from Essex Town Hall

Essex residents, as well as other local history buffs, owe it to themselves to visit the Pratt House, an authentic survivor of over 300 years of local history.  Located directly on West Avenue, three doors down from Essex Town Hall, the Pratt House has ample space for parking on its spacious side lawn.

Furthermore, admission to the Pratt House is free, as are the lectures of knowledgeable docents, who are on hand to enhance the visitor’s experience.

Co-Docent Coordinators (l to r), Mary Ann Pleva and Bette Taylor

Co-Docent Coordinators (r to l), Mary Ann Pleva and Bette Taylor

The Pratt House is open to visitors from the months of June to September, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Also, private appointments to see the Pratt House can be arranged by calling 860-767-0681

The Pratt House Through the Years

The Pratt family’s connection with the Town of Essex began in 1648 when William Pratt came down from Hartford to survey vacant land in an area that was called Potapoug. Potapoug at the time encompassed what are now the towns of Essex, Deep River and Chester.

William Pratt was born in England, and he came to the American colonies in 1637 to serve as a lieutenant in the Pequot War, which was being waged against the Pequot Indians. After the war William Pratt decided to stay in the colonies, and he, ultimately, moved to the Saybrook Colony and became a farmer.

William Pratt’s genealogy continues with the birth of his son, John Pratt, who when he grew up, became the first in a long line of blacksmiths in the Saybrook colony. John Pratt also bought land that was to become a part of Essex, and he deeded this land on his death to his own son, John Pratt, Jr.

In 1701 John Pratt, Jr., built the first homestead on the property that his father had given him, and this property is now the site of the present day Pratt House.

Additions to the original 1701 structure were made by members of the Pratt family in 1732 and 1750, and the final structure of the Pratt House, as it is today, was completed in 1800.

In 1852 the Town of Essex was jurisdictionally severed from Old Saybrook and  was incorporated as its own town, according to a State of Connecticut plaque in Essex’ Main Street town park. This meant that Essex was no longer under the town government of Old Saybrook.

Pratt Family Had Many Occupations 

Throughout the years the owners of the Pratt House besides being blacksmiths also became, “farmers, soldiers, ship captains and a manufacturer,” according to Essex Historical Society materials.

Old four poster bed, note the chamber pot

Old four poster bed, note the chamber pot

Then in 1915 members of the Pratt family sold the Pratt House to Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Griswold. However, in a sense the house still remained in the Pratt family, because Mrs. Griswold’s maiden name was Susannah Pratt, whose father was Elias Pratt.

An original fireplace at Pratt House that at one time provided the only heat

An original fireplace at Pratt House that at one time provided the only heat

After the Pratt House property had been purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Griswold, the main house was converted into a rental property with individual rooms in the house being rented out to various tenants.

Next in 1953 the Pratt House was willed to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which turned it into a museum. Then, In 1985 ownership of the property was transferred to the successor organization, the Essex Historical Society.

The Pratt House Today

The furnishings in the present day Pratt House, according to Pratt House materials, “reflect a mixture of styles, including William and Mary, Queen Ann, Chippendale and Hepplewhite. None of the furnishings are original to the house but are similar to items listed in Pratt family inventories.”

Continuing, it is noted that, “Functional furniture would have been kept in the family and handed down from one generation to the next, so it is in keeping with the family’s actions that rooms are furnished in more than one style of furniture.”

In addition to the Pratt House’s museum space, there is a private renter in the back portion of the building. On the property  there is also a  reconstructed barn which holds materials belonging to the Essex Historical Society. Finally, way in the back of the two acre property, there is an old fashioned outhouse building, still standing.

Pratt House visitors, Ann Good, Oakland, CA; Patti Klaje, Hamden, CT; and Kristen Pallord, Houston, TX

Pratt House visitors, Ann Good, Oakland, CA; Patti Klaje, Hamden, CT; and Kristen Pallord, Houston, TX