EHS calls for Pratt Guide volunteers this summer! Those interested may email Membership & Programs Manager, Andy King for more information.
Pratt House opens to the general public on June 3, 2023 and welcomes drop-in visitors on weekend afternoons June through September from 1 – 4pm. If you are interested in visiting at another time, contact us for appointments and group tours. Pratt House is free to the public and welcomes donations.
ABOUT PRATT HOUSE: For two centuries, Pratt House was home to the descendants of Lt. William Pratt, one of the three First Settlers of Essex. The house sits proudly on West Avenue, welcoming visitors to the Town. Its barn, traditional herb garden and lovely meadow complete the pastoral setting of a New England farm-house, beckoning us back to a way of life that has all but vanished.
Since 1985, Pratt House has been owned and preserved by the Essex Historical Society, welcoming visitors to come hear its stories and be transported back to a bygone era.
THE HOUSE THAT “JACK’ BUILT: In 1701, John Pratt, Jr., grandson of Lt. William Pratt, one of the three original settlers of Essex, built a small gambrel-roofed cape on this site. By 1732, with a family of nine children and probably some elderly parents as well, he undoubtedly needed more space. John moved this house back on the property and built in its place a two-room cape, one room down and one up, with an end chimney. John, Jr., died about 1744 and the house passed to his son, Lt. John Pratt, who extended the house to a full cape. One more renovation toward the end of the 18th century raised the roof to make it a full two-story structure and to connect the early gambrel cape as an ell at the rear of the house.
In architectural terms, the house is described as a “vernacular” style, as it does not follow the classic symmetry of the Colonial period: there are four windows across the second floor facade instead of the usual five and they do not line up with the first floor windows or doorway; the chimney is not centered; the interior now has two L-shaped bedrooms, and there is no entry-hall or front stairs. The house remained in the Pratt family ownership until 1952, when it was deeded to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now known as Historic New England) by Mrs. Samuel Griswold, whose late husband was a Pratt on his mother’s side. In 1985, Historic New England transferred the property and much of its contents to the Essex Historical Society.
PRATT HOUSE FURNISHINGS: The furnishings, although not from the Pratt family, nonetheless span the years in which the Pratts lived in the house and represent pieces they might have owned. They offer a range of styles, from the early Pilgrim oak chest to the graceful Queen Anne and Chippendale chairs and tables, and on through the Hepplewhite and Sheraton periods.
Also of particular interest are the collections of red-ware pottery, a group of courting mirrors, and the very beautiful iron door-latches, cooking utensils and fireplace tools, probably forged by one or more of the Pratt smithies. And not to be missed is the 18th century loom in the barn – it was a gift to the Society from the owners of a local house where it had been in use for many years. It was lovingly re-assembled in the loft of the Pratt House Barn and is worked on by a dedicated group of weavers who turn out prize-winning examples of traditional patterns.
PRATT BLACKSMITH SHOP: John Pratt Sr., the first in the family line of blacksmiths, began his shop in Saybrook and later moved it to Essex. His son, John, Jr., was a part-time blacksmith and the builder of Pratt House. Following in the family trade of blacksmithing and living in the family homestead were three more generations of Pratts: Lt. John, Asa, and another John. The last four blacksmiths in the family who did not occupy the house were Elias, Edwin, James, and another Edwin, for a total of nine continuous generations in the trade. The present brick Pratt Smithy building, located two doors east of Pratt House, was built in 1848 by Elias Pratt. It replaced an earlier wooden structure next door to the west. Their business specialized in household iron work – nails, hinges, latches, bolts, foot scrapers, tongs, gridirons and other house, farm, and shipyard items. Later horse shoeing became an important part of the business.
The best known of the long line of smiths was James Lord Pratt. He was featured in the September, 1938 issue of National Geographic Magazine as the last of the line because he had no children, but he was actually followed by a nephew, Edwin Pratt, making it nine generations and 266 years. Also in 1938, the smithy was commemorated by the U.S. Postal Service on a First Day envelope in a series celebrating the American entrepreneur, citing the Pratt Smithy as America’s oldest continuously run family business.
The period-appropriate KITCHEN GARDENS at Pratt House are accurately and lovingly maintained by the Essex Garden Club. Essex Historical Society and Essex Garden Club are pleased to collaborate as Partners in History.