Pratt Rocks

Visit Pratt Rocks

New York's Mt.Rushmore, (The Guide, October 1996, by Carolyn Bennett)

Ripley's "Believe it or Not" called it "New York's Mt.Rushmore.  Another, less generous appraisal termed it "a monument to vanity".  Pratt Rock Park, by the side of Route 23 on the outskirts of Prattsville, like many other points of interest in the Catskill Mountains, seems to attract widely varying opinions.  And its story, like the Catskills themselves, is cloaked in legend.

George Pratt, Zadock Pratt' son, who was killed in a Civil War battle in Manassas, Va. The story goes that a poor stonecutter passing through the village of Prattsville in 1843 panhandled the town's foremost citizen, wealthy landowner/entrepreneur/statesman Zadock Pratt, who was known for his largess.  But Pratt was also known for his belief in the salutary effects of hard work, and in return for his modest donation (reportedly fifty cents), set the man to work carving the Abraham Lincoln-ish profile of Pratt high above the village in the town.  The poor stonecutter must have wished he had hit someone else for four-bits.

Pratt liked the stonecutter's work so well (the story goes), and his vanity was tickled by his likeness now presiding over the fertile valley of the Schoharie Kill, that he retained the stonecutter to carve emblems depicting Pratt's life's story in the rock surrounding his profile: a horse and a hemlock tree (key resources in the building of the Pratt leather-tanning

fortune), the tannery itself (with the legend ONE MILLION SIDES OF SOLE LEATHER TANNED WITH HEMLOCK BARK, IN TWENTY YEARS BY Z.PRATT), the Pratt coat of arms with the motto

DO WELL AND DOUBT NOT, and a wreath containing the names of two of his children, George W. and Julia H. (a third child, unmemorialized in rock, had died in infancy). 

The wreath originally contained the hopeful blessing: LET VIRTUE BE YOUR GREATEST CARE/AND STUDY YOUR DELIGHTS/SO WILL YOUR DAYS BE EVER FAIR/AND PEACEABLE YOUR NIGHTS. 

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The verse was later removed, sometime after George was slain in 1862 by Confederate cannon fire at the second battle of Manassas (Bull Run).                                                                            Go to Top

Destroyed, along with George, in that rebel fusillade, were the elder Pratt's dreams of turning over his vast commercial (almost baronial) empire to his son and heir.   Whether the relief sculptures of Pratt Rock began as a result of the whimsy of the moment, a chance encounter with an itinerant stonecutter, or whether they had been planned for years as a monument to himself by a man who had already imprinted his name on a village and a township, the rocks, with George's death, became a father's memorial to a dead son.

ROCKS10.gif (164439 bytes) Under the bust of Zadock, is the brief legend, ZADOCK PRATT/BORN OCT 30, 1790, while George was given much more copy: HON.G.W.PRATT, Ph.D./COLXX Regt.,N.Y.S.M., ULSTER Co., BORN APR.18 1830/WOUNDED AUG.30, IN THE 2nd BATTLE OF/MANASSAS, VA. DIED AT ALBANY, N.Y. Sep.11TH/GOOD BRAVE HONORABLE 1862.

The verse blessing (now painfully inappropriate) was removed from the sandstone wreath, and a large heroic bust of George was carved just to the left of the earlier, smaller, bust of Zadock.  Under the bust of Zadock, is the brief legend, ZADOCK PRATT/BORN OCT 30, 1790, while George was given much more copy: HON.G.W.PRATT, Ph.D./COLXX Regt.,N.Y.S.M., ULSTER Co., BORN APR.18 1830/WOUNDED AUG.30, IN THE 2nd BATTLE OF/MANASSAS, VA. DIED AT ALBANY, N.Y. Sep.11TH/GOOD BRAVE HONORABLE 1862.

George was a boy of 13 when the sculptures were begun.  No doubt the elder Pratt often took his son to the park to watch the familiar features of his father, a horse, a tree and the tannery that defined his small world in Prattsville form like magic from the featureless gray rock.  No doubt, also, the elder Pratt would tell his son how his accomplishments also (and his son's after him) would one day be carved in the rocks to testify to their adherence to doing well and doubting not.

The pact was sealed, George did well (a doctorate and a Union colonelcy), and he doubted not, as he left for Washington and points south at the head of a regiment of militia.  Afterwards, his father duly commissioned George's vital statistics carved in the rocks where their sandstone images look at each other for eternity.  Between them was carved an uplifted right hand and the motto: THIS HAND FOR MY COUNTRY.

There are other carvings in Pratt Rock Park (including one of an arm raising a hammer, not unlike the baking soda emblem, perhaps an anonymous stonecutter's memorial to himself ?), but the father and son tableau holds center court. 

Bureau of Statistics ... Pratt helped create it ...

There is even a small recessed chamber at path level by the cliff, carved as a tomb for Zadock.  That idea was abandoned, it is said, because the stonecutter found the task too difficult, and water leached into the chamber.  But perhaps as the years progressed and the rocks became more of a memorial to George than to Zadock, the surviving Pratt stepped out of the spotlight and chose conventional interment in the village's Benham Cemetery.                                                                        Go to Top

A dynasty-in-the-making died with Zadock a few years later in 1871.  He had come to the western Catskills as a small boy in the early years of the 19thy century.  He worked hard, saved his money, and built from scratch a huge tanning business which made him very wealthy in just 20 years.  Then he retired from tanning to pursue various other commercial enterprises, squire about his grand 350-acre farm, and campaign for public office (which he did successfully, including two productive terms in Congress).

The family fortune was made, the family was well connected and esteemed, and the heir apparent was groomed and educated for great things, but the war that could have launched a formidable political career for a conquering hero of the Republic, had George survived, instead brought down the House of Pratt like a house of cards.  George was just one more casualty of a brutal war, and Zadock became a footnote to history.

ROCKS1.gif (178830 bytes) Pratt Rock Park is open to the public every day, and there is no admission fee.   The climb to the rocks is steep, and may be unfit for young children, but the path is clear and ascends in a series of gently graded inclines to the carved cliff wall 500 feet above the road.  The stonecutters hacked chairs and benches out of the rocks along the way, and picnicking is permitted, so take your time and enjoy the ascent in a relaxed and thoughtful manner.  The sculptures and the view of the valley make the short climb more than worth the effort.

For more information, call 518-299-3395, or visit the Pratt Museum in the center of town, on Main Street in Prattsville. 

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ON THE ROCKS
- Woodstock Times, October 24, 1996, by Robert Titus  titus@hartwick.edu

Name that tomb

Prattsville, along the banks of the Schoharie River, is steeped in Catskill History.   It's emblematic of the most progressive aspects of the area's story, and at the same time, it represents many of the mistakes people made as our region developed.

Zadock Pratt was the towering personality in the town's development.  Even today his influence permeates the village.  Pratt was the founder of the Catskill tanning industry.  From 1833 to 1846 his Prattsville tanneries turned out shoe leather for the New York City market.  His tanneries, however, were dependent upon the bark of the hemlock tree, and when the trees were all cut down, the industry closed.

We frown upon the wanton destruction of the Catskill hemlocks that characterized the 19th century, but our collective wisdom is based upon a history of trial and error.   It was men such as Pratt who provided the errors.

Pratt is also remembered for progressive attitudes toward urban planning.  His Prattsville was a pioneering model in that field.  he laid out streets, built the Greek Revival homes and planted the 1,000 trees that lined the village streets.   Pratt founded churches and the town's academy, as well.  Prattsville today is still truly Pratt's town.

Zadock Pratt was a great man, but I suspect history would have mostly forgotten him except for the one singular act of vanity he was responsible for.  Pratt, the Rameses II of the Schoharie, is remembered for Pratt Rock, his would-be tomb.

Pratt Rock consists of a series of stone carvings on a glacially plucked cliff along state Route 23, just east of town, and overlooking the old Pratt farm.  The site is now a town park and open to visitors.  You can hike the winding path up the steep slope toward the main carvings.  If you tire along the way you can sit upon stone seats thoughtfully carved into the mountain.

... a carved seat enroute to Pratt Rocks ...

The main level of carvings displays images and symbols of Pratt's life.  These are carvings of the hemlock tree, a horse which hauled the bark to the tanneries, a strong arm to do the work and other emblems of the great man's life.  There is a bust of Pratt and a poignant carving of his only son, who died in the Civil War.  then there is the Pratt burial chamber itself.                                                                    Go to Top       

Pratt's intended tomb, never used, among Pratt Rocks

Unlike the pharaoh, Pratt was never buried in the grotto carved out for him.  One story is the chamber was unsuitable for burial as it leaked water when it rained.   The chamber is still there, and when I looked it over, I found there may be some truth to that tale, along with a good geological story about Pratt Rock.

Pratt Rock is carved into sedimentary strata from the old Catskill delta.   Deposited nearly 400 million years ago, the sediments here record the coastal regions of a delta similar to that of the Mississippi River today.  This was once the coastline of the old Catskill Sea.  Rivers flowed across this location and poured their waters into the old ocean.                                                               Go to Top 

There is a lot of history here.  I had little trouble finding bits and pieces of the old Gilboa forest, and I could picture its foliage along the old stream banks.   But the most interesting horizons I found were those at the burial chamber.  The ceiling of the chamber is made up of inclined strata.  This horizon of rock formed on the sloping floor of an old stream channel.  the beds slope down to the right, which was once one side of a river, and farther along the outcrop they rise up again on the other shore. 

When I looked at the chamber ceiling I found a horizon rich in a hash of broken plant remains.  This stratum is likely very porous and it's quite possible this accounts for the leakage that caused the burial project to be abandoned.  The pharaohs of arid Egypt faced no such problem.

An so this is one of the many ironies of geology.  The great Zadock Pratt is buried in a nearby graveyard with all the other common folk of old Prattsville.  That may be because about 370 million years ago some small river made a wrong turn.  It's not Pratt buried in Pratt's tomb, but the sands of an ancient river!

Zadock Pratt is buried in a Prattsville cemetery

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Updated on:
02 February, 2008

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