Pratt Rock Park — Monuments to One Man’s Endeavors
Pratt Park, donated to the townspeople by Zadock Pratt in 1843, encompasses this twenty-acre portion of steep hillside and sheer cliff face above. Originally called Monument Hill, the park was listed in 1992 on both the New York State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places. Typical of public “pleasure grounds” established throughout the country during the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the park was intended to serve the entire community as a place to hike and picnic, and most notably to enjoy the view of the surrounding countryside. Early photographs depict mid-nineteenth century tourists climbing the half-mile path, some resting on the rock sofas gracing the incline. Visitors could not fail to admire the accomplishments of the town’s namesake, and until the twentieth century, they could partake of genteel refreshments at the Pratt Rock Tea Room a short distance from the park.
The accepted legend that Pratt hired a jobless stonecutter to memorialize his own accomplishments in the grey sandstone cliffs above Prattsville—that is, in lieu of simply giving the man a handout—is probably not true, but such stories die hard. It is very likely that a number of skilled stonecutters worked on and off over a period of twenty-eight years to accomplish these distinctly separate and stylistically incongruous images. The list of possible itinerants includes: Andrew Pearse, John Fair, Charles Kissock, E. Brevier, and I.H. Vermilyea. Unfortunately, little is known of these men, but their collective artistry lends viable criterion for the site to be designated an area of vernacular folk art.
Although the overall size of the collected carvings is not massive, Pratt Rock has been called “America’s first Mount Rushmore.” Certainly, the father’s poignant memorial to son George Pratt could be considered one of the nation’s first Civil War monuments, particularly when the inscription “THIS HAND FOR MY COUNTRY” was carved between the two images of father and son. The carvings and inscriptions have been whitewashed to define them and make them visible from the road below. There are the silhouetted busts of Pratt himself with the image of his only son, George, facing him—the latter inscribed “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.”
Various other engraved images symbolize Pratt’s life and represent his philosophical maxims, which include: the Prattsville Tannery, a horse and hemlock tree, a brawny arm holding a sledgehammer, and a hand holding an unfurled document noting Pratt’s governmental involvement in starting the Bureau of Statistics in 1844, the Pratt coat of arms inscribed “DO WELL AND DOUBT NOT,” and a wreath containing the names of his children—this originally inscribed “LET VIRTUE BE YOUR GREATEST CARE AND STUDY YOUR DELIGHT—SO WILL YOUR DAYS BE EVER FAIR, AND PEACEFULLY YOUR NIGHTS.” The verse was removed from the carving after the death of George Pratt.
Beneath an inscription recording Pratt’s date of birth, an empty burial nook remains open and unused. Pratt had wanted to be interned under the carvings, but it was discovered that the tomb leaked whenever it rained—so the plan was abandoned. The remains of Zadock Pratt lie amongst the common folk of Prattsville in Benhem Cemetery. Pratt Rock is also the site of the common grave of six of Pratt’s favorite horses and dogs, all lying beneath a tombstone-marked mound at the base of the serpentine path.