The Town of Prattsville

 

Prattsville, New York, is a small rural town in northwestern Greene County fashioned by history and place, perched in the Catskill Mountaintop where Greene, Delaware and Schoharie Counties meet above the fertile Schoharie Valley. It is a town of people who care about each other, the community, and its rich history and scenic beauty – people who want to share Prattsville’s rich heritage and move into the future with grace, vitality and vision.

            After the Mohawk Nation established the area as the Onteora hunting grounds, came a succession of Dutch, English and German settlers. Modern day Prattsville began as the vision of one man, Colonel Zadock Pratt, who came to the settlement known as “Schoharie Kill” in 1824 to site what became known as “the largest tannery in the world.” During its 20 year operation, more than a million hides were tanned and over 10,000 acres were cleared for hemlock bark used in tanning.

            An early “town planner”, Pratt designed and built one of the first planned communities in New York State, which officially became Prattsville on March 8, 1833. By that time “The Colonel” had widened and re-routed the Main Street away from the Schoharie Creek, laid out a village plan, and had over 100 houses and a number of stores built from native hemlock in the Greek Revival style of the day, many of which are still standing. Pratt had the streets lined with over 1000 elm, hickory and maple trees and slate sidewalks laid along Main Street.

            By the mid-19th century, the Town of Prattsville was a thriving community of more than 1,500 residents, three tanneries, four textile factories, three grist mills, five schools, three churches, a ban and several hotels and shops. Pratt was one of the principal founders of three churches and of the Prattsville Academy in the building which now serves as the Town Hall. On his 53rd birthday, October 30, 1873, he opened his own bank and had currency printed with his own image on it.

            In 1846, the Pratt Tannery closed with the disappearance of the hemlock stands, leaving the land cleared for farming, which flourished across the hillsides and on the rich bottomland across the Schoharie. Ever the Town’s patron, Colonel Pratt developed a model dairy farm on 365 acres along the Schoharie, producing record yields of butter and milk.

            Pratt, who described himself as a “tanner, Master of Arts, Member of Congress, farmer and banker,” was a self-made man in the American tradition of diligence and piety. He rose to the top of his chosen trade, and went on to a distinguished career in private enterprise and public service. To commemorate his life works, his philosophy, pride in his son’s accomplishments and his love of animals, he commissioned a series of carvings on a sheer face of grey sandstone just east of the Village, now known as Pratt Rock, which he donated to the Town in 1843 as a permanent memorial and public park. From a 500 foot promontory at the end of a serpentine trail at the Park one can gaze across the Schoharie, get a spectacular view of the Village, and the former Pratt Farm.

            The abundance of woodlands and waterways which attracted the earliest settlers brought visitors and vacationers for fishing, hunting, fresh air and natural beauty. Boarding houses opened in Prattsville to welcome the lively tourist trade brought in by railroad and overland carriage. An inn was built at the spectacular Devasego Falls (which in 1926) were flooded during construction of the Gilboa Dam and Schoharie Reservoir). By now the Town had an opera house and theater, literary and dramatic societies and the renowned Prattsville Cornet Band which performed regularly on Main Street and throughout the region. On the site of the present-day Everett Conine memorial Field, the Agricultural Society held the Annual Prattsville Fair drawing thousands of visitors to its livestock and floer shows, harness racing, and hot air balloon and biplane rides.

            In Prattsville today, perhaps the Colonel’s greatest legacy can be found in the spirit of community and the pride of the townspeople. Struggling like many small towns in America today, Prattsville is a town with numerous volunteer organizations always actively serving the community to improve the quality of life. Just as Colonel Pratt had a vision of community, Prattsville’s unique past and natural beauty are inspiring a vision for the future.

“If a man has a cheerful spirit, a reasonable mind, an honest heart, a love for labor, and a happy home, he knows no failture, and is discouraged by no obstacle.”

--Colonel Zadock Pratt