Photo by Larry Gambon
I became Director/Curator of the Zadock Pratt Museum in 2009. I’d held the same title at the same institution for five years in the mid-1990’s before moving on to become a professional grant-writer. Those five years were the intellectual glory years for me. Not only did I get to read about American history – especially the history of Greene County, NY where I’ve lived more than half of my adult life – but I was able to play in the fields of local and regional history as well.
Zadock Pratt, Jr., after whom the Pratt Museum was named, was Town Founder of Prattsville, a modern oasis in the American wilderness by early nineteenth century standards. Pratt had come to town from nearby Lexington, NY named after those early Americans, brave and true, who had fought in the War of Independence and, following the war, moved on to the New York frontier to forge a hard-scrabble life of leather tanning and normalcy. Zadock Pratt was King of the Tanners, having built the world’s largest tannery in Prattsville in 1824, after applying the “factory” model to his business, a very modern twist on a very ancient art. Pratt didn’t stop there. He laid sidewalks, planted trees, built a match factory, hat factory, felt mill, two academies, two churches, an opera house, several dry goods stores, a hundred houses made of hemlock for his workers, and even brought the first printing press to the Catskills, creating one of America’s first planned communities. Somewhere in between all this activity, he found the time to build a grand Federal-style house for himself, and his growing family. In 1976 that house would officially become the Zadock Pratt Museum. In 2011, it – and almost everything on its first floor – would be badly damaged by the flood waters of Hurricane Irene that washed away a good deal of the Town That Pratt Built as well.