Monday, October 10, 2011

Pratt Farm House

At the entrance to the Pratt Farm Conservation Area are located a number of building foundations marking the location of the former farmstead which was the heart the economic and social lives of the Pratt family for nearly two hundred years. Remaining foundations tell the tale of the Pratt family’s numerous operations and include the foundation of the former Pratt homestead. 

The Pratt House (1777-1971) which stood immediately to the left [east] of the present entrance roadway to the Pratt Farm was raised in 1777 by Nehemiah Allen just prior to his sale of the farm property to Ebenezer Pratt in July of that year. Its original form was that of a saltbox with a large central chimney having six fireplaces, in addition to a large brick oven in the kitchen.

Some sources place the house’s date of construction as early as 1768. However, the raising of the house was vividly recalled in 1815 by Wilkes Wood (1770-1843) of Middleborough who was reared in the house that once stood on the opposite side of Main Street and who wrote, “Mr. Pratt’s house was built by Nehemiah Allen and the first I recollect of this house was after the frame was raised and before it was boarded in when the mason was underpinning it.”

The house as built by Allen was a fairly substantial structure for its time. It is described in the Massachusetts tax census of October, 1798, as being a two story wood-frame house covering some 1,008 square feet, and including some 14 windows incorporating 100 square feet of glass. The assessed value at the time was $250.

Following the death of Ebenezer Pratt, the house was divided between his widow and two daughters, eventually returning to the single ownership of Pratt’s son, Thomas Pratt, who began acquiring his siblings’ shares in their father’s farm, undoubtedly in preparation for his 1798 marriage to Lydia Macomber of Middleborough.

Thomas Pratt continued to reside in the house even following its 1834 sale to his son Simeon M. Pratt. It was probably at this time that the house was divided into two tenements, one of which was occupied in 1855 by the family of Simeon M. Pratt and the second by Thomas and Lydia Pratt and their spinster daughter, Lydia. Following the deaths of the elder Pratts, one of the two tenements was rented to various occupants over the years. In 1865 it was tenanted by Moses T. Smith, a shovel maker who found employment in one of the shovel shops then located along the Nemasket River in Middleborough, along with his wife Eliza S. and daughter Mary F. Smith.

The Pratt House was enlarged and extensively remodeled in 1869 by Simeon Pratt when the rear portion of the house was raised to two stories, altering its saltbox appearance. Although the interior was redone at the same time, the original paneling was retained in the front room, though it was plastered over. Undoubtedly in an effort to modernize the nearly century old structure, the central chimney was replaced at the time of the 1869 remodelling by a much smaller one which created additional space in the home by its removal. Though the replacement of old over-sized chimneys whose hearths previously heated homes was a not uncommon practice at the time, it was one which was frowned upon by some agricultural commentators of the era:

In the "olden times," the spacious open fireplace, set in a huge chimney, with its roaring wood-fire, served to warm the living-room, and secure excellent ventilation. The sleepingrooms, being unwarmed, were, in severe weather, cold, and uncomfortable to the last degree.  The old fireplace and hearth-stone have been torn out, a small chimney built, and the air-tight stove for wood or coal has taken its place, to heat, not warm, the room; to prevent, not secure, ventilation, especially when aided by double windows. [1881]

In 1888, following his father Simeon’s death, Luther Bradford Pratt had additional exterior remodelling carried out, and changes were made to the interior of the house at this time, as well. A rear ell which housed the home’s well and was then being used as a wood shed was removed and “a jet was added to the main roof of the house, as a trimming.” The exterior was also re-shingled about this time with shingles for the house and many of the farm buildings coming from the Great Cedar Swamp and processed by George A. Cox’s mill at East Middleborough. The house also included a root cellar where vegetables and apples were stored.

Luther Bradford Pratt who was born in the home, lived there throughout his lifetime, and it is with him that an older generation linked the Pratt Farm. His mother, Irene (Bradford) Pratt (1820-1903) continued to live in the tenement in the house until her death of chronic bronchitis at the age of 82. As she was one of twelve children, “many [Bradfords] came to the farm over the years” to visit with her.

Though the Pratt Farm in the twentieth century is associated with Ernest S. Pratt, Pratt resided in the Pratt Homestead only as a youth. Following 1912, Pratt made his residence at 10 North Street in Middleborough, a small bungalow home, which he shared with his wife, Rose Standish Pratt. Later, the couple resided on Plymouth Street. Pratt’s sister, Louise Bradford Pratt, however, spent her life at the Pratt House, occupying the main portion of the house until 1968.

During Ernest Pratt’s ownership of the farm, the rear of the house was utilized as a milk room, where charts were kept recording the productivity of each of Pratt’s cows. Louise Pratt’s kitchen was also used as an adjunct milkroom, the utensils from milking being sanitized there. “We used to clean all our milking materials in the house, in the kitchen,” recalled the late Bob Hopkins, a former worker on the farm. The milk would be stored in large cans overnight in the small adjoining building before being picked up in the morning. Occasionally, when Pratt wasn’t around, workers would skim some of the cream which had risen overnight from the top of the milk.

The Pratts continued to rent the tenement to various families over the years. In 1920, it was occupied by the family of Alfred J. Chartte, a weaver in the Farwell Worsted Mill located at the former Star Mill. In 1925, Earl A. Clough and his mother, Estelle, were the occupants. Later residents would include William B. and Mary A. Sullivan, Alfred R. and Nancy L. DeArruda, Richard F. and Agnes S. Brackett, Gertrude Ballam, and Robert L. and Hilda J. Buck. The final occupant of the Pratt House was Norma M. Sylvia in 1972.

With the acquisition of the Pratt Farm by Tispaquin, Incorporated, the house was slated for demolition. The Middleborough Antiquarian wrote in its July, 1971, issue when demolition of the house was imminent, “It appears likely that another old Middleboro landmark will soon be added to the list of the many already demolished, a farm that has been owned and operated by the same family for almost two hundred years….The great barns still stand, the house, as unoccupied houses are wont to do, is slowly deteriorating and will probably be torn down when the proposed golf course takes the place of the ice and dairy farm. The Pratt farm and Pratt family have occupied a prominent place in the development and the business life of Middleboro. It is sad to see yet another fine old home which represents so many years of family history, disappear from the scene.”

The Pratt House was subsequently demolished and today, only the cellar hole of the house’s rear ell is discernible, a 25 foot long depression marked by stones and broken bricks. Also present is the filled in well, sitting beneath an old maple tree near the driveway.

Pratt Homestead, East Main Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph, 1940s.


Linda said...

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meetng and lunching with Robert Dean Hall (my 88 year old 5th cousin) who's family owned the Pratt farm for 200+ years. He has lots of memories and tales of the Pratt family - his grandfather was Luther Bradford Pratt. I am related to him through the Hall line. It might be fascinating to interview him!!

Mike said...

Hi Linda,

I'd love to interview your cousin and learn more about the Pratt Farm! Please let me know how I can get in touch.

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