Pratt Historic District
The Pratt Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Pratt Historic District is significant as a small town that has survived with its 19th and early 20th century architectural ambiance nearly intact. It is also highly significant as home to many individuals and families who were pivotal to the settlement and growth of the Kanawha Valley and as the scene of events pivotal to the history of West Virginia.
The Town of Pratt, though not officially incorporated until 1905, was settled as early as 1781 and continued to grow and thrive throughout the 19th century. Most of the residential architectural styles from the 19th and the early 20th centuries are represented in the town of Pratt. Pratt contains examples of Federal, Greek Revival, Neo-Classical and, in particularly high concentrations, Victorian period architectural styles. Also represented are working class vernacular architectural types constructed to serve coal mine companies and their employees, as well as structures that retain elements from the early settlement period, such as the Cooperage (Robert L. Dickinson House, Charles Street), built prior to 1854.
The Town of Pratt has, like most places of human habitation, passed through several rather distinct periods in its historical development.
Two particular eras in the history of Pratt are quite significant to the history of the Kanawha Valley and the state of West Virginia.
The first to be considered is the settlement era dating from about 1781 through the late 1850's. The Morris and Hansford families, both of whom played prominent roles in the history of Kanawha County, contributed significantly to the settlement of the valley. The Morris family were the first permanent settlers, establishing their homestead at Kelly's Creek on land that became the present town of Cedar Grove. John Jones, Revolutionary War veteran and, also, like the six Morris brothers, veteran of the Battle of Point Pleasant, married the youngest of the Morris children, Frances, in 1781 and acquired about 800 acres from Paint Creek to the Narrows (Handley). He built his log house on a river terrace near Paint Creek. Major John Hansford came to Kanawha County in 1778, married the oldest child of the Morris family, Jane, and they built an exquisite frame house at what is now Crown Hill, below Paint Creek, in 1798. Their house was the first house in the valley to depart from the traditional log house, and was also the first to have glass in the windows, and fine brick chimneys.
Two of the Hansford sons built fine brick houses which still stand in the Pratt Historic District, as does "Harmony Hill" (Route 61) the imposing structure built by Dickinson Morris (1842) on land acquired from John Jones. Dickinson laid out the town in 1851, naming it Clifton.
A very important part of the life of the early settlers was the expression of their religious beliefs, and the people of upper Kanawha Valley wasted little time in establishing a church. The Kanawha Baptist Church was formed in 1796 under the leadership of Elder James Johnstone. The pioneer founders built well because the Old Kanawha Baptist Church is a viable organization of more than, 200 members today .
During the Civil War, the Town of Clifton, as Pratt was then called, was headquarters to the 37th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Winter of 1861-62. The Marshall Hansford House (Washington Avenue) was the headquarters of Union Colonel Siber.
During the period following the Civil War, Pratt (or Clifton as it was then called) experienced a long period of slow but steady growth, typified by the construction of such Victorian-style residences as the Margaret Conway House (1870's, Washington Avenue), the Virginia Johnson House (1884, Washington Avenue), and, especially, the Old Town Hall (1875, Washington Avenue), which is still a focus of community activity. About 1873 the Town of Clifton became "Dego," and retained that name until about 1899.
In the late 1880's coal mining became the single most important economic activity in the upper Kanawha Valley, and in 1889 the Charles Pratt Coal Company, which had extensive coal mining operations on Paint Creek, the most famed of the Kanawha Valley coal fields, made its headquarters here. The incorporation of Pratt in 1905 bearing the name of the coal company typifies the importance of that economic activity to the community. The location in Pratt of the office headquarters of the Charles Pratt Coal Company (1889), the Pratt Coal Company Clubhouse for miners (1890's), and numerous "company houses" built for the miners by the company in the 1890's and 1900's, during the high point of "Paternalism," is highly indicative of the paramount importance of coal mining to this community and of its effect upon not only the lives but the landscape of the community.
The high point of this period in the history of Pratt, and illustrative of its importance at this point in time, came with the outbreak of the "Mine Wars" of 1912-13, an upheaval between labor and coal company management that gained national notoriety and brought the name of "Pratt" not only to national newspapers but to the floor of the U.S. Senate. Pratt served as headquarters for first, the coal company guards (or "thugs" as the striking miner's called them) and later for the West Virginia National Guard which administered three separate periods of martial law, during which time Paint Creek and other large areas around Pratt were declared to be in a "state of lawlessness and insurrection." Pratt was the location of many of the infamous "bullpens" where striking miners were imprisoned by "military tribunals." The most famous of those imprisoned at Pratt was undoubtedly famed union organizer Mother Mary Jones (1830-1930), who was "detained" in Mrs. Carney's Boarding House. (Center Street). "Mother" Jones, famed throughout the nation, managed to smuggle a message from her "prison" which reached Senator John W. Kern of Indiana; who read it on the floor of the U.S. Senate, touching off a heated debate in that body that focused national attention on the tragic events in the Kanawha County coalfields. In the meantime, Mother Jones was put on "trial" at the I.O.O.F. Building (Pratt Avenue), but nothing came of this. In the spring of 1913, incoming Governor Henry D. Hatfield visited "Mother" Jones at Mrs. Carney's Boarding House and shortly thereafter was able to bring about a compromise settlement between coal operators and miners that brought the conflict to a peaceful, if temporary, end.
After the unwelcome excitement and occupation of the town by National Guard troops was over, Pratt once again settled into its peaceful residential norm. Today the town is a quiet, well-groomed little town which exhibits its elegant historical buildings of the settlement era alongside miners' houses of the industrial period with grace and compatibility. The streets run almost to the river, as if the ferry landing at the foot of Charles Street still accepted passengers and as if you could still clamber up a showboat gangplank at the bottom of Center Street. The town is uncluttered by neon and fast food shops and is not invaded by the noise and pollution of traffic jams. A student of Kanawha Valley history can easily find evidence of antebellum country mansions and, with a little imagination, can visualize those buildings situated on grounds that opened up to a grand view of the river. That same student can trace the path of the earliest county road on the south side of the Kanawha River, and can follow the path of the old Paint Creek railroad line that connected the Paint Creek mining operations with the Pratt Coal Company river tipple. The evidence is there — Pratt Historic District is distinct in its character and possessing a proud heritage.
Bailey, Kenneth R., "'Grim Visaged Men' and the West Virginia National Guard in the 1912-13 Paint and Cabin Creek Strike," West Virginia History, Volume XLI, No.2, Published Quarterly by the State of West Virginia, Dept. of Culture and History, Char1eston, W.Va. (Winter 1980).
Dayton, Ruth Woods, Pioneers and Their Homes on Upper Kanawha, Reprinted by Education Foundation, Inc., Charleston, W.Va., West Virginia Publishing Company, Charleston, W.Va., 1977.
Eckert, Allen W., The Frontiersmen, A Narrative, Bantam Books, New York, 1981.
Harris, V. B., Great Kanawha, An Historical Outline, Commissioned by The Kanawha County Court, Jarrett Printing Company, Charleston, W.Va., 1974.
Laidley, W. S., History of Charleston and Kanawha County, West Virginia and Representative Citizens, Richmond-Arnold Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois, 1911.
Paul D. Marshall & Associates, Inc., "A Cultural Research Project, The New River Gorge National River, West Virginia," Vol. I and II, Prepared for the National Park Service, Charleston, W.Va., 1981.
"Pratt's Bicentennial Book," Compiled by Opal Norton, Patty Nugent, Min Powell, Sally Jacobs, Virginia Johnson, Cebert Elkins, 1976.
"Reminiscences of Alvah Hansford," The Journal of the Kanawha Valley Genealogical Society, Vol.3, No.#1, January 1979.
"The Sheltering Arms Hospital," The Church News, Vol. XXXIII, No.#6, and #11, Published by Missionary Committee of the Diocese of West Virginia, Wheeling, W.Va., August 1908.
Wintz, William D., (ed.), "Recollections & Reflections of Mollie Hansford, 1828-1900 (A Daughter of the Kanawha Valley), Quick Copy Duplicating Service, Charleston, W.Va., n.d.
Old Town Hall Association, Archival research and documentation of 37 buildings, 3 cemeteries, schools, historical events, organizations, 17 individuals and families; and arranging for the collection and copying of historic photographs and artifacts.
Old Town Hall Association, Interviews with citizens of Pratt, Hansford, and Charleston, and transcription of interviews.
† Paul D. Marshall, A.I.A. and Michael J. Pauley, Historic Preservation Unit, Paul D. Marshall & Associates, Inc., Pratt Historic District, Kanawha County, West Virginia, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.