Abraham Pratt ...from a document written by Don Rowlison
As a young man Abraham Pratt (1827-1901) came to America as a sailor, arriving in California during the Gold Rush of the late 1840s. After less than two years in America he returned to England, resigned from the British Navy, became a liquor merchant and owner of a bottling works, was married in 1855, and became the father of two sons and two daughters. In 1866, Pratt’s wife died and he never remarried. Twelve years later, in 1878, Pratt sold his British businesses, returned to America, and bought 160 acres of land along the South Solomon River in extreme eastern Sheridan County, Kansas.
In late 1879 or early 1880, Abraham Pratt returned to England to visit his friends and relatives. During this visit he convinced his eldest son, John Fenton Pratt (1856-1937), known as “Fent”, to come to American and join him at his homestead. In 1880, Fent arrived in Sheridan County. Two years later, Abraham’s other son, Tom (1861-1940), also known as “Little Tom”, came to Sheridan County to live. Throughout the 1880s, other Englishmen arrived in the area to homestead or purchase land for ranches and farms.
For their first few years in Kansas, Abraham and his sons lived in a dugout along the south bank of the river. In 1885, the first section of the house at Cottonwood Ranch was constructed. The original house was a one-room, native-stone building measuring thirty-two and a half by eighteen and a half feet on the inside, with a sod-covered roof and an earthen floor. During the winter of 1885, a severe blizzard swept through the area and ice formed on the inside north wall of the house. In late 1888 or early 1889, the sod roof was removed and replaced with wood. Later, two additions were added to the original house; first the west and then the east sections, to give the appearance of the house today.
In its earliest days, the ranch consisted of the stone house and at least one outbuilding of sod, which was used as a stable. A sod-walled corral was constructed near the stable. A small, wood-framed structure, which was used as a bath house and toilet, was located near the house in the 1880s and still exists at the ranch. In the late 1800s a natural spring northwest of the house was modified to carry water into a storage cistern from which a pipeline was constructed to provide running water in the house.
During the early 1890s, construction began on the various native-stone buildings that presently exist at the ranch. The large western building was constructed for housing wheeled vehicles in one and with the remaining three-fourths of the structure used for sheep shearing and lambing. Another stone building contained space for a farm workshop and stalls for eight horses. East of that building another stone structure was built to serve as a bunkhouse for the hired help and for storage.
The easternmost building of the complex was also used for storage and a shelter for livestock, but this building was struck by a tornado in 1922 and was razed to salvage the stone. Other structures at the ranch consisted of at least two wooden granaries, a water storage cistern near a windmill, and an icehouse for storing large blocks of ice cut from the river pond during the winter. Behind the house was a wash house and cellar made of stone.
The complex of stone outbuildings was designed and arranged in a style similar to that found in the Pratts’ homeland of North Yorkshire, England. In this arrangement all of the southern walls of the stone outbuildings, except the wash house, are in a line connected by stone fence.
The Cottonwood Ranch served as the hub for the Pratts’ sheep raising operation. A few years after Abraham Pratt’s death in 1901, Cottonwood Ranch was no longer a working ranch. Fent pursued other business interests but Little Tom continued to farm and ranch in the vicinity of Studley, Kansas.
Abraham Pratt is often considered the founder of Studley. The town was named for Studley Royal, a historic park located near Ripon, England. Originally Studley was two towns, Skelton and Carl, separated by a narrow dirt road on the Graham-Sheridan County line. In 1894, the name was changed to Studley to include both Carl and Skelton. The people who settled in and around Studley were mostly middle-class English.
In 1888, John Fenton Pratt married his childhood sweetheart, Jennie E. Place (1861-1959), after she traveled from England to western Kansas. Fent and Jennie Pratt had two daughters, Hilda (1889-1980) and Elsie (1894-1975). Except for Elsie, they all essentially lived at Cottonwood Ranch until their deaths.
Cottonwood Ranch was acquired by the State of Kansas in 1982 to be preserved and developed into an outdoor museum to interpret ranching and farming in northwestern Kansas. The historic site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Pratt Ranch, but because of some confusion with other “Pratt Ranches” in the area the John Fenton Pratt home is known as Cottonwood Ranch; the name given to the ranch by the Pratt Family.
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