Page 29 article text (OCR)
Great Plains The Salina Journal Sunday, April 7, 1985 Page 29 Don Rowlison, archaeologist with the Kansas State Historical Society, stands in the gateway of the John Fenton Pratt Ranch, also known as Cottonwood Ranch, near Studley. CottOnWOod Ranch: An English legacy STUDLEY — Frank Pratt remembers the beauty of his uncle's ranch. "There was a very beautiful yard and all kinds of beautiful flowers. And he always raised a wonderful garden," Pratt said. In recent years, however, the John Fenton Pratt Ranch — an Englishman's legacy to Kansas — has been reduced to a state of disrepair. The elegance of the Pratt home is almost hidden beneath layers of dust and an atmosphere of decay. Weeds instead of flowers grow in the yard. But over the next few years the Kansas State Historical Society hopes to return the Pratt Ranch to its former elegance. In 1982, the society purchased 23 acres of the original ranch, including the house and outbuildings. Slowly, but surely the ranch is being turned into a living history farm. Don Rowlison, a society archaeologist who returned to his native Sheridan County in mid-March as curator of the ranch, said he expects "Even the local people are enchanted by the place." — Don Rowlison the house to be restored within two years. This spring, the roof is scheduled for repair. The project will be financed with $20,000 the Historical Society received from the Kansas Legislature. Once the house is finished, workers will start on the outbuildings, Rowlison said. Later, the society hopes to stock the ranch with sheep and other livestock that were common in the late 1800s. Visitors to the ranch will someday be able to see demonstrations in sheep shearing, gardening and butter making. "I don't want to just sit around and give tours," Rowlison said. "We want to establish what these people were doing because a lot of it is being lost to mechanization." He said the entire project, which is dependent upon the Legislature's financial generosity, could take a decade to complete. The Pratt Ranch sits just west of Studley, on U.S. 24. It's a bit of English countryside on the plains of Kansas. The Pratt Ranch was founded by Englishman John Fenton Pratt, who came to Kansas with his brother, Tom, in 1879. Their father, Abraham, had arrived the previous year. It was Abraham who is credited with giving this town its name of Studley, after Studley Royal, a park and hunting ground near his home in Ripon, England. Like his father and brother, Fenton Pratt established a sheep ranch. "This was very typical," Rowlison said, "People brought with them the method of farming they knew and then modified it to the environment." Fenton Pratt lived first in a sod house. It Was replaced by the sandy limestone house that is now part of the Historical Society project. Fenton built the home for his future bride, Jennie Place, who immigrated to America from England in 1888 to marry her childhood sweetheart. Eventually, the property on the South Fork of the Solomon River became known as Cottonwood Ranch because of the many trees Fenton planted. Frank Pratt, who now lives at Colby, was reared in a three-story house a quarter of a mile from the ranch. Frank is one of Tom Pratt's eight children. In the summers, when the Fenton Pratts were on their monthly vacation to Colorado, he cared for his uncle's ranch. "I always looked forward to staying there during this month's time," Frank Pratt said. "It was just something I enjoyed doing." The east bedroom belonged to Hilda Pratt. A stained glass window adorns a bedroom. Tin ceilings are found in the house. Story by Linda Mowery-Denning Photos by Scott Williams He said Fenton Pratt was "a real tall gentleman, who always wore a beard and was always well-dressed. He was quite the English gentleman." The family was considered well off. Besides ranching and farming, Fenton was a financier who loaned money to neighboring farmers. Rowlison said the family's financial records also show extensive investments in stocks and bonds. The Pratts also were social. They encouraged many English people to come to Kansas. "They were very elegant people who were very fine hosts," Rowlison said. "People were always welcome." Fenton Pratt died in 1937; his wife in 1959. An unmarried daughter, Hilda, continued to live at the ranch until her death in 1980. The home's furnishings, many of them imported from England by Fenton, were eventually sold at auction. Frank Pratt said bidders came from several states. He purchased a clock shelf made by his uncle. Rowlison said the Historical Society wants to recover as much of the original furniture as possible. The Pratt home, though rundown, still has an air of elegance. A fireplace with a tile front graces one room. Beautiful bay windows allow sunlight to brighten the bedrooms at each end of the house. There also are stained glass windows and four chimneys. The front yard is protected by an ornate iron fence with a stone base. The outbuildings include a bathhouse, shearing shed and horse barn. They all are stone. They also are filled with discarded items, everything from old newspapers to party confetti. Rowlison said the society plans to catalog items of historical interest. Larry Rutter, the society's assistant director of state historical properties, said the Pratt Ranch is unique because of its extensive records. Fenton Pratt recorded almost everything, even the groceries purchased by his family. The practice was continued by his wife and daughter after his death. Fenton also was an amateur photographer. The society has a collection of 700 photographs in its files. The public can visit the ranch as the restoration project continues. The Pratt home has always been a point of interest in Sheridan County. "Even the local people are enchanted by the place," said Rowlison, who saw the inside of the house for the first time on March 18. "It was a very, very unusual house and it attracted many, many people," added Frank Pratt, who said he was delighted by the society's plans to restore the property. The front porch of the Pratt home hints of the family's English heritage.