The 20-acre Pratt Rock Park is located just south of the village of Prattsville in Greene County, New York. The park is perhaps best known for the stone carvings depicting the life of Zadock Pratt, a local 19th century tannery owner and founder of Prattsville. Carvings include a bust of Zadock Pratt, a bust of George Pratt (Zadock’s son), a horse, a hemlock tree, a scroll, the tannery, the Pratt family coat of arms, a wreath in honor of two of Pratt’s children and an arm raising a hammer. The carvings were created by itinerant stone cutters from circa 1843 to circa 1871. The carvings and inscriptions have historically, and continue to be, routinely whitewashed in order to make them more visible from the trail below.
As for the early beginnings of the carvings, there are several different versions of local legends. In a common version of the story an itinerant traveler was walking home when he encountered Zadock Pratt. The traveler inquired about a meal and lodging for the night. Pratt, of the belief that one should earn their keep, asked of the traveler’s skills and what he could offer in return. Upon learning that he was a stonecutter Pratt asked the gentleman to carve a horse on the nearby cliff side. The horse thus became the first image to be carved on the rocks.
An 1887 newspaper article tells a tale close to the popular understanding, although with a few additional interesting details.
“One day a sort of tramp called on him and asked for half a dollar to help him on his journey to his home on the other side of the Hudson River. He was asked his business. He said he was a sculptor. Pratt asked if he could cut a profile on a rock. He said he could and Pratt set him at work on a ‘big rock’ on the spot where one road leads to Windham and the other to Lexington. After he had cut off the outer part to get a solid place for Pratt’s bust, John Brandow came along and said the rock was on his land and he did not want Pratt’s face on it to haunt him as he passed. Brandow did not like Pratt. The sculptor quit work and reported to Pratt. He had not anticipated any objection, as the rock stood on a corner of the road, and I think, near his own land. Pratt felt rather taken aback by the rebuff but said he had rocks enough nearer home and now he’d have some sculpture work done, if the man could do it. He started the tramp at it, at first more for fun than anything else, to see what the fellow could do. Then the work commenced where the legend, or history of his life is recorded . . . the man chiseled a long time to do the work, got well paid for it and went on his journey. I am not sure that this one man did all the work.” (“Editor Relates Pratt’s Rock History in Issue of 1887.” Stamford Mirror-Recorder. July 16, 1958.)
A second version of the story tells that Zadock Pratt sought out the most skilled sculptor he could find, in order to make his sculpture ideas a reality.
Regardless of the carving’s origins, it is doubtful that the sculptures were the work of one man, but were instead the off-and-on work of several stonecutters over the 28 years from 1843, when the park was established, to 1871, when Zadock Pratt passed away. One newspaper account records that several of the stone seats along the path were carved by Pat Furey (or Fuhrer), a Hobart man. (“Sculptures On Cliff Above Prattsville Village Reveal Most Interesting History.” Stamford Mirror-Recorder. March 27, 1930.) The Zadock Pratt Museum states that other possible itinerant stonecutters that worked on Pratt Rock could include Andrew Pearse, John Fair, Charles Kissock (who had a stone cutting business in Windham), E. Brevier, and I. H. Vermilyea.
Pratt Rock Park was established as a public park in 1843 with Zadock Pratt’s donation of 20 acres of land. “Pratt Rock Park is typical of parks or “pleasure grounds,” which were established throughout the country during the mid and late Nineteenth century. In general, pleasure grounds like Pratt’s park, were established or sponsored by the local social and/or economic elite who fostered a concern for the general population. This type of park was generally intended to serve the whole population of a community. The emphasis of the park was focused on passive activity such as walking, picnicking and most notably the enjoyment of the views and vistas either planned or natural.”
In the comprehensive Biography of Zadock Pratt there was a detailed description of Pratt Rock and its sculptures.
“There is one feature in connection with Prattsville which is truly unique, and deserves to be dwelt upon with some care and particularity; and that is, the sculptured rocks, on a lofty eminence just at the eastern section of the village. As the traveller enters the valley and nears the village, he is struck with beholding on his right hand, some three hundred feet or more above the level of the road, a colossal bust of Colonel Pratt, and other sculptures, well meriting the attention as historic records. He is impelled by the novelty of the occurrence, in such a place, to make an early visit to this locality; so, passing by the many other attractive spots in the vicinity, he retraces his steps from the hotel, and seeks the place which he has just passed. He finds the hill-side steep, and rather toilsome to ascend; but a meandering walk leads him gradually upward till he reaches the base of the overhanging, nearly perpendicular argillaceous rock on which the sculpture is carved. As he approaches, the objects stand out more and more distinctly. The artist has cut the bust in profile, about twenty feet above the base of the rocks, and a shelving canopy both protects it from the trickling water from above and also adds to its general effect. Underneath, in deep-cut letters, is the inscription, ‘ZADOCK PRATT, BORN OCT. 30TH, 1790.’ Near to this, but not quite so high up, is a massive scroll, pointing out an illustrious act of Colonel Pratt’s public life; it is a scroll neatly cut, partly unrolled, containing the words, ‘BUREAU OF STATISTICS, 1844.’ A sinewy, vigorous arm, grasping a hammer and a beam-knife, used by tanners in their work, form neat appendages underneath and at the side of this remarkable sculpture. A little to the side of this last sculpture, the artist has carved upon the rocks a representation – very well done, by the way – of the Prattsville tannery, which is the largest in the world; and he has put on record the noteworthy fact that Colonel Pratt, within twenty years, has tanned here, with hemlock bark, one million sides of sole leather. One other tablet, containing the names of Colonel Pratt’s son and daughter, completes these interesting sculptures.” (Biography of Zadock Pratt. pp. 110-111.)
As for the geology of Pratt Rock the informational kiosk at the beginning of the trails offers some insightful details.
“The carvings are cut into gray sandstone which was formed about 360 million years ago, when the Catskill Mountains as we know them today did not exist. The sandstones are now high above sea level because of uplift of the region. The rock layering is essentially horizontal and the rocks are undeformed – the same altitude as when they were deposited. Streams have been able to erode deep valleys and it is to this erosion process that the Catskill Mountains owe their existence. Since their formation, the Catskills have been modified by both continental and valley glaciers which covered the region from 2 million to 10 thousand years ago. As well as leaving behind distinctive deposits, the continental glaciers, hundreds or thousands of feet thick, contained boulders and pebble which scratched the underlying rock as they moved along. Some of these scratches, or glacial striations, can be seen on top of the ledges at Pratt’s Rocks, and they show the direction of glacier ice movement from north to south.”
Zadock Pratt (1790-1871), the namesake of Prattsville and Pratt Rock Park, was a man of many talents. The son of a tanner who had moved to Greene County in 1802, Pratt began his career as a humble saddler and harness maker but went on to found one of the largest and most prosperous leather tanneries in the world in the Catskills, thereby founding the hamlet of Prattsville. In 1814 Pratt enlisted in the US Army and served during the war of 1812 as a cavalry sergeant under Captain Stone. Pratt also served in the New York State Militia for many years, eventually rising to Captain in the 5th Regiment of New York state artillery and was then promoted to the rank of Colonel, leading the 116th Infantry Regiment. Pratt held “numerous local, state and national elected offices, including Justice of the Peace (Town of Windham, 1824), member of the New York State Senate (1830), and Presidential Elector (1836 and 1852).” In 1843 he founded the Prattsville Bank, which operated until 1852, and in 1848 he received an honorary degree from Union College. Being well regarded in the community Zadock was elected twice to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, first in 1836 and then again in 1842. Pratt died at 80 years of age in 1871 and is buried at the Benham Cemetery in Prattsville.
A landscape view of the carvings at Pratt Rock. Although perhaps a bit overstated the carvings at Pratt Rock have been termed “Mount Rushmore of the East.”
Zadock Pratt, a prominent tannery owner and founder of Prattsville.
George Watson Pratt (1830-1862), son of Zadock Pratt was born in 1830 at Prattsville. Pratt was first educated at Prattsville, but completed his education in Germany, where he received a degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Upon graduation he traveled extensively in Egypt, Israel, Turkey and Russia. He returned to the United States in 1855, when he married Anna Tibbits and worked as a leather manufacturer in Kingston, New York. Pratt was elected to the New York State Senate in 1858 and 1859. Pratt served as Colonel of the 20th New York State Militia, also known as the Ulster Guard, during the Civil War. At the second battle of Manassas in Virginia on August 30, 1862 he was shot in the left shoulder and the spine. He died nearly two weeks later at the age of 32 on September 11, 1862 at Albany, New York. He is buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.
The carvings dedicated to George W. Pratt at Pratt Rock were one of the earliest Civil War monuments. The inscription reads:
Hon G. W. Pratt, Ph.D
Col XX Regt., N.Y.S.M., Ulster Co., Born Apr. 18, 1830
Wounded Aug. 30, In the 2nd Battle of
Manassas, Va. Died at Albany, N.Y. Sep. 11th.
Good Brave Honorable 1862.
The horse represents Zadock Pratt’s loved of equines. It is reported that Pratt owned over a thousand horses in his lifetime. The horse depicted here was named Bob, and was ridden by Zadock Pratt while serving as a cavalry sergeant under the command of Captain Stone in 1814. The carving “stands out against the side of the cliff in bold relief. The image is 12 feet from head to tail, and more than six feet from flowing mane to front hoof. The left hind foot and the right front foot are lifted, as though the charger were about to swing into action. Gracefully arched neck and flowing mane and tail emphasize the beauty of the image.” (“Catskill Memorial to Hero of Revolution.” The Binghamton Press. July 8, 1830.)
At the beginning of the hike to Pratt Rock there is a stone monument that was erected in memory of Zadock Pratt’s horses and dogs, including his beloved horse Bob from the War of 1812. The monument inscription reads “Of over one thousand horses owned and worn out in service of Z. Pratt, the following were favorites . . . Bob, a sorrel, aged twenty-four years; Bogue, a bay, aged eighteen years; Prince, a gray, aged thirty years . . . Carlo, a scotch terrier and Newfoundland, aged twelve years; Rough, an Irish Canadian mastiff, aged eleven years; Mingo, a half English terrier, aged ten years.”
The hemlock tree represents the source of Zadock Pratt’s wealth, as it provided the tannic acid required in the leather tanning process.
The wreath contains the names of Zadock Pratt’s children, George W. Pratt and Julia H. Pratt. Although no longer visible this carving once contained the following verse: “Let virtue be your greatest care, and study your delight, So will your days be ever fair, and peacefully your nights.” The verse was removed sometime after the death of George Pratt.
The Pratt family coat of arms, which includes a hemlock tree and the saying: “Do well and doubt not.” The date inscribed under the coat of arms indicates that this carving was likely created in 1857.
In honor of the working man there is a “sinewy, vigorous arm, grasping a hammer and a beam-knife, used by tanners in their work.” (Biography of Zadock Pratt. p. 111.) Adjacent is a hand holding a scroll that reads “Bureau of Statistics 1844.” While serving in the House of Representatives Zadock Pratt introduced legislation that established the Bureau of Statistics.
In addition to the historic carvings Pratt Rock is also home to a wonderful overlook that offers views of the beautiful Schoharie Valley. The scene includes the Schoharie Creek, local farms, public playing fields and distant mountains. The overlook is easily accessible with an estimated 1.5-mile roundtrip hike along an unmarked but easily followed trail.
In 1858 an early visitor to Pratt Rock described the scene from the viewpoint. “The scenery around Prattsville is surprisingly beautiful. I would like to give you a pen sketch of the glorious panorama that was spread before me as I stood on the summit of “Pratt’s Rock,” and saw the mighty wall of mountains that circled us on every side, and the Schoharie winding along the valley like a silver thread, sparkling in the sunlight, and throwing its joyous murmurs in the air . . .” (“Letters from Wm. H. Burleigh.” Franklin Visitor. September 29, 1858.)
Pratt Rock Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, being considered “historically significant for its association with Zadock Pratt, founder and benefactor of the hamlet of Prattsville, industrialist, statesman, inventor, banker, and philanthropist.” The park is open to the public year-round. There is no admission fee.
For more information about Zadock Pratt and the local region be sure to visit the Zadock Pratt Museum in the nearby hamlet of Prattsville. The museum is located in the Zadock Pratt House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum website can be found at www.zadockprattmuseum.org.