Thursday, September 27, 2012

How Investors Created Pratt

Lyn in Pratt County Museum lobby near books for sale
Pratt County lay alongside the south boundary of Isaac's homestead, and its earliest towns were Iuka and Saratoga, both of which Isaac visited.  Iuka was established in 1878, the year Isaac came to Kansas, and although Saratoga was not incorporated until 1884, the settlement existed earlier.  Pratt Center was also incorporated in 1884; however, the method of its creation differed from the earlier towns.  Rather than evolving naturally from a cluster of settlers at its core, Pratt Center was formed by a syndicate.  In fact, the early town site was mockingly called "Dog Town," because the only genuine residents were the prairie dogs.
Briefly, Kansas required all counties to set aside land to be used for schools as the population grew and families with children settled the area.  Frequently, however, families preferred to donate an acre from their own homesteads for building a school nearer their homes.  With these small one-room schools dotting the countryside, one or two in each township, the land reserved for schools was often unusued.  Predictably, settlers chose to run the risk of treating these lands as homesteads, planning to make an official claim when the land was released from the school set aside requirements.  It was just such land that became involved in a legal scandal when Pratt Center was formed.  Leaving the details of that legal dispute for a later post, or to read in my book, for now it is enough to say that Saratoga settlers alleged a fraudulent conspiracy to get their lands, while Pratt investors claimed they had utilized proper legal actions available to businessmen to develop their town.  Ultimately the pre-emptive settlers lost their farms and the businessmen created a town.
Having entered the battle for the county seat late, Pratt Center nevertheless gained the prize in 1888.  Many Iuka businesses and residents chose to move into Pratt Center, and the remaining Iuka businesses focused on services for surrounding farmers, becoming a center for marketing and shipping grain.  Saratoga, however, disappeared, having lost its post office in 1895, and so many businesses and residences having been literally moved into Pratt Center by 1900 that few landmarks of the town that Isaac had known remained.  

The North School Building with its basement
Part of the problem was the close proximity of Pratt Center and Saratoga, so close that Isaac seemed to use the two names interchangeably in his journal.  After getting the patents to his homestead and timber claim, Isaac's friend Doc Dix decided to move into town to resume his medical practice, and Isaac referred to the location of Doc's new residence by both names.  In December of 1887, Isaac helped the Dix family move, and when he finished helping his friends, he went over to Pratt Center to ride the new street cars which had been operating for only two weeks.  However, there is an old photograph showing the house of Dr. Dix in Pratt.  These and other clues make it seem likely that Dr. Dix did move his family to Saratoga but participated in the subsequent exodus to Pratt Center.

Pratt Center thrived.  In his journal entry of April 27, 1887, Isaac wrote:  "Pratt Center laboring under a new boom, outfit at grading Rock Island R. R.  W. of road at town water tank, lots of new buildings going up all round along main street digging out foundations for several brick business blocks." 
Many of Isaac's trips to Pratt Center were to Blaine Bros. Implement Dealers.  He bought implements from them and they carried his notes given in partial payment.  When Isaac invented a 3-horse cultivator, he turned to them for advice about patenting his invention.  The 1993 publication by the Pratt County Historical Society, a re-publication of a 1911 book published by the Pratt Commercial Club, contains a picture (at left) of the distinguished D. W. Blaine, who was then engaged in the automobile business.  In 1888, with a population of 3,000, Pratt Center had twenty brick buildings; a city waterworks, electric lights, and a street railway; five churches (Methodist, Christian, Presbyterian, African, and Catholic); four banks, three newspapers, and a 3-story school that included a high school.  The long list of businessmen included proprietors of about every business that could be imagined for a bustling prairie town. 

Lyn beginning the museum tour
The name Pratt Center had been adopted during the county seat battle to refute Iuka's claim that it was the best choice because of its central location.  (A change in the county's boundaries impacted Iuka's claim and allowed Pratt Center to assert its own location advantage, although neither town was actually the geological center of the county.)  After winning the county seat battle, Pratt Center no longer needed to assert the distinction of occupying the center of the county, and "Center" was dropped from the town's name in 1893 after a newspaper poll indicated that citizens favored the simpler name of Pratt.
Visit the Pratt County Historical Society Museum online at or at its location at 208 S. Ninnescah, Pratt, Kansas, to enjoy their wonderful displays or do research from their collection.
Remember, you can enlarge the images in this blog by clicking on them.

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

Regina is located where it is because rich powerful people owned land in that location, so the railway set it as a central point.

Love the picture of you with the Conastoga (?) wagon.