A Brief History of Pratt, WV 1781-1913

So, I bought an old house, in an old town. I could just study the history of the house, but then the story would have no context. I would not understand about the climate, the feeling of  the town when the house was built. Knowledge about the era, about the Zeitgeist, leads to a better understanding of the people who lived there.

Inside the old church. Too bad this one was torn down.

 The town of Pratt was established in 1905. It had a few names before it accepted “Pratt” as the name. The area was settled as early as 1781, and early settlers trickled in until about 1850. Two prominent families in the area settled here, the Hansford family and the Morris family. Dickinson Morris built his own home, “Harmony Hill”, and laid out the town in 1851, naming it Clifton. Prior to the establishment of Clifton, a church was formed. The Old Kanawha Baptist Church was established in 1796 by James Johnstone.  The church is still around today, though only on the same lot, not in the same building. In the winter of 1861-62, Clifton served as the headquarters of the 37th Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. The Marshall Hansford House was the headquarters of Union Colonel Siber.

After the Civil War, The town expanded, and adopted a new name “Dego”, used from 1873-1899. Obviously, when my

Mining Tents at Pratt, from the state archives

 house was built, the town was “Dego”. The Town Hall was established in 1875. In the 1880s,  coal companies became prominent in much of upper  Kanawha Valley, and Dego was no exception. In 1889 the Charles Pratt Coal Company made Dego the home of their headquarters. This was kind of a big deal, as The Charles Pratt Coal Company owned an extensive amount of mines in Paint Creek, an area adjacent to Dego. the town was renamed “Pratt”, after the coal company,  when it was incorporated in 1905. Many of the structures built by the coal company, including the clubhouse for miners and the company houses still stand in the town today.

Mother Jones, from the state archives

In 1912-13, Pratt gained notoriety as the place where “Mother” Jones was imprisoned during the “Mine Wars”. The Mine Wars were a series of confrontations between striking miners and the coal companies. After the Mine Wars were over, it was estimated that they cost nearly a million dollars and caused the violent deaths of 50 people, not including the miners that dies of malnutrition and starvation while on strike. Pratt served as the headquarters for the coal company guards, or “thugs”, and eventually became the headquarters of the WV National Guard when 3 separate times martial law was instituted during the mine wars. Martial law was necessary in Pratt and the surrounding areas because of the “state of lawlessness and insurrection” in the town. Because it was the headquarters to these factions, Pratt also served as the site for the “bullpens” where many striking miners were detained by  “military tribunals”. Mother Mary Jones was a union organizer that was imprisoned in Pratt in Mrs. Carney’s Boarding House. She managed to smuggle a message to Indiana Senator John W. Kern, He read her message on the floor of the senate. Mother Jones was put on trial in the I.O.O.F. Building, but was released by Governor Henry D. Hatfield was able to instigate a settlement between the coal operators and miners.

The mine wars were probably Pratt’s most notable event in history. I will have to do a lot more research to find out what occurred between the end of the mine wars and now. Maybe I should contact my local historian again?

The Train Station that use to stand in the town.



9 Comments to “A Brief History of Pratt, WV 1781-1913”

  1. wtf? Dego?

    And Mother Jones was a badass, originally born in Ireland, she finally made her way to WV to fight for union and worker’s rights. Pratt used to have plays every year about Mother Jones’ relentlessness in front of her old house, until they tore it down and built some stupid apartment complex. It was one of my first images of a “strong woman.”

    • I know, right? I hope they didn’t mean it as a slur. I’m almost positive they didn’t. lol.

      I use to go to the Mother Jones, plays, too! I wish they still did them. It made me so upset when they torn down that house and put up the apartments. The house was pretty ugly, but it was gorgeous in its original form. The pic in the post with the lady and the baby is Mrs. Carney and her baby, and the house is the boarding house. It was beautiful in its original form. She was pretty badass. I should know more about her. She seems like a pretty strong, interesting lady. And she cussed like a sailor. I bought this book from this guy that was going around the town selling them on a bike (WTF?). It was all about the mine wars because the anniversary was coming up. It had these letters she wrote and stuff. They were pretty colorful! Maybe I’ll do some more on her for the blog. The town archive has tons of stuff, including the scripts for the plays. That’s awesome that she was your first “strong woman” role model! There was another town member back in the day that had suffragist sewing circles. It seemed like the town had some feisty, interesting ladies.

  2. Thanks for stopping by!

    I love all of this history stuff…fun!

  3. as i was told by my father, my grandfather was the one who arrested ms. jones. to say she was an unruly inmate would be an understatement! dad said that one of the worst things that he remembers were the caskets stacked at the railroad station (shown).

    • What a neat story about your grandfather! From what I have read of her writing and letters, I’m sure she was pretty unruly. She seemed like a character. I imagine the caskets stacked there would be a terrible thing to witness. Thanks for sharing your families’ memories of the mine wars!

  4. Great site Lindsey. Wonderful history. I found it while researching for my GG Grandfather, Daniel W. Morris, who owned Lot #9 on Washington Street in Clifton (Pratt) beginning in 1880. He died in a mining accident in 1889 at Crown Hill. His house (if there was one) may have been a coal company house). You mentioned a town archive in your 4/19/11 response to Rachel. How might I gain access to this archive? Daniel may have been buried in the Pratt cemetery. Thanks for any help. Bill

    • Thanks, Bill! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. The archive is a little difficult to access, being that you have to find the right people. Many people don’t know about it. I stumbled into it accidentely, myself. The best bet would be to try to call or visit the Old Town Hall when it is open. I was told that it was open on weekends, but I’ve never seen that to be true. I’ll try to swing by there more often and see if I can locate a time when it is actually open for you. You could also try contacting people at the municipal building, but when I tried it was a bust. I only talked to one employee, though! Maybe you will have better luck than me! Most of what is in the archives there relates to the homes in the hiostorical registry. I have a link to that on the sidebar of the blog if you are interested. Several citizens banded together to save the old Town Hall and researched the history of the homes and the people who lived there. Also, they published a little book in the 80’s-90’s. Unfortunately they couldn’t find any extra copies to sell to me. I looked over all the information I have from the archives, (I still have a lot of stuff I haven’t posted) and the only reference I found was to a Dickinson Morris. Any relation to Daniel? Also I checked the index in the The History of the Kanawha by Atkinson, but it was published in 1879 before the accident, and there was no reference to a Daniel Morris. That’s a really interesting story about your GG Grandfather! Do you know if the house is still on lot 9? I haven’t been to the cemetary yet, that’s still a stop I need to make. I’ll let you know if I find a way to access that! Good luck on your search, and let me know if you are having trouble getting into the archives and I’ll see if I can find something out.

  5. Thanks so much Lindsey. I was at the Kanawha County Court House a couple of weeks back and found the deed reference for the lot/house that Daniel W. Morris purchased in 1880 in what is now Pratt. I also found that after Daniel died, taxes went unpaid in 1891 and 1892 and the house was purchased in 1894 for the amount of the unpaid taxes ($17.92) by a Georgr Belcher. Dickinson Morris is, I believe, of the William “the pioneer” Morris family. They were some of the first to move into the Kanawha Valley. Daniel W. Morris and family came from Bedford County, VA in about 1859. They are two entirely differnt Morris family lines. Another bit of history; Christopher M. Morris, a son of Daniel W. Morris, married Addie Elswick in about 1878. They lived in Cabin Creek. He was a terrible husband, and she divorced him several years later, but not until she had three daughters. She married the wealthy Henry Preston Tompkins in 1892. They moved into the grand Tompkins House and the farm his father had named “Cedar Grove”. You perhaps know the house and some of that town’s history. A good book by Mary Lee Settle, titled “Addie A Memoir”, details Addie’s life. I am retired and live in Hedgesville, WV. On my next trip to Charleston (where I grew up) I plan to drive through the historic district of Pratt and check out some of the homes on the historical registry. Not sure what is on Lot 9 on Washington Street now. In the mean time I will try and get in touch with some of your local town folks. Thanks again, Bill

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