FULTON, NY – The city of Fulton has a rich and plentiful history that is still alive and well, and it’s living at the John Wells Pratt House.
The house, located at 177 S. First St., has stood in Fulton for more than 150 years, now home to the Friends of History in Fulton, N.Y., Inc. and standing as a registered location on the National and State Register of Historic Places since its designation to the list in the year 2000.
The house as it stands is a piece of Fulton history preserved, while its contents only continue to showcase the evolving history of the city of Fulton throughout the years.
The museum now holds countless pieces of local and general history, with several rooms on the second floor dedicated to permanent displays of Fulton’s industry, heritage, people, and geographical history to name a few.
Meanwhile, the first floor of the house is ever changing with different displays of history to suit unique interests with one room always set to time period: the kitchen, which highlights the house’s original stove.
Today, the house continues to operate and make improvements based solely on money earned through fundraiser events hosted throughout the year and the support of more than 220 members throughout the United States.
While the house continues to exist in good hands with support of the 14 members of the Friends of History board of directors, a select handful of dedicated volunteers and a wide spread base of memberships, the battle to gain ownership of the house once doubted these now successes.
The house was built entirely by hand by John Wells Pratt and his wife, Harriet beginning construction in 1861. However, with an entirely hand dug cellar and walls built 13 to 15 inches thick with locally cut brick, the house was not lived in during the same year construction began.
The Pratt family lived in the house through the year 1975 when the Burger King corporation bought the house with the intent to demolish it.
“The house was purchased back from the Burger King corporation in 1979 by the Mayor at the time, Percy Patrick and a group of concerned citizens,” said Susan Lane, executive assistant to the FOH board of directors.
The group Friends of History in Fulton, N.Y., Inc. was then developed in 1979 in order to be able to purchase the house under that name at which time the Friends of History established the house as it’s headquarters and operating museum.
By purchasing the house at that time, FOH not only stopped the demolition of a historic home in the city of Fulton but allowed many original pieces to be preserved throughout the home.
By keeping up with general maintenance and making repairs when necessary, the house is able to continue to showcase the original marble fireplaces once used to heat the home, the curved banister of the stairs once referred to as a “coffin corner,” original wallpaper of the Pratt home, the house’s original stove and through donations, the FOH was even able to return original furniture pieces to the home.
What was not able to be preserved original to the Pratt house has been replaced with other local historic pieces. For instance, Knights of Columbus donated a wall mirror for the front hall and an iron fence bordering the house’s property that are very similar to the same pieces that were once seen in the Pratt House.
“The bottom level of the house was rented to the Community Development Agency for the first years of our ownership so that we could have some income in order to pay off the mortgage. The Mayor at the time, Percy Patrick, donated his salary for one year to go toward the purchase of the house as well. When the mortgage was paid off, we had an arrangement with the CDA that they would move to a different location, and then we took over the full use of the building,” explained Carol Dexter, secretary to the board of directors and one of the longest reigning members of the house.
After taking over full use of the building, the group has never looked back now having accumulated so many pieces of history the house remains full of an array of different displays with thorough, organized storage in the former servants quarters.
“From the day we opened we were getting donations,” Dexter said. “It’s been accumulating hand over fist ever since.”
The donations that come in to the Pratt House go through a four step filing process including classifying the item, assessing it, logging it into a thorough identification system, and storing it in its proper place, a process entirely completed by committee volunteers.
“The archives, where everything is stored is very organized, it shows how much work these ladies do back there. These things are dropped off and then stashed away somewhere,” said Alec Seymour, former president and current director of building maintenance. “And its a learning experience for all of us because as things come in you learn what they are and what they were used for. We’ve had a lot of very nice pieces and very expensive pieces donated, but everything that is seen here has been brought in one piece at a time.”
One of the biggest donations the museum has received gained a permanent home in the Pratt House.
A donation from Fulton Telephone Company allowed the Pratt House to home their own switchboard. As one of the largest pieces of the museum, it was taken apart piece by piece by Seymour and reassembled in it’s permanent place on the second floor.
This careful dedication to the museum and the rich history it preserves is what the Friends of History says sets them apart.
“We’re different from some museums when giving tours, they have rote memorization of what they’re showing. When we give a tour, we give a tour to whomever we are giving a tour too. What you find interesting, we will expound upon that,” Lane said of her experience in giving tours at the Pratt House Museum.
Both Susan Lane and Alec Seymour are the primary volunteers who give tours to groups or individuals visiting the house.
“Its people like these two, it is this energy and enthusiasm. Every tour, they’re brimming with enthusiasm and knowledge. When there’s a tour here, I will follow along with them and I can tell you, I’ve never been on a tour here with Susan or Alec where I haven’t learned something new,” Karen O’Brien, director of the FOH board of directors, said.
Dexter added on, noting the pairs genuine ability to bring the objects in the house to life, to give children the ability to really see an unfamiliar item and it’s intended use to truly understand it.
To sum it up, “this house just grabs you,” president of the board of directors, LaVerene DeLand said.
But all members of the FOH are involved for one reason, the love of their local history.
“I’m here because of the house, I get so much enjoyment out of it. I don’t care what you’re interested in, we can find something here to peak your interest,” Seymour promised, commenting on the immense satisfaction he feels when teaching a guest something new about their city and its history. “It’s surprising how many people live in Fulton but don’t even know we exist.”
“Well, its surprising and it’s sad,” said Sarah Conley, corresponding secretary for the FOH board.
“I think that anyone whether you’re in school or you’re grown and out of school, wherever you came from, I really do think that you want to have a sense of pride in where you grew up and I think that starts with the history of wherever it is that you’re from,” Lane said.
Particularly to Fulton, there is a strong history of prosperous, lively times that seems to be forgotten among the current financial distress the city faces.
“It’s neat when the kids learn the history because of where we are now, we still have a proud history, a manufacturing history, people worked hard and they made good livings. This was the city that the Depression overlooked because we were so prosperous that if you wanted a job, you had a job,” Lane explained.
“There’s three and four generations of families that worked at Nestles, so Nestles to people in Fulton means a lot more than people in other places.” Seymour said. “As far as I’m concerned, the house is here for the Fulton people. My big thing is the kids, they get so much out of it that its worth all the time and effort we put into things. When kids look at something they’ve never seen before, the experience is wonderful,” Seymour said.
The focus on children and sparking interest in their local history is a common trend among the FOH at the Pratt House Museum.
One of the biggest fundraiser events for the museum is also the most well attended by children.
Each year, the Pratt House hosts a holiday event called, “The Parade of Trees”
Beginning this year with the annual Punch Party on Sunday, November 27 at 1:30 p.m., kids can enjoy a free holiday theme party to keep off the two week long Parade of Trees.
For the next two weeks, from Monday (Nov 28) through Friday (Dec 9) members of the public are welcome to walk through the Pratt House during regular business hours to view a variety of different Christmas trees decorated by a number of local business, groups, schools, and individuals.
Each guest is able to vote for which tree they like best out of four categories including youth, adult, business and children. At the conclusion of voting, each winning tree is recognized and the decorators receive a monetary prize.
“Their decorations are only limited by their imagination,” Lane explained. “And it’s not always the prettiest tree that wins, with the children that votes it’s usually something specific that catches their eye.”
While one of the most known events of the year, the museum continues to run based only on memberships, donations, and several other fundraiser events throughout the year including an annual porch party to kick off the season, chicken barbecues, a yard sale event, a time period party, and the annual Hunter Arms weekend that celebrates a former Fulton gun manufacturing factory and grows in popularity each year.
The group aims to bring history to the community by more ways than running the museum, as well.
Senior Connection, an outreach program that brought pieces of history to senior living homes in Fulton, brought the FOH plenty of information from life long residents of the city but also plenty of fun as they heard stories and got information on the city’s and its resident’s pasts as they looked back on their youth.
The group also brings historical programs to places such as Camp Hollis, Sandy Creek Fair, the Sunrise Rotary, and other public organizations as well as hosting speakers from other historical organizations at the Pratt House. The board of directors have suggested the museum to be used as a place for high school students seeking community service hours as well.
Moving forward, the Friends of History sees even more growth for the future by eventually incorporating present technology with the past to create a hands on, virtual tour of the house to take their profound history preservation on the road in a convenient, mobile fashion.
For now, they continue to focus on spreading awareness and gaining interest in local history.
“You don’t know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’re from,” Lane said.
“And we need to get some young blood in here that’s interested in history to carry on. I would hate to see this place close up because it gives so much to the community,” Seymour added.
“I cant think of any reason history is important. I can’t think of any reason anything is important, unless you make it important. You have to have a reason to believe in something, you have to have something that grounds you. There’s not a reason for it, there’s not a reason against it, but you’ve got to get involved in your life, and history is life,” O’Brien said.
“Answers a lot of questions you may not even know you had,” Dexter said. “It helps to make more sense for how things are now based on what they once were.”
“It’s an articulated connection of generations,” O’Brien said, and the FOH at the John Wells Pratt House Museum intends to keep that connection alive.
To visit the museum for a tour, stop by during hours of operations on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or by calling (315) 598-4616 to schedule an appointment or inquire about membership.