Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Window to the Past

Not long ago, I wrote an article about my interest in stained glass and shared photos of windows at Cottonwood Ranch in Studley. Several people said they wanted to know more about them. This topic is a mystery in progress, but I have more to share thanks to Don Rowlison, ranch curator.

The first Pratt settler, Abraham, an English entrepreneur first immigrated to Kansas in the late 1870s. He bought 160 acres along the South Solomon River, where he occupied a dugout. Despite the rustic conditions he faced in Kansas, he saw possibilities and returned to England where he convinced his oldest son John Fenton Pratt to return with him. Once here, John bought 160 acres of his own property from the Kansas Pacific Railroad on the north side of the river. Both men continued living in the underground home until the mid-80s when brother Tom helped them construct a single- roomed native stone structure on John’s property.

Along the way, the elder Pratt consolidated the towns of Skelton and Carl into Studley, named after a landmark in his native England. Then he established a lumberyard and ran it in addition to the agricultural endeavors he shared with his sons.

Due to the closing of the cattle trails and opportunity created by the 1883 depression, these men created a Yorkshire-style sheep operation. Through the mid-1880s, they replaced south-aligned sod buildings with native stone until they completed the traditional English structures and fencing visitors now observe at this historic site.

As the family became more successful, the ranch house developed from a single room stone structure to a lovely Victorian home with a parlor, dining room, kitchen, bath, and multiple bedrooms. To enhance its prairie presence, John or Jennie Pratt ordered four stained glass windows from the Studley lumberyard.

Those who have visited Cottonwood Ranch today know that they hung one window in the dining area, one called Lavender and Lace on the north side of the  kitchen, another larger design titled Buttons and Bows above their then-modern tin tub, and a still striking oval design  in the guest bedroom.

John was a meticulous record keeper and recorded when he ordered his windows from his father’s lumberyard. A researcher familiar with the records and era speculated these were shipped from Chicago, perhaps from the Sears or Montgomery Ward catalogues. That information is uncertain; however, John’s books indicate he frequently bought from these merchants.

We know the name of the designs in the bathroom and the kitchen.  Thanks to John’s records, we know the bathroom glass cost the handsome sum of $7.87. The delicate oval window visitors see from the front porch was more dear. According to his accounts, Pratt valued it at $16.83.

These prices seem cheap by today’s standards, but according to a site detailing 1896 wages, Kansas laborers averaged $2.50 per day. I’m guessing pay was lower in western Kansas where this ranch is located. Even at the stated daily wage, a person would have to work half a week to buy the less expensive product and six days to purchase the lovely oval design. Based on the windows installed in his house, raising sheep was profitable for John Fenton Pratt.

It’s worth a trip to Cottonwood Ranch to view these lovely art forms and to visit with Don Rowlison who has an encyclopedic understanding of this family and their role in Kansas history.

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