What is now Prattville, Alabama was largely inhabited by Native Americans and a few settlers when Daniel Pratt, a native of Temple, New Hampshire, first observed the sparkling waters of Autauga Creek in the 1830's.
Pratt purchased approximately 1000 acres from Joseph May at $21.00 an acre, (half of which was to be paid in cotton gins at prevailing rates), and set out to build his manufacturing facilities and the town along the banks of the creek which would supply power for the machinery to build cotton gins.
In the late 1830's, Pratt began building in Alabama the most extraordinary town in the antebellum South, a town dedicated to industry on a spot surrounded by large black belt plantations to the south, and farms or smaller plantations to the north.
Pratt, who would later be called "Alabama's first industrialist", surveyed the land and laid out his town as those in his native New England. As a result, Pratt's village is one of the few older Southern towns that do not boast of a town square. Because Pratt set aside specific spaces for businesses, churches, schools, and residential areas for his employees and others who would move into the area, Prattville could be singled out as one of Alabama's first "planned communities."
Daniel Pratt could be considered a "Renaissance" man. After leaving his childhood home at the age of 20, he lived in Georgia, where he built some of the most beautiful and well-constructed homes in the state for the wealthy cotton planters of the area. These homes follow the popular classical style of the period and feature large white columns, broad hallways and either spiral or elliptical stairways. These homes established Pratt's reputation as one of the leading carpenter-architects in the south in the 1820's.
His love of beauty is evidenced in Prattville in his manufactories which feature graceful arches, soaring ceilings and vast open spaces, interesting brick and stonework and a picturesque site alongside Autauga Creek. Several of the brick structures that Pratt built are still used today for an industry manufacturing cotton gins. These buildings are the longest continuously occupied industrial buildings in the state. Other adjacent buildings, unoccupied since 1997, unfortunately burned to the ground on September 10, 2002.
The growth of early Prattville was centered on Pratt's enterprises. In ten years, Pratt made a marshy 1,000 acres of heavily wooded land into a thriving village of 800 people. Daniel Pratt's Gin Factory was the economic cornerstone on which the new town was built. Profits from the Gin Factory financed the beginnings of other industries, until by the 1850's, for its size, Prattville furnished the most diverse industrial pattern in the United States. The renowned Pratt Gin Company became the largest gin factory in the world, filling orders for gins from Russia, the British Empire, France, Cuba, Mexico, and Central and South America.
Other industries Pratt established in his town before 1850 in which he owned part or whole were the sash, door and blind factory, machine and blacksmith shops, a wagon manufactory, a tin manufactory and a flouring mill. The sash, door and blind factory supplied those articles for some of the finest homes in South Alabama and along the Gulf coast. But the most important factory, with the exception of the Gin Factory, was the Prattville Manufacturing Company No. 1, organized by Pratt and incorporated by the Alabama Legislature in 1846. Under Pratt's leadership the Prattville Manufacturing Company became one of the most successful and well known of the cotton and woolen mills in the antebellum south.
In 1860, Prattville was a town of 1500 people, most of who worked in the factories of Prattville, or had been attracted there to serve these workers. The town had a public library, two schools, four churches and a town hall. Prattville was officially incorporated on August 8, 1865.
At Prattville, Daniel Pratt accumulated the first large fortune in Alabama from an industrial source. His greatest contribution to the antebellum south was probably as a propagandist for southern industry. He preached the industrial gospel in scores of letters and articles which were printed in southern newspapers and periodicals and received great publicity as a living example of success which encouraged southern industry. The University of Alabama conferred on him the degree of Master of Mechanical and Useful Arts, the only one of its kind the University has ever given. Pratt was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 1990.
To read more about Prattville's History, please check out the following websites devoted to the history of Prattville.
Autauga County Heritage Association