Friday, July 12, 2013

The Pratt-Pullman

The Pratt Engineering/Pullman Company property is a historic industrial complex located in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta (here). Construction of the first buildings began in 1904, followed by a second building campaign when the Pullman Company bought the property in 1926. The site is currently owned by the state of Georgia and has been abandoned since 1996.

Roswell, 1920. Great Oaks located on Mimosa Boulevard
was built in 1842 as the home of Reverend and Mrs.
Nathaniel Alpheus Pratt
Its difficult to write about Nathaniel Palmer Pratt, founder of the N.P. Pratt Laboratory (predecessor to Pratt Engineering and Machine Company), without first writing about his father and his grandfather. The senior Nathaniel Alpheus Pratt (b.1796-d.1879) was a well-to-do Presbyterian minister from Connecticut. N. A. Pratt senior was also the son-in-law of Roswell King, founder of the city of Roswell Georgia. King brought Pratt, a graduate of Yale and Princeton's school of divinity and fellow resident of Darien Georgia, to the new town of Roswell to take charge of the Roswell Presbyterian Church, of which he did from 1840 until his death in 1879. In 1842, N.A. Pratt built 'Great Oaks' in Roswell, pictured at right.

Doctor Nathaniel Alpheus Pratt (b.1834-d.1906), son of a preacher man, was born in Darien and raised in Roswell. He studied chemistry and engineering at Harvard and was considered to have a brilliant mind for science; "His mind received and retained impressions as a piece of wax and his information upon all scientific subjects was marvelous" (Men of Mark in Georgia, Vol. V, 1910). His reputation in chemistry led him to become an adviser in the sourcing and production of gunpowder for the confederacy during the American Civil War . Following the war, Dr Pratt began a long and lucrative career of establishing chemical fertilizer plants all over the south. He was also an inventor, credited with patents on several chemical processes and a Geologist, mapping mineral deposits all over the south. Dr. Pratt was a bit of a nomad, living all over the southeast, from Florida to Virginia, but lived out his final years in Decatur, Georgia - where, in 1906, he was struck and killed by a Georgia Railroad train.

One of Pratt's first patents, this one of
the "process of and apparatus for making
sulfuric acid, September 1895.
Nathaniel Palmer Pratt (b.1858-d.1942), son of the renowned 'man of science', was born in Milledgeville, Georgia, the capital of Georgia at the time. In 1878 he graduated from Washington & Lee University, just two years after his father resigned from the position of chair of applied science. N.P. Pratt was a chemist and engineer, and also like his father, was ambitious and an entrepreneur; He founded the NP Pratt Laboratory in 1879, at the age of 21. Of course, it would take another decade or so for the NP Pratt Laboratory to engage in any serious work - biographies of N. P. Pratt suggest that his company was not founded until 1890. By 1900, he held at least a half-dozen patents for the manufacture and production of various chemicals, including sulfuric acid, his patent of which became the worldwide standard for many years. According to Drugs and Pharmacy in the Life of Georgia, 1733-1959, Pratt Laboratory was one of the first to manufacture and sell liquid carbon dioxide, which would be used in the newly popular soda fountains. This connection to soda would result in a very successful career for Pratt's cousin William Pratt Heath, who was Pratt's chief chemist for many years, and would later go on to work for Coca Cola.

N.P. Pratt Laboratory, from American Fertilizer, 1899

In 1898 N.P. Pratt Laboratory bought Fulton Foundry and Machine Company, which had a plant located at 490 Marietta street and also with offices in New York City. Presumably, Pratt realized that he could not only patent chemical processes and apparatuses, but could manufacture and sell the machinery used in these processes as well. A year later, in 1899, N.P. Pratt Laboratory built offices and a laboratory at 90 Auburn Avenue (corner of Courtland) in Atlanta. The two story, stone and pressed brick building cost roughly $18,000. It was designed by Godfrey L. Norman (one-time business partner to Neel Reid and Hal Hentz, and replaced by Rudolph Adler after his death) to be able to take an additional two stories if needed (American Fertilizer, Vol. X, No. 1, Jan. 1899), though whether this happened is unknown as the building, unsurprisingly, is no longer extant.

Image from Atlanta Constitution, June 6, 1906
In 1904, Pratt began construction on a state-of-the-art facility in the newly incorporated hamlet of Kirkwood, just south of the Georgia Railroad tracks, between Atlanta and Decatur. Kirkwood at the turn of the century consisted of not much more than a collection of fine estate homes, a post office, a fire station, and a couple of general stores. The area was easily accessible by two trolley lines, and with this new employer, this would help precipitate a swift residential building boom, filling out most of the neighborhood with Craftsman style bungalows.

Image from Louisiana Planter, 1907

Announcement from American Fertilizer,
Vol. 30, Jan. 1909

Sometime in 1908 or 1909, Pratt Engineering and Machine Company was formed. It is unclear what transpired here, but it appears that Pratt Engineering & Machine Co. was spun off of the engineering department of N.P Pratt Laboratory. N. P. Pratt and George L. Pratt (for whom much of the design credit for the new facility is due) continued to manage the Kirkwood factory. Notorious businessmen, Joel Hurt and George F. Hurt had a hand in this deal and became directors of the new company. Both companies continued to operate in tandem for another decade or so (Joel Hurt papers, G.F. Hurt biography, American Fertilizer, Vol. 30, Jan. 1909). 

Pratt Engineering (and, prior to 1909, Pratt Laboratory) not only produced manufacturing equipment, but also built dozens of complete factories around the state, country, and world, including factories in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil. Machines were constructed onsite at the Kirkwood location, assembled and tested as a complete production facility, then disassembled and loaded onto train cars for shipment to their final destinations.

C. 1910 sketch of Pratt Engineering and Machine Co., source unknown

Briefly during World War I, the plant was used for the production of munitions. Though the details of this work are unknown, it was not an uncommon practice at the time. Franklin Garret notes in his seminal work on the history of Atlanta, that Pratt Engineering gave its employees the remainder of the day off on the morning the armistice was announced. Though it would appear that business was booming, shortly after the War N.P. Pratt Laboratory and the Pratt Engineering and Machine Company were liquidated. Portions of the lab were sold to former NP Pratt Laboratory employees to form Brogdon-Dumas Laboratories (Chemical Age, 1919 and Chemical & Metallurgical Engineering, 1920). The remainder of NP Pratt Laboratory was sold to Coca Cola, who at the same time bought out William Pratt Heath's start-up, Crystal Carbonic. Heath went on to become one of Coca Cola's chief chemists. It is rumored that Earnest Woodruff, who bought out Coca-Cola in 1919, negotiated these deals, perhaps incorporating from Pratt their successful carbonic gas manufacturing and analysis and dropping the remainder to streamline business. 

1927-1930 topographic map
What became of Pratt Engineering is not known, but the Kirkwood facility was eventually bought by the Pullman Company in 1926. The site was purchased for around $250,000 with another $1.25 million in renovation/construction costs (Atlanta Constitution, Aug. 12, 1927). Two large saw-toothed buildings were constructed at this time, as well as the innovative transfer table, which allowed workers to moved train cars laterally down the production line, saving space and time and allowing all work to go on concurrently.

The Pullman's "Atlanta Shops", were one of several repair and maintenance facilities strategically located around the United States. As with Pratt, Pullman was a major employer for the local community of Kirkwood, which was incorporated into the City of Atlanta in 1926. In 1954, facing declining passenger train use, Pullman began closing its ancillary facilities. The company went bankrupt in 1969.

Aerial Image, date unknown (1960s)
From 1955 to well into the 1970s, Southern Iron and Equipment Company, manufacturer of train locomotives and train parts, operated a train repair and manufacturing facility at the site. Southern Iron changed its name to U.S. Railway Manufacturing Co. and then to Evans Railcar Division of the Evans Products Co. Several prefab metal buildings and sheds were installed during this time.

After a decade of abandonment, the state of Georgia bought the site in 1990 for $1.66 million and began running the New Georgia Railroad, a tourist and dinner train running from Atlanta Underground to Stone Mountain. The Pratt-Pullman site was used for equipment storage and maintenance.

C. 1992
The New Georgia Railroad went belly up in just a few years later and the site has been vacant since. Though used briefly in the late 1990s for storage and occasionally rented out to movie production crews, the site has seen the most use by graffiti artists and urban explorers.

In 2001, the Pratt-Pullman site was placed on the Atlanta Preservation Center's endangered places list and in 2009 the Kirkwood neighborhood, including the Pratt-Pullman site, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information and to get involved in this site's preservation, please visit the SAVE Pratt Pullman Facebook page.

1 comment: