Wolcott History
Wolcott Historical Society

Wolcott Historical Society History for November 2013

By Florence Goodman

I recently came across a February 28, 1932 article from the Waterbury Republican, Sunday newspaper about Dennis Pritchard and his family. The topic was quite interesting, as well as unique and I wanted to share the contents with my readers.

In the mid 1700s, Roger Pritchard was the first of his family to come from England and settle on the Wolcott/Waterbury border where Sharon Road is today. His great grandson, Dennis later settled in the Center Street section of Wolcott. Dennis Pritchard married Julia Downs in 1831 and they had two children John D. and Berlin. Dennis purchased the John Norton mill property along the Mad River and his family lived on a farm just east of the mill. In 1868 his wife, Julia, died and two years later he married Mrs. Polly (Welton) Minor.

Dennis Pritchard was a hard worker and a "Jack of all trades." He was a carpenter by trade making cradles and other wood items, but his cabinet making ability allowed him to partake in a unique craft, making coffins for those who died in his neighborhood. He used a long plank to measure the deceased for each coffin. He would carry the plank with him when called to a home of a deceased loved one. He would place the body on the plank to measure it for the proper coffin size. This plank later became a treasured possession in the Pritchard family and was still in his grandson, Willey Pritchard's possession in 1932.

Besides his carpentry skills, Pritchard operated a gristmill and worked as a cobbler soling and heeling shoes, a tailor cutting vests and pantaloons and a blacksmith. An 1832 account book showed that Mr. Pritchard found another way to earn money, by keeping a general store. This book showed long lists of household articles and food items that were charged to well-known families in town and the prices he charged for these goods and services. For example, he charged 17 cents for cutting a vest and a pair of pantaloons and one dollar to make four cupboard doors. His coffin prices varied from one to three dollars depending on the size of the body. He also made shingles, cut plank wood, sold nails, hauled lumber, sold produce and cut, split and delivered wood to the schoolhouse. When he found time to eat and sleep was a mystery to many.

By 1870 the Pritchard holdings included land from Wolcott High School on the west side of Bound Line Road to Edgewood Cemetery. The land also extended from the high school down Minor Road to Center Street and Wolcott Road. Dennis Pritchard died in 1887 at the age of 82 and is buried in the Edgewood Cemetery in the center of town.

Several generations of Pritchards owned grist, saw and cider mills along the Mad River. Willey Pritchard who was the grandson of Dennis Pritchard and born in 1863 owned the sawmill until April 16, 1944 when it was destroyed by fire. During this time period, the Josiah Atkins House and property were referred to as Pritchard's Farm. The Pritchard family owned the Josiah Atkins House and property located at 49 Center Street for about one hundred years.

In the mid 1950's Katherine and John Washburne purchased the house and property at 49 Center Street, which included two barns and a smoke house. They lived there with their children Jack and Kathy. Mr. and Mrs. Washburne were very active in the Wolcott Historical Society and John authored many articles and booklets about Wolcott history that I reference frequently. Today, their daughter, Kathy and her husband Dave Shea own the property.

(Information for this article was taken from, "History of the Town of Wolcott, Connecticut from 1731 to 1874" by Samuel Orcutt, an article from The Waterbury Republican, Sunday Morning Newspaper, February 1932")

Willey Pritchard 1932

Willey Pritchard, 1932.

Dennis Pritchard's measuring board

Dennis Pritchard's measuring board.

Willey Pritchard's saw mill

Inside Willey Pritchard's saw mill on the Mad River at Center Street.

Willey Pritchard's saw mill

Willey Pritchard's saw mill was located on the Mad River at Center Street..

Inside Pritchard's saw mill

Inside Pritchard's saw mill.

Pritchard Farm/Josiah Atkins House

A present day picture of the Pritchard Farm/Josiah Atkins House at 49 Center Street. .

To view past installments of the Wolcott Historical Society News, click here.

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