At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, this area served as the village center. The well-equipped general store owned by Ebenezer Hayden and the surrounding businesses of the Pratt Smithy, a bake house two doors up the street, and the Hill general store provided the goods and services needed by the growing community. The old, hand operated water pump still standing across the street supplied water for horses.
Although there are no photographs of the Hayden store, we know that it was located just south of the present Champlin house on land that was part of the Pratt estste. Ebenezer Hayden purchased the property in 1788 and established a general store, selling everything from gin to axes, as pages from his daybooks attest. The store building was destroyed in the late 1820s after the Champlin House was built.
The Champlin House
Amelia Hayden, granddaughter of Ebenezer Hayden, married Henry Lay Champlin, a wealthy shipowner from Lyme. In 1818 they built the elegant Champlin House on the property she inherited from her grandfather. Henry Champlin became a prominent citizen in Essex and was the first president of the Essex Savings Bank. After his death in 1859, the family continued to occupy the house until 1890 when the property was sold to George A. Cheney, president of Comstock, Cheney & Co., foremost manufacturers of ivory piano keys and piano actions. He made changes to the original house, adding a porch, stables, a greenhouse and other outbuildings.
Pratt House, today the home of the Essex Historical Society, was originally built on this site in 1701, as a gambrel-roofed cape, by John Pratt, Jr., grandson of lieutenant William Pratt, one of the three original settlers of Essex. In 1732, John, Jr., moved the house back and added a two-room cape, one room up and one room down, with an end chimney. Later additions in the 1700s brought it to its present "vernacular" style. Note that there are only four indows across the top instead of the usual five and they are not aligned with the lower windows.
The building remained in Pratt family ownership until 1952, when it was deeded to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities who, in 1985, transferred it to the Essex Historical Society.
The present brick Pratt Smithy was built in 1848 by Elias Pratt. It replaced an earlier wooden structure located next door to the west. In 1678 John Pratt, Sr., the son of one of the original settlers of Essex, opened his blacksmith shop in the present Old Saybrook area. The business was moved to the Essex location and nine generations of the same Pratt family ran the blacksmith business from these locations, specializing in household iron work - nails, hinges, latches, bolts, foot scrapers, tongs, gridirons and other house, farm, and shipyard items. Later, horseshoeing became an important part of the business.
The Smithy was commemorated by the U.S. Postal Service on a First Day envelope in 1938 in a series celebrating the American entrepreneur, citing the Pratt Smithy as America's oldest continuing family business.