Some Facts and History of Prospect Street

From Essex Events, Winter 1997

    "The Prospect Street area has been known by many names over the years.  Initially, the name "Pound Hill" comes to mind, for in the latter part of the 18th century, a cattle and swine "pound" was in evidence at the south end of this street.  The primary reason for the storing of these animals here was for shipment to other places, primarily the West Indies.  This was during the latter half of the 18th century.  Thereafter (the first part of the 19th century), and for obvious reasons, this road was called Church Street, or "Zion Hill," as the Episcopal, Baptist, and Methodist congregations met here.  By the middle of the 19th century the name Prospect had been applied, and has stayed that way since.
    "An article in this paper about a year ago discussed the "shifting" center of Essex.  The formation of Essex Village churches follows this pattern precisely.  Originally, the main spiritual focus was the First Congregational Church in Centerbrook, founded in 1722, with Abraham Nott as the first minister.  With the sudden growth of entrepreneurship in Essex after the Revolutionary War, centering on ship building, a distinct expansion and change of spiritual preference took place.  Indeed, according to "A Statistical History of The County of Middlesex" by Reverend David Dudley Field, published in 1819, Essex Village (Potapaug Point) and Middletown had the most religious diversity south of Hartford.
    "The prime force behind this economic movement, Captain Uriah Hayden (builder of the ship "Oliver Cromwell"), was paramount in the establishment of the Episcopal Church in town.  This congregation was located in a building close to where the current Steam Train station is.  This was in the last decade of the 18th century.  Within 10 years, this building was physically moved to the southwest corner of Prospect Street, where it served that congregation for almost 100 years.  The construction of the current St. Johns edifice on Main Street in 1897 (dedication) ended the stay of this denomination on "Church Hill."  The building was sold to the Catholic Church and became the original "Our Lady of Sorrows."  It was destroyed by fire in 1926, and the site of the old Pettipaug House (a former hotel and dormitory for Hill's Academy) was chosen for the new "Our Lady of Sorrows."  Interestingly enough, as the now newer "Our Lady of Sorrows" was being constructed this past year, the foundation of this structure revealed some of the original construction features of 1848.
    "By 1849 the Methodist Church was put up by carpenter Frederick Gladding.  This classic Greek Revival structure operated as a church well into the 19th century.  It was sold in 1945 to the Essex Fire Department and eventually became a warehouse for the local Verplex Company.  The front façade of the building was sold to a group in Long Island, N.Y., but has since been reproduced, for it is now a private residence.  Before this building went up, the Methodists met in the "Town Hall," now a dwelling house, just south of the Essex Fire Department, on the east side of Prospect Street.
    "The building of the Congregational Church in 1852 completed a triangle of churches on the south end of Prospect Street.  This was the first break from the "mother" Congregational Church in Centerbrook, and the building itself has been enlarged twice over the last 43 years.  Sea Captain Isaiah Pratt, whose home was originally positioned where the Essex Post Office currently stands, specified in his will that money he was leaving for the formation of a new high school be used for the education of children from this congregation only.  The trustees of that will therefore made Pratt High School (currently town hall) a type of private school, essentially charging tuition, so all could attend.  In effect, a use of the principle of the separation of church and state.
    "The Egyptian Revival style Baptist Church, constructed in 1846 (with a new and different tower in 1929) is actually the second Baptist Meeting House on this hill.  The original brick church was across the street in the area of the Essex Fire Department parking lot.  It was built in 1817 with money contributed by Jared Hayden, and served the Baptist congregation until the new church was built.  It is prominently shown in the famous "Barber" 1836 lithograph of Essex and "Church Hill."  In addition, a Baptist conference hall was put up in 1837.  This was sold to the town in 1845 for a school building and was known as the "Point School" until being disbanded in 1910.  It exists today as The Essex Art Gallery.
    "In addition to the five denominations already mentioned, in 1947 the Christian Science Society constructed a building between the so-called "Town Hall" and the Methodist Church building.  This was originally a one story contemporary structure and served that congregation until 1964 when it was sold.  The Christian Science Church removed to the Old Post Road in Old Saybrook at that time, and has been there since.  This building has been altered several times and remains a private residence.
    "Such is a very brief history of the churches in this area.  It must also be noted that the Congregational, Catholic, and Baptist Churches maintain parsonages on Prospect Street.  Considering all this activity, it is all the more interesting that the name was changed from Church Street to Prospect Street.  However, this hill does give a fine "prospect" of the "Great River," and considering that there were practically no trees when it was named as such, it was probably a very logical move 160 years ago."


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