Born in Middleborough, Massachusetts, Enoch Pratt was the second of eight children born to Isaac and Naomi (née Keith) Pratt. A successful businessman, Isaac Pratt managed several businesses, including a sawmill, general store, wholesale hardware. The young Enoch was educated at the former Bridgewater Academy in the neighboring town of Bridgewater, Massachusetts's Town Common. After graduating, at the age of 15, Enoch Pratt began his first job in business as a clerk in a Boston hardware establishment.
In 1831, Pratt moved to Baltimore with $150 to launch his own wholesale iron hardware business, Enoch Pratt & Brothers at 23-25 South Charles Street, between East Baltimore and German (now Redwood) Streets. The business proved successful, and six years later, Pratt married Maria Louisa Hyde (1818–1913), the daughter of Samuel G. and Catherine Hyde, whom he met at his church on August 1, 1837. Their marriage was happy, but they were unable to have children.
With his successful hardware business, Pratt became involved in other businesses as vice president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, who built their southern terminal in 1849-1850 at the President Street Station, at President and Fleet Streets, east of the harbor "basin" (today's "Inner Harbor"). He also served as president of the National Farmers’ and Planters’ Bank of Baltimore, and was the controlling stockholder in the Maryland Steamboat Company. In 1851, Pratt and his partner invested in western Maryland coal mines and iron yards in the expanding and developing industrial and commercial Baltimore neighborhood of Canton. They made their own merchandise, thereby ending their dependence on northern manufacturers. From 1860 until his death in 1896, he was the president of the National Farmers' and Planters' Bank of Baltimore. Pratt also became president of the Baltimore Clearing House and the Maryland Bankers' Association, in addition to establishing a role in several transportation companies. He was also a director for three other railroads, including the famous Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He was a contemporary and associate of philanthropist Thomas Kelso, (1784-1878), founder and endower of the Kelso Home and Orphan Asylum originally established by his home at No. 87 East Baltimore Street and opened January 1, 1874, who also endowed many local charities associated with the national denomination and the local Baltimore Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. They served together on the board of the P.W. & B. Railroad Company.
During his early years as a businessman, Pratt's philanthropy started with donations to his church, the First Independent Church of Baltimore (later the First Unitarian Church (Unitarian and Universalist), at North Charles and West Franklin Streets, where he served as a trustee for over 40 years. He paid off several of the congregation's large debts, bought a new organ, and financed significant remodeling of the church in the 1890s. Other early philanthropy included his patronage of the artist Edward Sheffield Bartholomew, Pratt commissioned many public sculptures and memorials throughout Baltimore, including the statue of George Washington erected in the city's new first and largest park of Druid Hill Park, acquired by the city in 1860, and laid out by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
Pratt gave much of his time and wealth to Baltimore’s cultural and charitable institutions. He served as a trustee of the Peabody Institute, founded in 1857, which began construction in 1860 and opened/dedicated in 1866, in the presence of its benefactor, fellow Bay Stater and friend, George Peabody, (1795-1869), who also formerly made his original fortune in "The Monumental City" during the 20 years of his first business, 1815-1835, at the time was the wealthiest man in the Americas. The new Institute's various cultural programs that were to be established of an art gallery, reference library, series of educational lectures, a music conservatory, and system of scholarship honors (engrossed certificates and monetary prizes with gold or silver medals) for honored graduates of the city's new public high schools ("Peabody Prizes"), which were continued for 130 years. A decade later, nine years after his death, the east wing of the Institute with its noted gallery of cast-iron balconies for the book stacks, ceiling skylight and impressive architecture by Edmund G. Lind for its scholarly, non-circulating reference library, (now known as The George Peabody Library) was completed in 1878, and was one of the reasons that the first President Daniel Coit Gilman of the new Johns Hopkins University opening in February 1876, temporarily located its first campus a few blocks away on North Howard Street, rather than at Hopkins' summer/country estate of "Clifton" in northeast Baltimore. These acts of generous philanthropy further inspired Pratt, by his friend and fellow Massachusetts-born and Baltimore industrialist/financier George Peabody, [1795-1869], who earned his fortune beginning during his earlier twenty years in the city during 1815-1835 and his other friend and fellow merchant Johns Hopkins, (1795-1873). He founded the "House of Reformation and Instruction for Colored Children" which he offered on his former farm property at Cheltenham (in Prince George's County), and the Maryland School for the Deaf and Dumb located at Frederick on South Market Street. In 1865, he donated a free school and public library (The Pratt Free School in 1856, and further endowed upon its 1865 incorporation - which later became a public grammar school preparing students for advancement to the local Middleborough High School, founded 1873), to his hometown of Middleborough in Massachusetts.
Pratt is best known for his establishment of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Many residents of the City in late 1881 speculated what was being planned for the excavations going on in the north side of West Mulberry Street, by Cathedral Street, near the old Baltimore Cathedral in the tony Mount Vernon-Belvedere-Mount Royal neighborhood, north of the business district on Cathedral Hill. The mystery was explained when on January 21, 1882, in a letter addressed to the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, Pratt offered a gift of a central library, four branch libraries (with two additional ones to be constructed shortly thereafter), and a financial endowment of (U.S.) $1,058,333. Further, he requested that to Mayor William Pinkney Whyte and the Council continue an annual appropriation to the new library system and support it in the years to come to supplement the interest and benefits accumulating from the principal of his bequest. His intention was to establish a library that "shall be for all, rich and poor without distinction of race or color, who, when properly accredited, can take out the books if they will handle them carefully and return them." The grant was accepted by the municipal government, approved by the General Assembly of Maryland with some enabling legislation, and approved by the city voters later that year in an election/referendum on October 25, 1882. After four years of plans, construction and the hiring of staff with the purchasing of many books, the new library was ready to be opened in January 1886 with some appropriate addresses at ceremonies at the nearby luxurious auditorium of the Academy of Music on North Howard Street (between West Centre and West Franklin Streets), and opened to new patrons and business at the beginning of February 1886.
His death in 1896 at his summer residence "Tivoli" (of Italianate style which he bought in 1870) off Woodbourne Avenue in northeast Baltimore, Pratt left the vast majority of his wealth ($2 million of his $2.5 million) to supplement the earlier endowment of The Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, (as it was later renamed, today it is titled "Sheppard Pratt Health System", giving equal weight to both generous co-founders). Pratt was impressed by the trustees' frugal handling of the original founder's - Moses Sheppard, (1771/1773?-1857), endowment from 1857. “They are the only Board of Trustees in Baltimore,” said Pratt, “who have carried out exactly the directions of the founder.” Pratt's bequest was used to complete construction of the old Moses Sheppard Asylum, enlarge the facility to house 200 additional patients at its country campus in western Towson, further north of the city off (North) Charles Street Avenue in suburban Baltimore County, at the old "Mount Airy Farm" of Baltimore merchant Thomas Poultney, which they purchased in 1858 and began construction two years later, however not opening until 1891, trying to remain faithful to the original directions to serve the indigent.
Enoch Pratt's city townhouse/mansion located at 201 West Monument Street, at the southwest corner with Park Avenue in Mount Vernon-Belvedere which he purchased in 1847, has served as the home of the Maryland Historical Society (founded 1844) since 1919, when it moved from the old "Athenaeum" building, (the second to bear the name) at the northwest corner of St. Paul Street and East Saratoga Street, across from and down the hill from Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church on North Charles Street. The Athenaeum, which the Society had occupied since 1850, also briefly held the collections of the old subscription/membership societies, the Library Company of Baltimore from the 1790s and the Mercantile Library Association, from 1839 of which their libraries were merged with the Society's in 1856. Later facing the first "urban renewal plan" of downtown Baltimore when five square blocks along St. Paul Street and Place between East Centre Street in the north and East Lexington Street to the south, were razed of their townhouse rows from the 1820s and 30's and the "Preston Gardens" were landscaped in terraces along the former old parallel Courtland and St. Paul Streets.It later briefly served as the city office for the "new-fangled" gasoline-powered horseless carriages, the old state Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, founded 1910, (today's state Motor Vehicle Administration of the Maryland Department of Transportation), then unfortunately was razed for a parking garage after World War I. Today the site is occupied by a glass skyscraper from the mid-1950s for the Commercial Credit Corporation. It was an important cultural and literary site of Baltimore as the previous place before Cathedral and West Mulberry Streets where citizens went to get books or do research for seventy years. The Pratt mansion was occupied by his wife Maria Louisa Hyde Pratt until her death in 1913. The West Monument Street townhouse/mansion was then gifted to the Historical Society by Mary Washington Keyser, whose husband was a longtime Md.H.S. member. A research library, archives, with underground storage stacks was constructed in the following decade at the southern rear of the mansion replacing the former carriage house.
Famous Scottish-born steel industrialist, millionaire and later noted philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, (1835-1919), said when he began his philanthropy of millions of dollars in the late 19th and early 20th Century giving away his fortune especially to build hundreds of public library buildings throughout the United States, if the local town, city or county governments would promise to give them an annual budget and continue to support them, said that "Pratt was my guide and inspiration" remembering the time of several days that he spent in Baltimore at Pratt's house on West Monument Street, touring the new Free Library and conversing with Pratt and his employees and even the citizens/patrons about their mutual ideas during his visit in March 1890.