Chesterton Tribune

Photos: Local historians hear history of Brown Mansion

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Brown Mansion circa 1890: The George Brown house, made with Porter brick, was designed in the Queen Anne style with large verandas, steeply pitched and irregular roof lines, dormers and decorative gables and gingerbread trim. This photo shows the barn in back and fenced in yard. The limestone tablet on the second floor chimney gives the date of construction. Charity is pictured in the yard on the left and Carrie and her dog are on the right.(Photo provided)


Brown Mansion in 2006 is Westchester Twp. History Museum: The George and Charity Brown Mansion, 700 W. Porter Ave., Chesterton, became the home of the museum in 2005. Notice the ground floor verandas and fence are gone, trees are matured and there is an addition in the back of the house, where the barn once was located. The Duneland School Corp. remodeled the building in 1985 to make more space for the administration building. The administration offices moved to Chesterton Middle School and contracted with Westchester Public Library to locate the museum there. The museum is open to the public from 1-5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. (Photo by Hugh Hopkins)



The stately Brown Mansion at 700 W. Porter Avenue in Chesterton was the topic recently at the Duneland Historical Society meeting, where history buffs filled the Library Service Center to learn about its history and families.

Some of the Brown descendants attended and shared information afterwards.

“I remember going to visit my uncle on his death bed,” recalled Tim Cole. “I was very young and he wanted to see me. I remember looking waaay up. The bed was tall. They lifted me up, sitting me on the bed and he said a few words.”

The presentation prepared by Jane Walsh-Brown and Eva Hopkins made one better able to visualize the experiences of those who remembered the brick house before it became the Westchester Township History Museum.

Although not descendants of the Brown family, Warren and Betty Canright lived there when it housed two apartments. A photograph of Betty feeding her son David while he was in a high chair, in their second floor apartment was shared for this special show. Warren is the publisher of the Chesterton Tribune and David is the managing editor.

Construction of the house was big news (front page) in the Chesterton Tribune in 1885 and has continued to be a topic of interest through the years.

The numerous photographs of the mansion showed its many architectural sides, each one was accompanied with a story. The outside has stayed pretty much the same, save one of the porches, an addition and the landscaping.

The third floor ballroom provided the place once upon a time where the Browns and their guests danced the night away. They even were able to go out onto a balcony from the dance floor to view the scenery. Betty Canright used to hang her laundry in the ballroom. It now is a storage room for the museum.

Eva Hopkins opened the slide program with an 1852 photograph of George Brown as attendees learned he was born in 1828 in Cumberland, Co, England. He immigrated to the United States with his older sister Jane and her husband James Thompson in 1852. Five years later, his younger sister Mary and her husband James Cape also moved here. They all lived in Jackson Twp.

George married Charity Carter in 1855. Charity was born in 1838 in Jackson Twp. the daughter of Jacob and Chloe Carter, Jackson Twp. pioneers. A Carter cemetery is located near the Art Barn, south of U.S. Hwy 6 and the Carter School used to be located near it.

An 1876 plat of Jackson Twp. shows George had 440 acres and includes a drawing of his house. George sold cordwood to the Porter brickyards. Census lists of 1860, 70 and 80, list George as a farmer and George and Charity with nine children: Joseph, Frank, Jerome, George, James, Elizabeth, Charles, Anna and Carrie. Their oldest daughter Mary Jane was married.

“We got a lot of information about George in Godspeed’s 1882 “History of Porter and Lake Counties,” Hopkins said. By this time he owned 900 acres and was one of the largest land-owners.” George bought another 120 acres in Westchester Twp. from the Porter County Sheriff and the John Thomas estate in 1884. (Thomas died in 1884). George kept 10 acres for himself.

In 1885, Brown and Dick Johnson actively sold wood, and George decided to retire in Chesterton. He built the elegant house west of town, and lived in the old house on the John Thomas farm until this house was completed. By then they still had at least four children living with them: Elizabeth 17, Charles, 15, Anna, 13, and Carrie 9. Three unmarried sons may also have lived with them at that time.

Walsh-Brown discussed the architecture of the house. The Queen Anne Style house was designed by Cicero Hine, a notable Chicago architect. Modern for its time, it had hot and cold running water, a bathroom on the second floor and a coal fired furnace. The Browns ordered the furnishings from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Local contractors for the house were Nathan Demass, woodwork; Henry Lembster, brick work; Chris Lembke, plaster and Swan Nilson, painter and frescoer.

Walsh-Brown explained the Queen Ann Style, popular in the 1880s and 90s was a celebration of contrast and variety.

“We can see the characteristics of contrast and variety on the exterior of the Brown Mansion with its contrasting colors and textures. The smooth white limestone horizontal band that encircles the house stands out against its rough cherry-colored bricks, which were supplied by the local Porter brick yards.

“In a similar manner, the straight exterior walls are a contrast with the two-story bay windows, one on the east side and one on the front of the building. George Brown proudly added a limestone tablet with his initials and the date of construction to the top of the front bay. The overall asymmetrical shape of the house is also very characteristic of the Queen Anne style.

“Queen Anne era architects often used a wide variety of materials on their houses. For the Brown Mansion, Cicero Hine chose plain and decorative molded bricks, limestone trim for the windows and patterned clapboards...The wooden trim on the balcony is also varied, with two rounded arched openings and three squared arch openings...

“Queen Anne houses typically had large verandahs, as seen in an early photograph of the Brown house. Other Queen Anne characteristics were steeply pitched and irregular rooflines, dormers and decorative gables and a wealth of decorative wooden trim, sometimes referred to today as ‘gingerbread.’ The Brown Mansion’s exterior woodwork is a particularly good example of the Queen Anne style with it daisy motif brackets and decorative pendent details.

“The interior of the Brown Mansion also reflects the Queen Anne style with its large entry hall, its stained and etched glass windows and its plaster corbels and arches. Other surviving decorative details include a flower motif oak fireplace, a soapstone fireplace, faux painted to look like marble and beautiful engraved hardware.”

Continued Hopkins, “A year after they moved into the brick house, George and his son George were very ill. A year later George gave his son George a 23rd birthday party. Still another year went by and in 1888, son James, who lived there had typhoid.

“Articles infer to me that George’s older sons lived in the house, at least some of the time,” Hopkins said.

On June 23, 1889 Elizabeth Brown married Niles Highwood in the mansion and on June 28, her brother Charles died at age 18. He had typhoid fever at age two and had been an invalid since that time.

The earliest photo of the house is dated 1890 with Carrie and her dog and Charity. It includes a fancy barn and fencing. In the background, a train can be seen, which probably is at what is now 8th St. and Broadway.

In 1891, George sold 110 acres north and west of his house to the Chicago Porter Home Investment Company for $13,750. They in turn divided it into blocks and lots for development. It became known as the “boom.” George kept 10 acres around his home on Porter Ave.

“During the summer in 1891, he built a brick store in Chesterton at 123 Calumet Rd. (now Byron’s Barber Shop, Frank’s Shoe Repair and Nextel, located at Calumet and Broadway). George’s first tenants were Hylander’s Store that sold notions in the smaller side and Lowenstine’s in the larger side.

“In July 1891, George and Charity’s son George married Phenia Schultz in Valparaiso, but the wedding reception was at the Brown Mansion and was reported as a “bountiful wedding feast.”

“In 1894 Charity had cancer surgery in Valparaiso. A rare photo of Charity and George was taken in front of their house. She was in a wheel chair. It is the only photo on file of George.

“In March 1894, daughter Anna married John G. Johnson in a small wedding at her parent’s home. They divorced in 1902.

“On April 21, 1895, Charity died at age 56, ten years after moving into her new home. Services were conducted at the house. One-hundred buggies went to the cemetery. According to the Jackson Twp. plat, George owned 440 acres and gave 240 acres to his three sons.

“According to the June 20, 1895 Chesterton Tribune, Arthur Bowser attempted to sell the 1,700 lots Brown sold him in 1891. Land in the “boom” was not selling due to the depression between 1893 and 1898.

“George was very lucky he sold when he did!,” said Hopkins.

George died at age 71 in 1899. A Chesterton Tribune obituary said “during his life, he accumulated considerable wealth by his close attention to business and by careful investments.”

“George’s oldest son Joseph and daughter Carrie are the will’s joint administrators. The estate is estimated at $30,000 and later, $50,000. The oldest daughter Mary is left $100. Carrie, the last child home who cared for her father at the end, is left with the 10 acre homestead, furniture, horses and other stock, wagon, buggy and all other property,” Hopkins said.

“According to the news coverage about the will, Daughters Mary Jane and Elizabeth contested the will and broke it. Considerable property including land in Chicago and South Dakota is equally distributed. The sons get land. Frank gets the house but must pay $1,000 to equalize his share. Anna gets the store, Mary Jane, Elizabeth and Carrie get land in Chicago that they could sell.”

In 1900, Frank moved into his parents’ home and made extensive improvements. A year later the homestead in Jackson Twp., which Frank was renting out, burned down.

In 1902, Anna’s (Johnson) store inherited from the will, survived the downtown fire. The store was owned by Oral and Charles Smith from 1908 until 1963.

Son Jerome died in 1906 in Canton, Miss. and his wife and children moved to Valparaiso.

Frank is listed in the 1910 census as having his own income and three children. He retired in 1911.

“In 1918 Frank’s oldest daughter Loretta (age 18) climbs off the third floor balcony onto the roof to elope with Val Cole” said Hopkins as the audience viewed the roof Loretta scaled.

In the 1920 census, Frank is listed as a laborer, Dorotha is 11 and Lorretta is 19 and married to Val Cole, 27, an electrician and their son Jack is six months old.

In 1928 John Franklin Brown died of TB at age 68.

In Feb. 1929 the Tribune received a card from George Brown who mentions his father built the large brick mansion on Porter Ave. That date was the first time it was referred to as a mansion, according to Hopkin’s research.

In 1942 Friedericka Brown and children, Marion and Dorotha Stephens and Val and Loretta Cole all sold the house and property to Dr. Gerald Gustafson of Indianapolis, who grew up in Chesterton. The OB physician and his family lived there only as a summer home and his mother Emma Gustafson lived there at different times.

Gustafson rented out the home from the ‘40s to 1963. Tenants included Principal Buel Crum and family; Principal Cecil and Olive Foster; Warren and Betty Canright; Gene and Carol Beschinski and family; Leonard and Luella Witte with three daughters, Linda, Pam and Penny; Robert King; Bill and Jeanne Gland and their family lived there from 1950-55 and talked of a ghost named “Ebbie” who also lived there and Jay and Barbara Charon.

In 1954 Dr. Gustafson died in Indianapolis and his wife Nina continued to rent the house.

In 1956, Feb., 14 kids vandalized the interior while it was unoccupied.

In Nov. 1963 Westchester School Corporation purchased the home for $27,500. They remodeled the bathrooms and made the pantry/bedroom into two offices. The remodeling was done in-house, mostly by employee Harold Teagarden. Superintendent Klitzke’s office was in the living room. Board meetings were conducted downstairs.

According to Walsh-Brown, the interior remodeling included a 1960s makeover with dark paneling. The Superintendent’s office was located on the first floor, in what had been the Brown’s parlor. His office was also where board meetings were conducted. The first floor also held the reception office, accountant’s office and headquarters for David Boo, the custodians’ coordinator. Also, the Brown’s apple orchard was removed to make way for a new athletic field.

When Westchester Twp. Schools consolidated in 1969 with Liberty and Jackson Townships, it became the administration office of the Duneland School Corporation.

Dr. Karl Speckhard, superintendent, encouraged the school board to remodel the Brown Mansion, especially in anticipation of the house’s centennial, which would take place in 1985.

In 1983 to 1984, Duneland School System extensively remodeled the mansion spending $237,454. Scott Sauter was hired to restore the building and Marshall Field’s decorator and local people decorated it. Local committee members included Rosemary Canright, Sharon Robbins and Basil Croft, an antique buyer and interior decorator for Marshall Field’s, Chicago department store.

The dropped ceilings were removed and original ceiling stencils replaced with new stenciling because of water damage to the originals. Hand printed Victorian replica wallpaper, by the preeminent firm of Bradbury and Bradbury, was added throughout the public areas of the first floor and antiques were added to recreate the Victorian charm of the parlor and adjoining rooms. The addition was installed on the north end for school offices with a fire-resistant room for financial records.

The third phase of the renovation focused on the redecoration of the second floor. When completed, an historic plaque was added to the east wall of the house.

The school board hosted an open house on Oct. 20, 1985. In 1989 Mrs. Beulah Smith Kimberlin and her children donated a suite of Victorian parlor furniture from the Morgan family to the school corporation for use in the house’s parlor.

In 1997 local resident Jim Morrow nominated the Brown Mansion for the Indiana and the National Register of Historic Places. In 1998 the house received both designations.

In 2004 the Duneland Schools and Westchester Public Library negotiated a contract to use the facility as a museum. The Duneland Schools Administrative Offices moved to Chesterton Middle School.

In 2005, Westchester Twp. History Museum moved in and had a grand opening on Oct. 29. The new building has expanded the museum previously housed in the lower level of the Library Service Center to a five-room suite of exhibit rooms.

The museum store and research office where researcher Eva Hopkins meets with the public are larger than what existed in the original museum.

Registrar Joan Costello greets the public in the reception area on the first floor. Offices are on the second floor for the museum curator Jane Walsh-Brown and staff, Publicity and Program Assistant Lu Anne Depriest and museum educator Kathi Mudd. Bill Corrigan is custodian for the facility.


The photos of the presentation can be viewed at the museum. The museum is open from 1-5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. For more information, please call 983-9715.


Posted 3/10/2006