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)
By ALEXANDRA NEWMAN
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
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
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
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
Local contractors for the house were Nathan Demass, woodwork; Henry
Lembster, brick work; Chris Lembke, plaster and Swan Nilson, painter and
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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,
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
Son Jerome died in 1906 in Canton, Miss. and his wife and children moved to
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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