Medallion Name – THOSE ILLUSTRIOUS BROWNS
Significance – Henry Cordes Brown epitomizes the early entrepreneurs in the Wild West. He had an adventurous spirit and lived a fearless, bold and daring life – he made and lost fortunes in real estate ventures.
Inscription – Orphaned at age seven, Henry C. Brown worked on a farm in Ohio where he learned carpentry. Few expected the 40-year-old Brown to amount to much. The 19th of 20 children, Brown had grown up an orphan and trained as a carpenter in Virginia. He ventured to the Wild West with dreams of prospering in a land of privation.
In 1860, Brown moved to Denver and set up shop. He went on to become one of Denver’s most important early developers. He donated land for the State Capitol, and he built the Brown Palace Hotel. Toward the end of his life, the Silver Panic of 1893 robbed him of his fortune. He spent the remainder of his days at the Brown Palace.
The name of the Brown Palace Hotel has nothing to do with “the Unsinkable Molly Brown” of Titanic fame.
Location – 39°44’38.9″N 104°59’18.9″W
Details – It was a rough life for a child. The legend goes that Henry Cordes Brown, Denver contractor, financier and philanthropist was born November 18, 1820, in Belmont County, Ohio. His mom died when he was two years old. His father, a war hero who fought in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812, died when Henry was seven. His siblings were drafted to live and work on a nearby farm. Knowing he needed more, at 16 Brown spent his inheritance for tuition at Brooks Seminary. He learned the carpenter’s trade and often worked with his brother, a builder and contractor in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1852, Brown took an ox team and crossed the plains to California. He worked in lumber and construction in Placerville, CA; Portland, OR and Olympia, WA. A business venture took him to San Francisco, where he built everything from cottages to commercial buildings, including a fire-proof bank for his family friend, Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman, an American soldier, businessman, educator, and author.
While in St. Louis, Mr. Brown had received $1.50 per day for his construction services, but in San Francisco earned $10 a day, and he had a healthy amount of money in the bank…until the economic panic of 1854. Back then, private banks were given federal permission to print money, which was backed by state bonds. Then, President Abraham Lincoln passed the National Bank Act of 1863, which created national banks and establishing a national currency by the federal government. Those caught in the banking transition suffered significant financial damages. Mr. Brown lost $50,000.
Undeterred, Brown went back to construction and raised $6,000. In December, 1857, Brown sailed for Callao, Peru, to get involved in a shipping and warehousing business. Locals cruised off with his money, and he returned to St. Louis in May, 1858. He got involved in the construction and management of a hotel 60 miles north of Omaha and again lost all his money when the owners not honor their contract.
Now used to hard times, Brown returned to St. Louis with only pocket change and went back to work in construction. In August, 1859, Mr. Brown married Miss Jane Thompson and together they journeyed west with all of their belongings. They arrived in Denver in 1860, with $2,500 left to their fortunes. The Browns expected to continue on to California; but they saw Denver’s potential and decided to settle in the Mile-High City.
Brown resumed his trade as an architect, carpenter and builder. He acquired sizable land holdings in and around Denver’s business district and grew rich by subdividing and selling tracts of land, offering building and contractor services. By 1863, all of Denver had heard of the developer who owned 160 acres of prime real estate east of Cherry Creek. His land, known as “Brown’s Addition,” later became known as Capitol Hill. Among his other properties were 400 acres of mineral land in Gilpin County, 200 acres in Pueblo, 80 acres in the heart of the Denver; mines in Summit, Boulder, El Paso counties and the Cripple Creek region. Brown was also a member of the Denver Board of Trade (now the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce) and played a key role in bringing the Denver Pacific Railroad to the area.
In 1872, Brown became the owner of one of the local newspapers, The Denver Daily Tribune. By the time he sold that business three years later, his holdings were so large and valuable that the taxes upon his real estate taxes would now amount to more than $350,000 a year. So vast were his holdings that Mr. Brown generously donated a 10-acre site for the capitol building for the new state of Colorado. (Today, the dome of the State Capital features an exhibit of Colorado’s early history bearing the name “Mr. Brown’s Attic.”)
His crowning accomplishment came in the late 1880s, when the 70-year-old oversaw the creation of his namesake institution, the Brown Palace Hotel. Built on a triangular plot of land between Broadway, 17th Street and Tremont Place at a cost of $2 million, the Brown Palace has been Denver’s premier hotel since its completion in 1892.
Henry Brown also established the Denver City Library and the Bank of Denver, both still active to this day. He died in California 1906. His body was brought back to Colorado and he was placed in the rotunda of the state capitol for public viewing in return for his services to the city if Denver. He was buried in Fairmount Cemetery, block 3.
What skills did Henry Brown develop throughout his career?
How did Henry Brown lose his fortunes?
Why did the Brown family decide to stay in Denver?
How did Henry Brown finally make his fortune?
What were Brown’s lasting contributions to the city of Denver?