History of Brown, Harrison County, West Virginia

Written in 1936 by Lowell Smith, with notes added in 1966
Contributed by Diane Zimmerman
 

                                                       1944: Brown, WV, overlooking the upper part of town
                                                                            from Turnip Knob.



     It is indeed a difficult task to give a definite and authentic account of any community
of which no records were kept during it’s early history.  It is made doubly difficult when those
who settled first, and their children, and in most cases, their children’s children, have long
been gone. Such is the case of the one who desires to give an account of the history
of Brown, W. Va.  Those first pioneers of the soil had no time, even had they the desire
or ability,  to write any manuscripts concerning their lives and the events that took place
in their surroundings.  Their interests centered around their homes and wrestling a living
from the land that had, until their coming, been covered with virgin forests.  Consequently, all
the historian has are the old legends and traditions that have been handed down from
generation to generation in the community from which to glean his information.  Many
of these have been entirely forgotten.  Without a doubt, some of those still known are twisted
and warped in their telling and retelling, till but few of the actual facts remain.  However, those
stories which  are doubtful, shall be dealt with lightly in this chronicle.  For the most part, the
information put herein is definitely known to be factual, and a quite accurate account is given.
There is not much information known on that period between the time of settlement and 1850.

     Firstly, I wish to correct a statement made by a former historian, and now commonly
believed to be true.  This was that Jabez Brown was the first settler in Brown.  This is not
true, the Jabez Brown spoken of never lived in this community at all, but in Preston County.
It seems that he was confused with his brother, Rezin Brown, who did settle in the Brown on
what is now the Ellis Marsh farm (later owned by Virgil Backus, and at 1966, by Alden and
Mattie Bartlett).  However, this was not until about 1830, almost 40 years after the first
settler made his appearance.

     Brown is located on the Little Ten Mile Creek in the Sardis District of Harrison County.
It is approximately fourteen miles from Clarksburg, the county seat.  It was part of the
commonwealth of Virginia until 1863, when West Virginia was made a separate state.
Shortly after the Revolutionary War, the territory around was only sparsely settled.  The
Indians had practically all been driven out, and the wild animals reigned supreme.  It was
in 1790 that the first settlers took up permanent residence in Brown.  These people were
James and Elizabeth (Swiger) Kelly.  They settled on the farm now owned by F. S. Estlack
(in 1966 by John and Ressie Sayers), near the mouth of Little Elk Run.  Elizabeth’s two-year
old son, Jesse Swiger, and her sister, Mary Swiger, lived with them.  At this time, their
nearest neighbor on Ten Mile Creek to the east, lived where Onda Hustead now lives,
at the mouth of Caldwell Run.  To the West, none nearer than Middle Island, on McElroy
Creek, in Doddridge County.  After having moved to this section with her sister, Mary Swiger
came into contact with Samuel Shinn, a large land-holder, who lived on Ten Mile Creek.  He
had patented a large tract of land extending from Little Elk Run to Middle Run at Wallace, and
also a smaller tract on Laurel Run.   An interesting bit of tragedy is connected with these two.
It seems they became quite intimate and remained so after Mary’s marriage to Samuel
McCamic.  One day, Shinn presented her with a fine riding horse for her personal use.  He
had come into possession of this horse through John Chaney, one of his several tenants.
Chaney, who lived on the Elmira Griffin place, fell behind on the payment of his rent because
of financial reverses.  He finally got so far in arrears that Shinn made him give up the fine
riding horse, which he later gave to Mary.  This horse was a favorite of the Chaneys.  Later,
when he saw Mary Swiger riding the animal, he took it for granted that it was through her
influence that Shinn had forced his ownership of the horse, and he forthwith vowed to get
revenge. A few days afterward, John W. Swiger, then just a boy, was walking along the road
toward Brown where the old road used to border the creek, near the Ed Martin Farm (just
below Ted Rogers Service Station in 1966), when he espied the lifeless body of Mary Swiger,
with her head sunken in the sand.  Plain to be seen on her throat were the large blue marks
of a strangler's fingers.  Thus died one of Brown’s first settlers.

      From the time of the first settlement, until 1812, there are no records of anyone else having
made their home within this region.  However, in 1812, Jesse Swiger, the eldest son of
Elizabeth Swiger Kelly, married Kasandra Brown, the daughter of Jabez Brown of Preston
County, and they settled on what is now known as the A. I. Strother farm.  They built their
cabin near the present site of the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

     Absolom (Abby) Swiger, oldest son of the murdered Mary Swiger and Samuel Shinn,
married Polly Asbury of Pine Grove in 1822.  They made their home on Laurel Run on a tract
of land given them by Samuel Shinn.  Absolom Swiger had a peculiar habit of hiding his gold
in unexpected places.  It was common knowledge that he was a miser and worth a great deal
of money.  This fact led to him being robbed of several hundred dollars one night.  On this
certain night, one of Absolom’s sons, George W., happened to be way from home.  This fact l
ikely saved the miser’s life, or a severe headache, for he heard the thief enter the house, but
mistook the sounds for the return home of his son.  Nothing was thought of the matter until the
next morning.  Only then did he discover that he had been robbed.  In one corner laid a large
club left behind by the robber.  Had Abby appeared unexpectedly on the scene the night before,
the robber would undoubtedly have wielded the cudgel in such a manner as to obtain the best
results for himself.  When Absolom was on his death-bed, one of his family asked him where
they could find his money.  He answered, “Bad men have caused me to put my money where
it will be very difficult to find”.  After his death, investigation disclosed hiding places under the
rafters and in the logs of his house.  He had bore holes in the logs, into which he put gold coins,
then drove in wooden plugs.  All traces of the caches were removed by sawing off the plugs
close to the surface of the logs.  At the sale of his property, an ordinary box was sold for 50
cents, and was later found to contain a false bottom in which was $800.00, all  in gold.  The
money was immediately given back to the heirs.

     In 1830, Rezin Brown and his wife, the former Delilah Hall, settled on the Ellis Marsh farm.
Of the early settlers, William Rogdean settled where the water station now is, and Asa R. Griffin
on the Ed Martin farm.

     Before the Civil War, Brown could hardly be called a community.  There were only a few
scattered cabins in this section, without even a store for a long time.  All the trading had to
be done at Lumberport, ten miles south.  It wasn’t until 1830 that there was even a connecting
route more than just a trail.  However, in that year, the Shinnston-Middlebourne road was
finished.  At the time of it’s completion, it was considered one the best roads in the country.
William Hannah set up the mile-posts from one end to the other, though they have since
disappeared.

     The first school was established in 1840.  This was before the time of the free school
system, so the residents who desired to obtain an education for their children, were obliged
to obtain a school building and pay the teachers themselves.  The first Bethany School was
nothing more than a chicken house that had been cleaned and renovated.  It was furnished
with crude, rough, hand made benches of split logs on which the students sat and labored
over their studies.  Lavina Wamsley was the first instructor. Quite unlike the nine months term
of today, the school term was then only three months long, and started in June instead of
September.  Sometimes, two years elapsed when there would be no school at all.
Consequently, it is apparent that even at the best, an education in that day was quite
limited.  The Bethany School was located on the Temple Smith farm, just below where
A. J. (Bud) Nuzum lived near the mouth of Trouser Leg Run.  It was torn down in 1860.

     In 1846, the Bethany Baptist Church was built on the Temple Smith farm just below
the school.  It was organized by Johnny Gifford, who officiated until the first minister,
Abraham Haines, was called.  Besides Gifford, there were only seven charter members:
Mr. and Mrs. Elijah Watkins, Mr. and Mrs. John Kyles, Mrs. Ruth Hall, Elizabeth Swiger,
and James Watkins.   In 1900, the railroad right-of-way was surveyed right through the
church site.  The members were forced to tear the building down, and as some members
preferred having the church remain in the lower end of Wallace, they erected the Smith
Church at it’s present site at the mouth of Trouser Leg Run. The remaining members
rebuilt the church on it’s present site at Brown, up on the hill beside the school.  The ground
on which it now stands was given to the church by Mary Marsh.  At the original location,
one could see still the tombstones of the cemetery that was just behind the church.  In the
last few years however, a new highway was built through there.

     Brown’s first business establishment was erected in about 1850 by Hiram and Israel
Swiger. It was a combination grist mill and saw mill.  The bolts of the grist mill were turned
by hand.  It was built on the site of the land now owned by Sam Flanigan at the foot of the hill,
near the turn, between the road and the creek.  In 1854, the Swiger brothers sold out to John
Brown.  That was really the beginning of the Brown community proper.  Until this time, no name
had ever been applied to this section.  After 1854, Brown’s Mill became the center of trading.
Gradually, the people began to refer to this section by that name.  Later, when a Post Office
was installed, the official name of Brown’s Mill was automatically adopted by the community.
However, when the railroad was built in 1901, the B & O Railroad shortened the station stop
name to Brown, which the community has retained ever since.

     To John Brown goes the honor of establishing the first store in Brown.  He erected the
building just below the site of the mill and rented it to Mr. Straight.  The latter stocked the
store with merchandise, but gave one Mrs. Berry the job of clerk and running the business.
The whole thing was later sold to Waiteman Brown, the brother of John Brown.

     Until this time, the people had received all their mail from Lumberport.  It seemed that
the trail which the mail carrier was oblige to travel during the early history of  Brown crossed the
creek fourteen times between Lumberport and Brown. Consequently, the trip was made quite a
perilous task, especially so during flood times or in winter.  One consolation, however, was that
the mail carrier was never over burdened with mail. This inconvenience was eliminated by
the building of the Shinnston-Middlebourne Pike.  John Brown was influential in achieving a
much greater improvement in the postal matter.  It was largely through his efforts that a Post
Office was established in the community.  The actual date of the establishment of the Post Office
has not been ascertained, though it was probably before 1900.  A rural route was established in
1907.

     None of the activities of the Civil War took place in Brown, and except for the citizens
who enlisted in the Army, the community was unaffected.  The nearest conflicts took place
at Lumberport and Jones Run, and is commonly known as Jones Raid.  However, it was
during this time that Brown ceased to be a part of the Old Dominion state, and became a
part of a new political enterprise, the State of West Virginia.

     After the War for Emancipation closed, the trend of business in Brown seemed to
mount. There were more business establishments and a greater variety.  About 1865,
John Brown sold out to Tom Ford.  However, Ford remained in business only a few years,
until he in turn sold to Wilford A. Watkins.  At about the same time, Aaron Hall built a store
on the upper side of the road just below where Henry Bennett once lived, in the turn coming
into the center of Brown.  A family of foreigners by the name of Samuelson established a
store on the lower side of the road opposite Halls.  A blacksmith’s shop was built at about
the place where George Smith’s store is now by a man by the name of Maphis.  It is about
this time that Doctor William Hill came to Brown and began to practice medicine in this section.
He built the house and resided where Raymond Greenlee now lives (in 1966 owned by Jack
and Florence Barker), situated down over the hill from Route 20, between the railroad and the
creek, not far from the foot of Loy Hill.

     W. A. Watkins sold the old mill to his brother Elijah F. Watkins about 1870.  A short time
later, he built another store where the depot now stands.  Henry Martin had a store beside
the old mill at the same time that Edgell owned it.  It was during this time that Jack
Kincaid had a store on the present site of Henry Bennett’s house.  The Bennett homes were
situated in the turn, above the road coming into Brown from Clarksburg.  For one so small,
the community seemed to be a thriving center in the decade between 1870 and 1880,
although the population of Brown proper was less than 100.  The town boasted a  mill, five
stores, a blacksmith shop, and even a planning mill.  This was built by a Mr. Kishbaugh and
was later bought by William Hall.   It was located on the upper side of the creek, just below
the Marsh farm.  G. M. Dye bought out Maphis and Henry Martin, and then sold to Henry and
George Swiger.  Clay Bennett, a former merchant of Dola, moved to Brown and built a new
larger store building and converted the old one into a warehouse.  By installing new equipment,
he made a modern planning mill.  He made David Kemper the foreman.

     Dr. G. W. Kelly bought the Dr. Hill property, and took over his practice.  He built a new
house, the one in which John L. Swiger now lives, and built offices just above his house.
This house is located below and at the foot of the hill leading to the church (in 1966 it
was owned by Charley and Mary Harbert Smith).   His brother, Tom Kelly, started a store
close to the site where Elmore Watkins had his store.  Lot Swiger and Jim Knox bought
out Henry and George Swiger, and Jack Kincaid sold to Robert Dye.
     The only still-house that was ever built in Brown was built and operated about this time
by Henry Brown at the mouth of Cave Run.

     In 1885, William Hall purchased the planning mill from Kishbaugh.   D. W. Kemper
continued to act as foreman for a while, but soon quit and went into the undertaking business.
The Ladies Aid Society now owns the building which he built when he set up in business,
located at the end of the lane on Route 20, below the church.
     In 1893, L. E. Watkins built a blacksmith shop located below the road  in the lower end of
town.  Then about a year later he built another one where John L. Swiger now has his shop
(across the road from the Ladies Aid Building).  In 1895, he and his father, W. A. Watkins,
bought Tom Kelly’s mercantile business, and he sold his blacksmith shop to George Whiteman.
     In 1897, D. W. Kemper was elected Justice of the Peace.  He held this office until 1925,
with the exception of a four year interval.

    The oil boom began in Wallace in 1895, and for a time, this aided the growth of Brown,
although there were only a few successful wells drilled here   (According to Harrison County,
A Bicentennial Album, page 124, the first successful oil well drilled in Harrison County was
drilled by Dr. White and Jackson on  the  I. L. Marsh farm at Brown in 1890.  It produced a small
quantity of oil from Dunkard Sand at about 975 feet.  The well was drilled through the Big Injun to
a total depth of 1867 feet, but no other oil was found).

     In 1900 and 1901, the Shortline Railroad was constructed from Clarksburg to New Martinsville.
It was a great event when the first Iron Horse passed though Brown.  All the people for miles
around made it a gala holiday.  It was April 1901, a day to be remembered in the progress of
the community.  Both sides of the railroad were lined with the jubilant merry makers; and as
the train puffed into view, it was greeted with wild cheering and hats thrown into the air.  Brown
was now on the map!

     W. N. Edgell was forced to sell his store to the railroad because the road-bed was surveyed
through it.   Carrie Allen, now Estlack, established a milliner shop beside Dr. Kelly’s office.
A few years later, she went out of business, and Emma Watkins carried on for a short while.
About 1903, Asford Boggess had a store on the old Brown’s Mill site.  Two years later,
he rebuilt on the upper side of the road, midway between the depot and the mouth of Laurel
Run.  In 1912, Dr. Kelly sold out to L. S. (Lafey)  Whiteman, and was succeeded in the medical
practice by Dr. Bassie Swiger.  In 1915, Dr. Swiger moved away and Dr. Chapman took his
place. He was the last doctor to live in Brown, and since his departure, Brown has had to go
to Wallace to see young Dr. Kelly when medical attention was needed.

     L. S. Whiteman was owner of a teaming outfit consisting of ten teams of horses.  He
erected an office just below Adkin’s store.  L. E. Watkins built another store on the site of
the old one, and later he took his son, O. C.  (Otto) into business with him.  In 1918, D. W.
Kempter sold his undertaking establishment to F. S. Estlack of Wallace.  He carried on as
a shoe cobbler until a stroke forced his retirement in 1925.  After L. E. Watkins sold the
blacksmith shop to George Whiteman, it exchanged hands several times in the next few
years, before it finally went out of business altogether.  Whiteman sold to Burt Fenton; Burt
to Bob Maphis, Bob to Lester Griffin, and he to Ed Shaw.  Shaw was the last blacksmith
in Brown, and he left in 1925. About 1923, Charley Hall built a blacksmith shop beside
Marion Cunningham’s grist mill, but he was only in business about a year.  He later razed
the building.

     When the railroad finally forced W. N. Edgell to tear down his building, he rebuilt on the
site of the old Brown’s Mill.  In a few years, he sold to John Cyphers, who later sold to
Calder C. Flanigan in 1918.  In a few years, Clay Bennett retired and turned his business over
to the son, Henry.  In 1927, the latter sold out to E. George Smith.  Joe Brown bought
Flanigan’s business in 1926, but remained only a little more than a year until he sold out t
o Wayne Webb.  Later Webb built a new building just about the present site of E. G. Smith’s
store.  About 1921 John Woodfield conducted a jewelry-smith establishment for about a year
where Lafey S. Whiteman had formerly had his office.

     Probably the greatest change that ever took place in Brown was when the Shinnston-
Middlebourne Pike was made into a hard-surfaced road.  This took place in 1925/1926.
Since that time, there has been a very noticeable change in business conditions.  The building
of the road, and the advent of the automobile, gave people quicker and easier access to the
larger towns.  This fact caused many to do their trading in the city where they could deal cheaper
and have greater variety.  Consequently, the mercantile business took a decided slump in
Brown.  In 1928, L. E. Watkins went out of business, leaving E. G. Smith and Wayne Webb
the only merchants.  For a while, disaster seemed their inevitable fate.  Early in the winter of 1929,
Webb’s confectionery and barbershop were razed by fire.  A few months later, Smith’s store
met the same fate.  His store, warehouse, feed-house, and garage were all consumed by the
flames.  For a while, the store and Post Office were housed in the lower portion of his home,
and later moved to it’s present site.  About 1927, Charley Fenton set up in the mercantile
business in a building just below L. E. Watkins store.  After about a year, he sold out to Ardith
Robinson, who soon quit the business.

     At the present time, July 1936, Brown has as few business enterprises as it has had since
the Civil War.   There is one store, that of E. G. Smith; one barbershop with E. C. (Casey)
Jones, proprietor; a garage operated by Brooks Hall; and recently Charles Bennett has
established a beer parlor where C. C. Flanigan had his store. That enumerates the total
of Brown enterprises now, and confirms the statement concerning the business slump
since 1925.

     Brown’s education facilities has also had it's ups and downs.  When the first Bethany School
was torn down in 1860, a new log structure was erected on the Temple Smith farm.  However, it
was remodeled into a dwelling when a school was built at Laurel Run in 1878 to take its place.
This was very inconvenient for some of the students because they were obliged to walk three
or four miles to attend.  So, in 1884, a second Bethany School was constructed on the site
of the first.  In 1900, the first Brown School was built.  It was erected on the site where the
school still stands, but had only one room.  Only one term had been completed when it burned
down.  The year after, a new two room building was constructed to replace it.  This served the
community until 1921, when the increasing number of students compelled the addition of two
more rooms.  The next year, four teachers were employed, and the first year of high school
was taught.  After that term, the high school students were sent to Wallace High School.
After a few years, the faculty was reduced to three and such it has remained until now.
However, the next term there will be only two teachers.   The Laurel Run and Bethany schools
have been discontinued for several years now.  The same Bethany school that was built in
1900 is still standing and serving the community.  (In 1966, Bethany school was disbanded,
and it’s pupils combined with the Wallace School.   For the remaining three years of high
school, the students are transported by bus to Lumberport High School. Brown no longer
has a Post Office.  The last postmaster, Freda Britt Shaver Smith, would have been eligible
for retirement in a few years. She died on March 23, 1965. On July 3,1965, the rural route
was transferred to the Wallace Post Office and became a part of Route 2, Wallace.  The
Post Office continued it’s service until it was closed January 28, 1966.  The remaining patrons
were also added to Route 2, Wallace).

     Brown now is typical of many small farming towns scattered throughout the region.  The
community is fairly well organized, and it is seldom that anything occurs to disturb the every
day routine of it’s inhabitants.  The population of the community proper is approximately 150.
Everybody follows his or her pursuit in a peaceful manner, and as a whole, Brown is a
pleasant, tranquil community.
 

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