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A Denney for Your Thoughts – Restoration meets revitalization (Aug. 5, 2015 issue)

Twerpy Brown Stromberg carried an old doll and a thick red notebook as she met me on the front porch of the Brown House. She was opening doors of her memories, as well the one to the house. The National Register of Historic Places marker, declaring the “A. R. Brown House From 1894,” makes this one unique. Twerpy knows 241 South Main as the home of Granddaddy (A. R.) and Grandmama (Tuppy) Brown.
The notebook’s thickness reflects the work required to gain National Register designation, no small task. Twerpy quickly acknowledges help with the process. She smiles, remembering the Nashville meeting before the Tennessee Historical Commission. Other applicants were questioned extensively. The only question asked regarding the Brown House application: “What did Mr. Brown do in his spare time?”
As the application was based on the importance of the person who lived in the house, as well as its architecture, the review board had learned of some of A. R. Brown’s public service and accomplishments. Erwin mayor, state representative, founder of Erwin Water Company, Clinchfield Railroad agent, board member of both Erwin Development Company and Southern Pottery. Then there was banking, inventing, manufacturing. Not to mention First Baptist Church, education, Kiwanis Club, YMCA, Masonic Lodge….
With limited formal education, he read, was curious and creative. His name is probably best remembered through A. R. Brown & Company, a general merchandise store downtown into the 1970s. It became a full-service hardware and continued under family ownership until 1985.
As we toured the Brown House, Twerpy pointed to the corner where she learned to crochet. She brought out special old toys and games she remembers playing with, figuring that her Granddaddy’s interest in new items coming out extended to the toy stock. She remembers a trunk in the “junk room” held doll clothes. It was “quite the thing” to dress cats, too, and she remembers there were always cats around. So they were dressed in doll clothes!
As a 1937 car accident cut short her Granddaddy’s life, she came to know him through others. As we walked through the house and grounds, memories were punctuated often with thoughts of her Aunt Jodie, who was born in the house in 1913 and died in the same room 93 years later. Twerpy feels that following through with the National Register designation, something they had talked about, was a way of honoring Jodie.
It is good for all that the importance of this piece of history is acknowledged. Some things are too important not to share.
When I asked about offering the Brown House as a place of lodging, Stromberg said they have considered it. Recent visitors could walk to eat at Clinchfield Drugstore, as a parent/grandparent had years ago. They left town with their vehicle loaded with furniture items they bought from John Hashe’s Main Street Mall.
A place folks could come and stay in a restored historic home, walk to shop and eat in the recently-beautified downtown. That’s a revitalizing idea–sounds like one A. R. Brown could appreciate.