Brown Bros.

Ernest Brown was born in 1872 and his brother Bert first saw the light of day in 1875. They were young men when they opened their business in March of 1898 in Bismarck. It was a thriving village that had been served by a railroad for more than 20 years.

In the spring of 1938, Brown Bros. in Bismarck celebrated their 40th anniversary. The hardware store, and more, was founded by brothers Ernest and Bert Brown in 1898. A full page ad in The Potomac Leader newspaper announced the landmark birthday.

The ad gave a clue as to why the brothers had succeeded in business. They were adept at meeting changing times. In one corner of the ad was a Queen coal burning cook stove, in another was a Norge refrigerator. Electricity had already reached the villages of Vermilion County and was creeping into the rural areas. Gas and electric stoves were also handled by the store and would retire the coal and wood burners.

In the center of the page was a list of special items on sale, among them a horse collar for $2.10 and a full set of leather harness for a horse for $47.95. Right beside those ads was a picture of one of the new International Harvester trucks available for purchase at Brown Bros. The future and the past, side by side.

Ernest Brown was born in 1872 and his brother Bert first saw the light of day in 1875. They were young men when they opened their business in March of 1898 in Bismarck. It was a thriving village that had been served by a railroad for more than 20 years.

In their 1938 message to the community the Browns noted they had enjoyed doing business with people through the decades “with all the ups and downs prevalent in life.” They were certainly experiencing a challenging time in the 1930s when the Great Depression held a firm grasp on the nation, but the business weathered the financial storm.

Elston Brown, born in 1904, continued the business founded by his father Bert and uncle Ernest. It continued to operate for more than 40 additional years until it closed in 1988. Elston was a successful businessman and a community leader. Among his accomplishments he was reportedly the first president of the Bismarck Community Fire District, original president of the Community Water Board and first president of the Bismarck Community Ambulance Service.

Mary Messner was a resident of Bismarck and a customer of Elston Brown. She referred to him as “Brownie” and recalled he went the extra mile to make sure his customers were satisfied. She noted he took a personal interest in individuals who traded with him.

To celebrate their 40th anniversary Brown Bros. hosted a Special Farm Implement Show and served a free lunch to everyone on March 25, 1938. When the brothers remarked on their assets in their anniversary notice, they listed the friendship and patronage of their customers as assets they were very proud of. For more than 80 years and generations of customers, those assets remained in place.

I appreciate a reader sharing this information from days gone by.

Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.

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