William M. Brown was born in Greenville in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, in September 1850 – the son of Van Swearingen & Lydia (Stewart) Brown. As a youngster his father died and his mother moved the family to Iowa where Brown was primarily raised. When he was nineteen he returned in Pennsylvania and settled in New Castle. He continued his studies and began to show an interest in the law. He found employment as a bookkeeper for several companies to include the First National Bank and began studying the law under Judge John McMichael. In 1876 he was admitted to the bar and began practicing law in the city.
In about 1880 he married Margaret Foltz, and daughter of Samuel and Amanda (Stewart) Foltz. The late Samuel Foltz (1826-1878), the former President of the First National Bank, was one of the most prominent citizens of New Castle at the time of his death. Brown and his wife left the city for about a year or so in 1883 when he took a lucrative position as a government land agent in Iowa and also explored several other business ventures. He returned to New Castle and opened the Brown, Thompson & Company mercantile business in c1885, and assisted in the establishment of the New Castle Paper Company and the New Castle Electric Street Railway. He also started a family and eventually had two children – Emma born in 1885 and Arthur in 1891.
Brown, who had by this time acquired considerable wealth, became increasingly involved in politics and served almost a decade on the city council. In November 1896 he was elected as a Republican state senator and served in the that capacity from 1897-1899. In January 1902 he assumed the office of the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, serving as the understudy to Governor Samuel W. Pennybacker (1843-1916) for the next four years.
Meanwhile, at some point, Brown commissioned the Pittsburgh architectural firm of Rutan & Russell, founded by Franklin E. Rutan in 1896, to build a large home on East Street in the North Hills section of New Castle. The exact date of when this house was constructed seems unclear but it was completed by 1900 at the latest. The lavish mansion was built on a 3.4-acre lot and was fit for a king. It was here that Brown and his family made their home. It was in June 1910 that construction of the New Castle High School began on an adjoining property.
After leaving office in early 1906 Brown served as a director with the Lawrence Savings & Trust Company, and got involved in railroading and other businesses. In November 1914 he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, but tragedy struck before he could assume office. He passed away quite unexpectedly while visiting New York City on January 1915, when he was sixty-four years old. He was laid to rest in Graceland Cemetery in New Castle. At the time of his death his worth was valued at over $1 million – with properties and interests in New Castle but also in Ohio, Florida, and New York.
His widow Margaret and children Emma and Arthur continued to live in the house. Margaret passed away in the late 1930’s, but Emma, who was married to oil company executive De Grimm Renfrew, continued to reside in the house throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s. It seems the family fortune was steadily depleted over the years. Beginning in late 1947 the New Castle School Board, seeking to expand the property around the New Castle High School, sought to acquire the property through condemnation proceedings. I believe the school board’s initiative was defeated.
When Emma, who spent most of her life in the home, passed away in August 1960 her husband, strapped for funds, attempted to sell the property to the school board for $100,000. It seems a dispute about the actual value of the property began in earnest and he dropped the asking price to $60,000. After De Grimm Renfrew passed away in November 1961 the executors of the estate, with little funds to maintain the property, had the contents sold and the mansion dismantled beginning in September 1962. They eventually sold the property to the school board for $20,000 in June 1964. The New Castle High School utilized the property, at the southeast corner of East Street and Berger Place, as an auxiliary athletic and/or band practice field and still does to this day. Sadly, the magnificent mansion that once graced the location is long gone.
William Brown had this lavish mansion, designed by the Pittsburgh-based architectural firm of Rutan & Russell, built on East Street sometime in the late 1890’s. The property remained in the family until the death of his daughter Emma Brown Renfrew in August 1961, at which time her husband De Grimm Renfrew unsuccessfully attempted to sell it to the New Castle School Board. By this time unpaid taxes and upkeep costs were mounting. After De Grimm Renfrew died in November 1961 the mansion was razed by order of the estate executors less than a year later. In June 1964 the school board bought the 3.4-acre property for $20,000. Today the site is home to the auxiliary athletic field behind the New Castle High School. (1900) Full Size
The Brown Mansion, situated on a 3.4-acre lot along East Street, was one of New Castle’s most spectacular homes. (c1909) Full Size
The dining room of the Brown mansion. (1900) Full Size
The library. (1900) Full Size
A hallway area within the Brown mansion. (1900) Full Size
The main staircase leading to the second floor of the mansion. (1900) Full Size
One of the porches of the Brown mansion. (c1910) Full Size
I believe this gathering is located on the grounds of the Brown mansion. (c1910) Full Size
The former Brown Mansion along East Street was razed by the Brown-Renfrew family in late 1961 after unsuccessful attempts to sell the house and property. In 1964 the New Castle School District bought the 3.4-acre site, located adjacent to the New Castle