Sam Brown House 1880s OHS

The Brown House: An Architectural Gold Mine

Taken in approximately 1870, this photo captures members of the Brown Family at their home, which they called “The Willows.” (Image courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society)

Front and side elevations of the house photographed by the Historic American Building Survey in 1934. (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress)

View of a fireplace photographed by the Historic American Building Survey in 1934. (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Built on a frame of hand-hewn timbers, the Samuel Brown House is said to be the first architect-designed residence in Oregon. Its Classical Revival style made it one of the most impressive homes of its day. Apart from its unique architectural features, the Brown House, along with the story of the Brown family, is woven into the fabric of Oregon history. Samuel Brown was born in Pennsylvania in 1821 and later moved to Indiana where he learned carpentry and cabinet making.

At the age of 21 he moved to Missouri where he practiced his trade and married Elizabeth Allen. In 1846 the Browns and their nine-month old son joined a wagon train bound for Oregon. They ultimately decided to head south to California, where Brown built a sawmill on the Feather River. With the discovery of gold in 1848, Brown, unable to find men to work the mill, decided to follow suit and try his hand at placer mining. His successful efforts yielded 62 pounds of gold.

In 1850, the Browns, $20,000 richer, embarked by sea to visit a relative of Elizabeth in Oregon. They decided to stay, filed for a donation land claim, and lived in a log cabin until the first part of their house was finished in about 1856. The house, completed by 1858, also served as a way station on the Oregon-California stagecoach line until about 1872. Brown was engaged in several other commercial enterprises and served as a state senator from 1866 to 1872. Following his death in approximately 1885, at least three generations of his descendants called the house their home.

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