Brownsville, designated as County Seat circa 1823, was laid out on 50 acres the county purchased in December 1824 from Thomas M. Johnson for one dollar with Mr. Johnson retaining one lot. Public buildings were paid for by the sale of these lots.
The first courthouse, a 28 by 33 log structure, stood on the west side of court square where Roy Drug Store now stands. In 1826, a frame building was constructed just south of the first one. In 1832, the center of the public square was chosen as a new site and Joseph Coe built this courthouse for approximately four thousand dollars. In 1845 this building was replaced by one of brick. In 1868 the west wing was added.
The first jail was of logs and built in 1825 on the lot across the street from the present city hall now used by the Methodist Church as a parking lot. Other jails were built and burned and in 1872 a brick and iron jail was built on South Jackson. It was torn down in 1974.
Brownsville, the county seat, located near the geographical center of the county, contains a population of about 2,600 (in 1887). The first dwelling house in the town was a log cabin, built in 1825 by Rev. Reuben Alfin. It is still standing. Hiram Bradford was the pioneer merchant and hotel-keeper. Coming from Louisiana in February, 1825, bringing with him a stock of goods, he attended the first sale of town lots, and purchased the corner where the Nelson Block now stands, erected a store-room and dwelling-house thereon, and opened the first store in the town. Soon thereafter he erected the frame hotel, which stood as a monument of his enterprise until 1868, when it was removed for more permanent improvements. The lumber used in the construction of these buildings was all sawed from the logs by hand, there being then no saw-mills in this part of the State. The rapid settlement of the town immediately followed; and Thomas J. Henderson is said to have been the first white child born within its limits. The Pioneer tradesmen were Donald McLeod, the tailor; Felix Rutherford, the hatter; Thomas Rutherford and Francis S. Cox, tanners; John Lawhorn and E. Drennon, blacksmiths; Levi Gardner, boot and shoe-maker, and John Hardwick, wagon and repair shop. Other tradesmen and merchants soon followed, and at one time, between 1825 and 1885, there were thirteen business houses in the town.
The first physicians who settled in Brownsville were William C. Bruce, Johnson and Barbee, Dillard, Dorthel and Penn. The following is a list of the pioneer merchants of the town: Hiram Bradford, Richard W. Nixon, Mr. Dobbins, James Smith, E. S. Tap- pan, Hubbard, J. & R. Boyd, Francis S. Cox, C. Guyger, L. R. Leonard, J. C. Jones, Val. Sevier, Houston & Mulholland, W. E. Owen, R. W. Jones, M. & J. D. Ware, andWofford&Coleman. The first brick building in the town was tbe Methodist church, erected about the year 1831. It is still standing and is now used as a carriage shop. The first brick store room was built in 1831, by E. S. Tappan. The town and surrounding county, was booming with prosperity, when the great financial depression of 1837-40 struck it, causing all kinds of business to decline. In 1840 there were ten stores in the town, and only two or three of them survived the terrible shock. Nearly everybody was "broken up," and business became almost totally suspended until 1842, when it began to revive. Then the acquisition of property became rapid and easy, and the people en joyed an unprecedented season of prosperity, which continued up to the beginning of the civil war. he value of lands, slaves and all kinds of property more than doubled during that period.
The town had a gradual and substantial growth, and during this season of prosperity the following were the leading merchants and business firms thereof: Longley & Yancey, William Proudfit, R. F. Maelin & Co., Smith, Maclin & Loving, Gen. William Conner, William Sangster, James & Robert Boyd, Cromwell & Winchester, M. & J. D. Ware, J. L. Winfield & Co., L. B. Leonard, Sangster & Sevier, James P. Wood Bro., Hiram & Miles Bradford, Dobbins, Bradford & Co., Bostic & Co., 0. P. Taliaferro & Co. Gibbs, Tanner & Co., Lovelace & Co., Howell & Sanders, Winfield & Whitelaw. C. Buck, and Col. Bradford (son of Hiram Bradford), who is one of the leading merchants at the present writing.
During the war period of 1861-65, nearly all regular mercantile business of the town was suspended. The merchants sold out their goods, and closed their stores in general, fearing to keep a stock on hand, because of the depredations of the marauding guerrilla bands. Many individuals then became merchants in a small way, by getting permits to transport cotton and goods through the military lines. And a few who took their chances to invest largely in this dangerous and uncertain business, became wealthy. This kind of business was carried on in a quiet way and not through the general stores.
At the close of the war, business again revived, and the high price of cotton gave it such an impetus, that the town of Brownsville soon put on city airs, and rushed to great prosperity. Business blocks were erected, and enormous rents were charged and paid for store rooms. The people were intoxicated with ideas of speculation, and knowing that Brownsville was located in a cotton growing district, rushed into business, with the expectation of amassing fortunes in an incredibly short time. Everything and everybody prospered for a season, but the price of cotton fell, so it ceased to be king --- the bauble burst, and in 1872 the decline of business began, and soon became more rapid than its advance had been. Fortunes were swept away, and many business houses were closed. This decline in business continued until near the present time, 1886. The lowest ebb has been reached, and business has so far recovered, as to be at least in a healthy condition, and bids fair to have a gradual and substantial future growth.
The present business of the town consists of the following mercantile houses:
Brownsville Savings Bank.
Dry Goods: H. Mann & Son, J. G. Burton, L. A. Thomas, Malone & Winston, R. G. Thomas & Co., J. Felsenthal & Bro., J. B. Phillips & Co., Hotchkiss & Wilder.
Groceries: Mann & Wilson, Mrs. Johnson, J. P. Lill, J. A. Brewer, Thomas & Fanning, Levi & Bro., Emil Tamm, Steinberger & Bro., Buck & Co.
Groceries and fresh meats: Jos. Steinberger, Reeves & Bro., W. W. Wagner.
Groceries and liquors: Moses Steinberger, M. Rothchilds, Julius Felsenthal.
Drugs: W. L. Sangster, Stsacey Lord, W. M. Scott, Owen & Cowan.
Hardware: A. H. Bradford, T. B. King.
Furniture and stoves: R. H. Anderson, D. S. Anderson, T. E. Glass.
Jewelry: Henry Beason, 0. S. Taliaferro.
Hotels: Galt House, by Hicks & Brown; Exchange, by Mrs. C. F. Read.
Restaurants: W. H. Oarlock & Co., Chas. H. Henley.
Saloons: W. H. Carlock & Co., W. T. Bulliiln, Collins & Bro., J. Davis.
Livery Stables: John B. Head, W. J. Hudson, Frank Johnson, W. T. Barclay.
Music stores: S. H. Clark.
Undertakers: J. M. Cox
Saddles and harness: P. Shaw.
Confectionery: E. Montedonico.
There is a bakery and the usual number of mechanic shops.
J. Bader is the proprietor of a sash and blind factory, grist-mill and cotton-gin. T. R. Barcroft has a grist-mill and cotton-gin, and Anderson & Co. have a grist-mill, and R. T. Johnson & Bro., a cotton-gin. Capt. T. A. Taylor has a broom factory.
The Phoenix, established in 1837, by Allen M. Scott, was the first paper published in Brownsville. It was followed in 1840 by the publication of the Banner by David McPherson. The printing press, which was brought to town by Mr. Scott, in 1837, changed from the hands of one political party to the other, and was used for printing partisa papers during the political campaigns. The Bee was established in 1867, the States in 1870, and the Democrat in 1874. The Bee and the States were consolidated in 1880, and in June, 1886, that paper was consolidated with the Democrat. The new paper is called the States-Democrat, and is ably edited by Messrs. Green & Taylor, editors and publishers. It has a large circulation, and, being the only paper published in the county, its publishers are doing a very successful and remunerative business.
The Brownsville Manufacturing Company, with a capital of about $140,000, established and commenced the operation of a cotton-mill in 1874. The mill contained over 3,000 spindles, and had 125 looms, and required 120 hands to run it. The company manufactured domestics and cotton drilling, and consumed 1,200 bales of cotton annually. The mill was consumed by fire December 22, 1882, and it has not yet been rebuilt. It made a home market for cotton, and gave employment to 120 persons, of whom about 80 were females. It was of great benefit to the community, but proved unprofitable to the stockholders.
"Brownsville is the site of two female colleges, one union seminary, an excellent high school and first rate public school, ten churches and one weekly newspaper --- the States-Democrat --- well sustained." It also contains a Y. M. C. A., Temperance Alliance, and lodges of the following orders-. K. P., F. & A. M., K. of H., A. 0. U. W., and K. of G. B., all of which are in good condition.
In September, 1878, the yellow fever made its appearance in Brownsville, and most of the inhabitants at once left the town, and fled to the country and elsewhere, and remained away until the epidemic ceased. Prominent among its victims were Andrew J. Klyce, Hon. Lewis D. Bond, ex-speaker of the House of Representatives in the General Assembly, Dr. John Ware, W. Ivie Westbrook, editor of the Bee, nad Mike McGrath. About 200 of the inhabitants of Brownsville fell victims to the terrible disease.
Brownsville was first incorporated in 1826, and its charter was amended from time to time and finally abolished. The town now composes a "taxing district of the second class," and its municipal government consists of a board of three commissioners and a marshal.
1 Apr 2014