"History of Lincoln, Oneida, and Vilas Counties Wisconsin"


Compiled by George O.Jones, Norman S. McVean and Others. Printed in 1924 by H.C.Cooper. Jr. & Co., Minneapoli-Winona MN. ill. 787 pages. The first two hundred pages are history of the three counties, the remainder of the book is biographies.

Biography of


Brown, Webster E. The development of the city of Rhinelander, and also to a large extent that of Oneida County, has been due in such large measure to the activities of the Brown Bros.' Lumber Company that no adquate account of it can be given without having much to say about the men who composed that company, Webster E., Anderson W. and Edward O. BROWN. The present article has to do with the first mentioned of these, Webster E., who, aside from his activities as lumberman, manufacturer, town site developer and banker, has been connected with various other business enterprises, and in former years cut no insignificant figure in politics, for three terms representing his district in the United States Congress. Webster E. BROWN was born near Peterboro, Madison County, N.Y., July 16, 1851, the second son of Edward D. and Helen M. (ANDERSON) BROWN. In the spring of 1857 the family came west to Wisconsin, locating in the village of Newport, Columbia County. A little later they moved to the town of Hull, Portage County, subsequently to the town of Stockton in the same county, and still later to Stevens Point, that county. The main business in northern Wisconsin at the time was lumbering, and Edward D. BROWN soon became prominently identified with the industry and was noted throughout the upper Wisconsin valley for his energy, business capacity and integrity. The beloved wife and mother, Mrs. Helen M. BROWN, died at Stevens Point in 1888 and six years later, in 1894, her husband with his two daughters, May and Helen, moved to Rhinelander. The other members of the family were four sons, Anderson W., Webster E., Edward O. and Walter D., and two other daughters, Florence H. and Isabel. All were given good educational advantages at Wisconsin State University and four of them were graduated from that institution. Webster E. BROWN, with whom this article is chiefly concerned, resided on the home farm in Portage County until he was 16 years old, in the meanwhile attending the rural schools. His education was advanced at Lawrence University, Appleton, which he attended for three terms, and in the spring of 1870 he book a course at the Spencerian Business College in Milwaukee. In the fall of that year, as a youth of 19, he entered the State University at Madison, from which he was graduated with the class of 1874. The year 1874 was one of importance in the history of the family, for it was in that year that the father, Edward D. BROWN and others acquired by entry some 1500 acres of state and government land, which included the site of the present city of Rhinelander, and in the following year the subject of this sketch formed a partnership with his brother, Anderson W., under the firm name of Brown Bros. and engaged in the lumber business at Stevens Point. In 1882 the brother Edward O. became an additional member of the firm. They were all naturally interested in the development of the town site, which had been entered at Pelican Rapids, where the city of Rhinelander is now located, as the development would furnish manufacturing and transportation facilities convenient to the timber holdings north of the town site on the Wisconsin River and its tributaries, which Edward D. BROWN and his sons, A. W. and W. E. BROWN had previously entered, or might later purchase, and were unable to operate owing to the lack of railroad facilities by which to move their lumber. The Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western Railway was at that time building north from Milwaukee with the avowed object of eventually reaching Ontonagon on Lake Superior, but were building slowly and had reached a point in 1878 north of Appleton and near New London. Owing to limited financial resources the road was being built gradually in 25-mile sections, bonds being issued and sold as each section was completed, to meet the expense of building the next. The main road went through to Eagle River and beyond. At that time, by visualizing the future of their property at Pelican Rapids, the BROWNS negotiated a contract with the railway company to have the railroad completed to Pelican Rapids by November 1, 1882. In order to effect this they contracted to give the railroad hald their lands purchased for the town site. This was in 1878 and the tracks were put through in accordance with the terms of the contract. In 1882-83 the brothers closed out their business at Stevens Point and moved to Rhinelander, starting operations by logging and building a mill, which was ready for sawing on July 4, 1883. The first building they erected here, however, was a boarding-house, the lumber for which was brought in by train and was the first car load of building material unloaded on the site. Most of the timbers for the mill were hewn, some of the smaller pieces, however, being sawed in the portable mill of the Tolman Conro Lumber Co. When the subject of this sketch arrived here in November, 1882, there was no house on the village site, although the original plat was completed and the sale of village lots about to begin. Webster E. BROWN had charge of the sale of village real estate, also of the construction of the saw mill, and, when completed, had charge of the manufacture and sale of the lumber product. A few years later the brothers again divided their lands, having made a proposition to the "Soo" road to give them one-third of the Brown holdings and induced the Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western to do the same; so all stood on the basis of an equal interest and the "Soo" built through to Rhinelander in 1887. This is probably the only instance on record when one railroad gave another a grant of land to induce them to build to a town where they had the contract for all incoming and outgoing freight. It was the coming of these two roads, supplemented by local enterprise, that made Rhinelander what it is. On the original sale of lots no lot sold for more than $125, which was the price asked for corner lots on Brown Street, inside lots being sold for $100, while on Stevens Street the corner lots sold for $100 and the inside lots for $75. The two lots which form the library site sold originally for $175 (for the two). Brown Bros. later bought them for $3,500 and presented them to the library board for the library site. No charge was made for original sawmill sites on the river or lake, they being donated to the companies who started the mills. During the early 80's the Brown Bros. and they father established in Rhinelander a private bank, which was conducted under the firm name of E. D. BROWN & Sons. In 1890 it was incorporated under the name of the Merchants State Bank, and as such is still flourishing. In the same year, 1890, the business of the brothers was incorporated under the general laws of the state of Wisconsin as the Brown Bros. Lumber Co., which concern became widely known and for many years continued logging and lumbering operations in this vicinity until they ceased logging here in 1917, owing to the exhaustion of their timber. During all these years Webster E. BROWN was one of the company's officials and took a leading part in directing its policies. He also became closely connected in one way or another with other prominent business concerns of Rhinelander. He has been a director in the Merchants State Bank since it started, and succeeded his brother, the late Anderson W. BROWN, as president of the Rhinelander Paper Co., having held the office of vice president for two or three years previously. He is also president of the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Co., the headquarters of which corporation is in Wausau. Mr. BROWN'S career in politics began with the laying out of the village of Rhinelander in 1882. The village was then unincorporated and was merely a part of the town of Pelican. Mr. BROWN was chairman of the town board and of the county board for two years. A few years later, in 1894, Rhinelander was incorporated as a city and Webster E. BROWN was elected its first mayor without opposition. His friends, however, visioned larger things for him, and a few years later they induced him to become a candidate for Congress. This was in 1900, in the days of hard fought political battles, when no quarter was asked and none given; when a man was elected after a speech-making campaign that took him into every corner of his district. After deciding to enter the race, Mr. BROWN gave all his time and energy to it. He was elected by a large majority and twice succeeded himself, each time with little opposition. He first took office in 1901, when President William MCKINLEY was inaugurated for the second time. Mr. BROWN was in Washington in the days when Mr. ROOSEVELT was wielding the big stick. Naturally a conservative, he thought that Mr. ROOSEVELT was inclined to be too much of a progressive. They were personal friends, however, even though they disagreed politically on many subjects. It was while in Washington that Mr. BROWN came into contact with and became an admirer of William Howard TAFT, who afterward became president. The latter's conservatism and staunch Republicanism appealed to him and he admired him for his judicial mind, his fairness, and the open way in which he did things. When Mr. ROOSEVELT split up the party in 1912, Mr. BROWN had retired from active politics. He was not in sympathy with the former president and again took a more or less active part in the campaign in behalf of Mr. TAFT, who received a large vote in this district. It was not until some years later, after Mr. WILSON had been in the office of president, that Mr. BROWN again became a follower of former President ROOSEVELT. At the time of the latter's death he believed that ROOSEVELT was the logical candidate of the Republican party in the following fall, and felt, as did the general public, that in the death of the Colonel the country had lost its best friend and the Republican parts its greatest statesman. Webster E. BROWN was married Dec. 26, 1877, at Lancaster, Wis., to Juliet D. MEYER daughter of Richard and Martha P. (PHELPS) MEYER. Her father was a native of Germany and in early life was private secretary for Eastwick, Harrison, Winans & Co., who built locomotives for the first railroad from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the government. While yet a young man he emigrated to America, locating in Philadelphia as a merchant and there marrying. After a residence in the Quaker City of a few years, he came in 1858 to Wisconsin, settling in Lancaster, Grant County, where he engaged in a mercantile and banking business. The children in the MEYER family were Richard, Frederick P., Nettie E., Jessie M. and Juliet D. Juliet (Mrs. BROWN) was graduated in 1875 from the Wisconsin State University, after which she taught in the high schools at Lancaster and Madison, Wis., for two years. To Mr. and Mrs. W. E. BROWN have been born seven children, five of whom are now living, namely, Ralph D., Edna M., Dorothy E., Richard M. and Allan C. The eldest son, Ralph D., is now manager of Brown Bros'., western interest in Seattle, Wash. Richard M. is at Monroe, Wash., looking after logging operations in which the company is interested. Allan C. is with the Rhinelander Paper Company. The family are prominently identified with the Congregational Church, Mr. BROWN'S fraternal society affiliations being with the Masons and Knights of Pythias. He is a man of good physique and his mental powers have always been keen and active, suffering little or no change with lapse of years. A frank and generous disposition, manifested from early youth, have made him many friends, and his public career, known to all, has placed him high in the estimation of the general community.

Transcribed by Susan Swanson, pages 210-212 (with picture) History of Lincoln, Oneida and Vilas Counties Wisconsin Compiled by George O. Jones, Norman S. McVean and others 1924, H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co.

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