The Brown Mansion Lives On in Coffeyville
One of Southeast Kansas’s greatest treasures of the past still lies in Coffeyville Kansas. The Brown Mansion was home to William P. Brown and his family from 1906-1970. The Mansion cost $125,000 to build, in part because of its lavish furnishings and intricate designs. In 1970, Violet Brown sold the mansion to the Coffeyville Historical Society, and it is now a tourist attraction where visitors can catch a glimpse of upper class life in the early 1900’s.
William P. Brown was born in Ohio, in 1861. After his father served in the Civil War, he moved his family to Independence. William left home at the age of 14 because of family problems. William worked various jobs in Independence and Cherryvale. One fateful evening, at a dance in town, William spotted his future wife, Nancy Kilgore. Nancy, a native of Ohio, was dancing with another man when William stepped in and asked her to dance. Nancy accepted and cleared her dance card for the rest of the night to dance with William.
Nancy was born in 1863. She was originally from Port Washington, Ohio. Some would say that William and Nancy were destined to be together, which was proven true on their wedding day in 1884. They were married in Nancy’s home county of Tuscarawas, at a Moravian Church. About a year after their marriage they returned to Independence to settle down.
In 1890, the Browns moved to Coffeyville and turned an old carpenter shop into a lumber company. This was only one of the ways that William made his huge fortune. Several years later, William Brown smelled natural gas outside his company’s building and, six months later, built one of the largest natural gas wells in the country. Brown later founded the Coffeyville Mining and Gas Company and owned several other businesses in the area. Most of the Brown’s fortune came from their gas company.
In 1885, Nancy and William’s first child Violet Brown was born. This was shortly after her parents moved to Coffeyville. She was the only child of five to survive through adulthood. Violet married a man from the Wichita Eagle family when she was 19, so she didn’t get to live in the mansion when it was first built. They divorced shortly after having their only child, a boy who died at birth. After her divorce, she traveled the world and then went to college. She then married again to a man that was heir to Kohler Plumbing. Violet divorced once again, but kept his name, and then she moved to Ponca City, OK. It was there that she decided to become a librarian. In the mid 1930’s, she moved back to Coffeyville to take care of her sick parents. When they died, Violet inherited the mansion. Violet’s father died in June of 1934, from what some believe to have been stomach cancer. Mrs. Brown died a few months later—some say from a broken heart.
Sometime after they moved back to Coffeyville, Nancy Brown gave birth to two sons who died at birth. In 1894 she gave birth to another son, named William after his father. Young William died when he was only four of pneumonia. In 1899, Nancy gave birth to a fourth son named Donald, but he died just before his twelfth birthday from complications of diabetes. Donald was the only child that actually lived in the mansion, besides Violet.
When the mansion was finally completed in 1906, the house was three stories and had 16 rooms. The house features beautiful verandas along the first and second stories, along the South and West sides. This along with beautiful landscaping and other features lead to the house becoming known as the Brown Mansion. Inside are valuable antique furniture and intricate designs. Many of the walls have original hand-painted murals, which was quite popular among the upper class at the time. An original Tiffany lamp is hanging in the dining room, believed to have been hung by the designer himself.
The first floor of the mansion includes twelve rooms and four fireplaces. Upon entering the house, the visitor encounters a beautiful chandelier and staircases on both sides. Beyond the entry hall is the englenook and living room. The living room was also known as the Great Hall because it was used as a waiting room for visitors, as well as a place for guests to mingle upon arrival. The Great Hall contains the only one of the nine fireplaces in the home that burns wood.
All of the furniture in the parlor was specially made for Mrs. Brown. Hanging from the ceiling is a crystal gasolier that uses both gas and electricity.
The mansion also has a music room with two pianos: an 1881 square Chickering and 1943 Steinway baby grand. The Steinway is kept in tune at all times for weddings and other special events. What sets this room apart from the rest is its hand-painted murals created by an Italian artist.
Next to the music room is the library. This was one of Violet’s favorite rooms. All of the books in the library are part of the Brown family’s original collection, and date back to the 1800s, including several first edition books.
The solarium is beautifully lit by a 1900s version of a skylight. This room was dearly loved by Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Nancy Brown filled it with plants. The floor in the solarium was originally hand-painted tile; but because the floor began deteriorating in the late forties or early fifties, Violet replaced it.
The dining room is one of the most beautiful rooms in the mansion. Over the table hangs a hammered brass gasolier signed by Mr. Tiffany himself. Also displayed in the dining room is Vaseline Glassware, which is extremely rare. Many of the beautiful glassware and china displayed in the dining room was given to the Brown’s as wedding gifts. This room also includes Tiffany leaded-glass doors that enclose the hutch where many of the dishes are displayed, a fireplace surrounded by green tile, and a table decorated with some of the beautiful dishes.
In between the kitchen and dining room lies a butler’s pantry. This room stores many of Nancy Brown’s dishes. After the death of her parents, Violet remodeled several rooms, including the kitchen, which she painted green. Later, in 1953 she took off the cabinet doors, leaving the cabinet’s contents open to view. The kitchen also features a stove and a fireless stove, which was used to prepare hot meals for workers in the fields.
One of the rooms that the Brown’s were most proud of was the Taft Room, where William Howard Taft, the twenty-seventh President of the United States, rested when he was visiting Coffeyville during his 1912 second-term campaign.
The Ballroom was used by the Browns in many ways. It served as a gymnasium for Donald and William Brown, and obviously for dancing at parties. Two “fainting rooms” provided women the chance to loosen their corsets and rest. There was also a smoking room for the men.
The basement was mainly used to store food and drink, along with William Brown’s collection of fine wine. Also found in the basement were the butler’s quarters. The basement also included a walk-in icebox, which was very rare at the time. The laundry room included what was at the time “high technology,” expensive laundry equipment. At one time, the basement also had a double lane bowling alley that Donald used with his friends, but all that is left is a single wooden bowling pin.
Preservation of the mansion is very important to Coffeyville and the Historical Society. An annual Brown Mansion Ball is held in September, along with Murder Mystery Parties, and a Blues On The Lawn Concert and Chili Feed. The mansion also hosts weddings, parties, pictures with Santa, Christmas tours, piano recitals, and regular tours every hour on the hour until 3. Visiting the Brown Mansion will make it clear why the citizens of Coffeyville are so proud of this historical wonder.