The Brown Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 for its significance in architecture and commerce. It was designed by Morgantown’s leading architect, Elmer F. Jacobs, in 1898 and was constructed in the Monongalia County Public Square. It was the first four-story building in the county and has retained almost all of its original character.
The Brown Building is named after the Brown family, one of the most prominent and wealthy families in northern West Virginia at the time. The patriarch, John James Brown, was a signatory of the West Virginia Constitution and the first state Senator from Preston, Monongalia, and Taylor counties. The second Mrs. Brown is known for her development of Morgantown’s South Park neighborhood. Their son, Guy Brown, is known as the first person to own an automobile in Morgantown and as one of organizers of the Morgantown Chamber of Commerce.
The construction of this ornate commercial building in the Public Square is emblematic of Morgantown’s transition from a small town to a thriving city during its boom between 1900 and 1925 as the city’s population skyrocketed from a small town of 2,000 to a thriving city of 13,000.
This population boom resulted from two things:
- The completion of the Fairmont, Morgantown and Pittsburgh Railroad in 1886, connecting Morgantown to the mainline of the B&O Railroad system.
- The completion of the lock and dam system on the Monongahela River in 1889, allowing year-round navigation on the Monongahela River.
The property was conveyed to the Farmers and Merchants Bank in 1907, when the name “Brown” was removed from the cornice and replaced by the words “Farmers and Merchants.” This writing can still be seen on Walnut Street side of the building today.
Check out the full National Register listing here.
Learn more about the Brown Building via the Historic Downtown Morgantown Audio Walking Tour.