The colonel’s wife, Katherine, was half his age when they got married in St. Louis. She was a 16 year old waitress when he married her; he and his first wife had divorced.
Janet Emery’s book, It Takes People to Make a Town, states that there were no passenger cars in the 1870s: “Indeed, Mrs. Napoleon Bonaparte Brown (with her six year old son Earl ) caught their first glimpse of the town(Concordia)…aboard a train full of grunting, squealing hogs!”
Napoleon promised to build her a beautiful mansion, Brownstone Hall, which she could decorate. The Republican Empire published by C.W. McDonald stated on July 10, 1884:
“ Mrs. N.B.Brown has gone to St. Joesph , Missouri, to visit relatives and select stained glass for their new mansion on West Sixth Street ."
By November 20, 1884, the Browns were settled in their new home. E.F. Hollibaugh's Biographical History of Cloud County, Kansas states: "The magnificent residence overlooking the Republican valley from its location on the summit of a hill to the westward of Concordia, is the home of Colonel N.B. Brown, one of Cloud county's distinguished citizens. On a fine summer day the landscape, as seen from this imposing site, is one of rare and picturesque beauty. Looking down upon the city to the east are handsome homes, public buildings, churches, with their spires gleaming in the sunlight, almost hidden within a forest of trees and shrubbery. To the west and north the productive and fertile valley of the Republican river stretches far beyond, and outlined against the sky is a terraced line of purple hills, a marvelous panorama of natural beauty and one of the most enchanting views of the entire valley.”
Brownstone Hall was a showplace with its seven fireplaces, 41 stained glass windows and 13 Oriental rugs. Upon entering the huge wooden double doors at the main entrance, visitors saw a large hallway with a 12 foot ceiling and a substantial stairway.Brownstone Hall was the most elegant house that citizens of Concordia had ever seen.
Katherine, as well as Napoleon, was an influential person in Concordia. Katherine was one of the petitioners at the 1907 March city council meeting who asked for a city wide vote to establish a library and reading room. Mrs. Brown was later appointed to the new library board.
At the age of 61, Katherine was widowed when Napoleon died. She remained living in Brownstone Hall until her death in 1949.
Earl Van Dorne Brown married Gertrude Whittridge from Wakefield, Massachusetts, a beautiful, talented young woman. She was born at Leavenworth, Kansas, but as a child moved to Massachusetts with her parents. She studied music at the Boston Conservatory, even though her first love was architecture.In that day & age, it was difficult for a woman to pick a career other than that of a teacher.
In 1901 in Boston , Earl married Gertrude and brought her home to Concordia. Her mother-in-law, Katherine, took an immediate dislike to her. Katherine was not pleased to have a second Mrs. Brown in town. The two never did grow to like each other. In her book It Takes People to Make a Town, Janet Emery states, “Katherine loathed her daughter-in-law with a passion.”
A friend of Gertrude’s, Erma Meyer, reported that Gertrude once admitted to her that the marriage may have not been the best choice for her. Gertrude expressed her creative talents through teaching music lessons and assisting with the design of the Brown Grand, as well as designing improvements to their home at 201 West 7th. She confided to Erma that Earl spent a lot of time with his gambling companions, but that he was a good provider and husband.
Gertrude was widowed at the age of 37. She then married Ray Green a local newspaper editor. She and her new husband were very active socially, holding such events such as a renowned Christmas open house and the annual Tulip Tea in May. Gertrude died while in her 90's.
Earl Van Dorne Brown, Napoleon & Katherine’s son, was a handsome lad who enjoyed spending money. He was the only child of Napoleon & Katherine; therefore, many felt he was spoiled by his mother. He attended Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, Kansas University in Lawrence, Michigan University in Ann Arbor and finally graduated from law school at Harvard at the age of 30.
While in the East, he met Gertrude Whittridge from Wakefield Massachusetts and married her. He brought her home to Concordia where he was to set up a law practice. His mother took an instant dislike to her. When Napoleon agreed to build the opera house, he knew he could count on Earl to be in charge. He instructed Earl & Gertrude to tour Missouri & Kansas, looking for the best features of other opera houses. They brought their ideas back to the architect, Carl Boller of Kansas City. Earl & Gertrude supervised the building of the Brown Grand.
From 1907 to 1910, Earl’s management of the theatre was applauded. Earl was a strong supporter of the Elks Lodge and began the Christmas party custom at the Brown Grand. On December 26, 1908, children were given a small American flag as they entered. There was a short entertainment, followed by the singing of America , as Earl’s wife Gertrude played the piano. The children waved their flags as they sang. Then the curtain rose, revealing a wonderful Christmas tree surrounded by gifts for all the children.
The Browns were influential in other areas of town as well. In addition to managing the theatre, Earl was an attorney and a highly respected speaker.
As the Browns were recovering from the death of Napoleon, yet another death plagued the family. Earl, at the age of 40, died only 15 months after his father. Concordians received a telegram from Gertrude Brown stating that her husband had undergone surgery for gallstones in Kansas City on September 25. However, infection set in and he died five days later. The October 5th edition of the Kansan devoted almost the entire front page to his obituary, funeral, and eulogy. Kansan Editor Davies stated, “Earl was no doubt our most cosmopolitan citizen and possessed that fine polish of a true gentleman that comes from much travel, extensive reading and a collegiate education, yet he was of the West. He was one of our kind in every walk of life and was not spoiled by his wealth. He was simply a great big-hearted neighborly man. He had no children of his own but loved all children. He possessed a remarkably rare genius in measuring the true character of men.”
Earl’s funeral surpassed that of his father’s. Earl had been a joiner. Orders of the Elks and Masons came from surrounding towns. Committees from the various organizations he belonged to met the Pullman car which carried the relatives and the body as it entered Concordia. Hundreds of Concordians met the train and followed the casket to the Brownstone Hall. The Flag draped casket sat on the south porch. Seats were placed on the lawn for the ladies. The children of the grade school stood along 6th street, honoring a man who loved them dearly. His procession to the cemetery was over a mile long.
Kansan Editor Davies stated, “The lowering of the casket and a benediction ended the services and all that was earthly of Earl Brown was left in the solitude of the grave, midst the bluestem grass and the nodding sunflowers he loved so well."
Napoleon Bonaparte Brown was listed as a doctor in the Civil War with the rank of major in the 101st Illinois Infantry in 1864. He resigned in 1865.He reportedly, promoted himself to “colonel." He then moved to St. Louis. He served in the Missouri legislature.
Leo “Jake” LeSage said, "Colonel Napoleon Bonaparte Brown and his wife Kate, came from St. Louis (in 1876). They came out here with two satchels full of money and hid it in the LaRocque store the first night they were here. Then he set up his business, a loan company. They lived in a little 10 x 12 room right in back of it. Later on they built Brownstone Hall up at the top of the hill, the biggest, grandest house in town.”
Katherine, his 22 year old wife, and Earl, his six year old son moved to Kansas along with Napoleon. Napoleon had a marvelous mansion built on 6th Street. They hired a local contractor: W.T Short. It was finished in 1883. This 23 room 5000 square foot mansion was called Brownstone Hall.
Local resident, Helen Carlgren, who was a child when the Bonapartes moved to town said, “The Colonel was a very impressive looking man. He always drove two black horses with a magnificent carriage. He always sat so straight and he was always in black. We children really were a little afraid of him.”
Another resident, “Jake” Le Sage stated, “Out here he wasn’t very popular. No, he wasn’t. He was a Democrat.”
After settling in Concordia, in addition to being a banker, Brown also practiced law and then ran for public office. He had also been a representative to the Missouri legislature. In 1880 he was elected state senator for the 33rd District but in 1886 was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the U.S Congress.
Whether he was a Republican or a Democrat, Brown was definitely a civic leader and the town’s richest citizen, and at the age of 72 conceived of an idea to build an opera house in Concordia.
He and his wife went on a trip to California and Florida, leaving the construction of the Brown Grand to the supervision of his son, Earl. He did not set foot in the Brown Grand until opening night on September 17, 1907.
Sadly, on Jun 1, 1910, Napoleon died from natural causes at the age of 76. The Masonic Lodge and the Order of the Eastern Star paid homage to this loyal son of the lodge by attending to his burial ceremonies. The Kansan reported that the attendance of citizens at NB. Brown’s funeral on June 8 made this the largest funeral ever seen in Concordia. The Kansan editor quoted a prominent businessman,
“He was a man of exceptional qualities, like most leaders he was self-reliant. His mental processes were so unlike those of the average man that he was often misunderstood. He will be remembered for his striking personality, which impressed itself deeply upon all who knew him." The Clifton News said, “He was a public-spirited man, and Concordia loses a true friend. The monument he built will keep fresh in the minds of the people this man’s noble traits. When men have money and use it for the betterment of their hometown, they are doing that which will endear them to their fellow men… all honor to the memory of Colonel Brown”
Napoleon Bonaparte Brown used this large stein at the Elks Lodge. Brown was an active member of many of the fraternal organizations in town.. The books, an entire set of Waverly novels, belonged to Earl.
The Napoleon bust, made of alabaster and marble, was a gift to Napoleon Bonaparte Brown from his daughter-in-law, Gertrude Brown. When Napoleon died, this bust came back to Gertrude. She kept it for many years. Eventually, her housekeeper Edna Meyer inherited the bust. She left it to the Brown Grand. It now graces the ladies' parlor.